Marcasite is a semi-precious, opaque stone related to pyrite. It was cut into tiny faceted pieces and mounted in bezels for expensive jewelry, glued in place for inexpensive pieces. Marcasite jewelry had been made since ancient times and then forgotten by the Middle Ages. But when Prince Albert died, his wife, Queen Victoria, didn’t see diamonds and bright stones as appropriate jewelry. They were not to be worn until the mourning period ended. Instead the Queen and all others wore pearls or black stones like jet, often with marcasite trim.
A less expensive look-alike jewelry was created from small faceted pieces of steel, and cut-steel jewelry became a popular fake. It lost popularity by the early 1900s, but marcasite and cut steel came back again for short periods in the 1960s and 1990s.
Beware. New marcasite jewelry is being made in the same styles as the old and it is hard to tell the repros. Look at the back of the jewelry. There should be a stamp, “925,” on the solid sterling silver backing. Antique pieces show hammer marks. Newer pieces have smother backing and the stones may be glued in place, not set in a bezel. Vintage pins have a long straight pin attached to the back. It shows a little in from the front. The catch is often just a C-shaped bent wire. New pins have a safety catch that locks.
Pictures are from a 1990s catalog by Herzog & Adams Antique Jewelry Reproductions, New York City.
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