You know the joy of coming across a beautiful piece of jewelry, perhaps in a deceased grandparent's drawer or at an estate sale, and thinking you've just discovered something worth thousands. Many of these older jewelry pieces are, indeed, quite valuable—but there are certainly those that are not. How do you tell the difference? What are some signs that that ring or necklace is not worth as much as you'd hope?
In high-quality pieces of jewelry, the gems are held onto the setting by several small prongs that reach around to the front of the gem. If there are no prongs, then the gem is glued onto the setting, in which case, you are looking at a cheap piece of costume jewelry. If there are prongs but they do not appear to be holding onto the gem and you assume the gem is really held in place by glue, this is also a sign of cheap jewelry.
Good-quality jewelry is heavy. The gold used to make the jewelry is heavy, and the gems are heavy. If a piece of jewelry seems light for its size, it is probably made from gold-plated metal rather than high-purity gold. (Silver is also heavy, and silver-plated metals tend to be lighter.) The gem may also be made from plastic or glass, which certainly indicates a cheap piece.
Good-quality jewelry, even years ago, typically was stamped with a hallmark to tell the buyer about the metal it contained. The hallmark may say something like 18k or 12k, which would indicate that the piece is gold. If the hallmark is just a number, like 950, then the piece is made from platinum. What you really need to worry about is if the piece does not have a hallmark at all. It is possible, especially in the case of rings, that the hallmark is worn off, but it's more likely that this is just a cheap piece of jewelry and thus not deserving of a hallmark.
If any of the gems in the jewelry look like they have faded in color, this is a sign that they are made from plastic or glass. Real gems retain their color over time.
Are you unsure whether a piece of jewelry you've found is valuable or not? The best approach is always to take it to a jewelry appraisal service in your area.