A Guide to Signed Jewellery

Pieces featuring the signature of jewellery houses attract serious collectors worldwide.

What is signed jewellery?

Signed jewellery indicates the name of the jewellery house or maker with an engraving on the underside of the piece or the inside of a ring. Jewellery makers began signing their work during the Arts & Crafts and Art Nouveau periods, from about 1860 onwards. An early instance is René Lalique, who always signed his work. The practice was popularised in the 20th century when all the top jewellers and many small ateliers began applying their signatures to their jewellery.

Is signed jewellery more valuable than unsigned jewellery?

Generally, yes. If it is one of the top makers, a signature can add 50%, 100% or even 300% to the value. In 2012 a bracelet from the 1920s was offered; the estimated value was £8,000 to £12,000. A specialist in London discovered what appeared to be remnants of ‘Van’ from a Van Cleef & Arpels signature. A photograph was sent to the company, which confirmed and precisely dated the piece. The bracelet was a rare example from the much sought-after Art Deco period and sold for £250,000, including the buyer’s premium.

Are some signatures more valuable?

Cartier, Fabergé, Harry Winston, JAR, Lalique, Van Cleef, to name a few — any of those names on a piece will transform the piece’s value. Jewellery designed and produced by these makers represents a high standard. That said, much depends on the piece. Cartier was such a prolific producer, for example, that a signature on traditionally designed items will improve the value, but not necessarily dramatically. However, a signature on a 1920s Cartier ‘Tutti Frutti’ piece — the most sought-after of the brand’s products — can potentially transform the value to millions of pounds.

butterfly ring in white gold with diamonds

Is all signed jewellery collectable?

No, not all signatures enhance the value. With signed pieces, the maker and period are important. For jewellery from top brands, the signature provides a level of comfort in quality. With a 20th-century signed piece from manufacturers such as BoucheronBulgari, Cartier, Chaumet, Fabergé or Van Cleef & Arpels, you know that the piece will be of a high standard in terms of design, quality of stones, and the way in which it has been made.

How do I know if a signature is genuine?

Start training your eyes by examining pieces. View the signature through the loupe. A fake signature might look like it was engraved yesterday, with the writing very bright and shiny, which doesn’t sit with the age of the piece. Also, learn to recognise the way different houses signed their work. In early Cartier pieces, for example, there is often a faint line, which they drew before writing Cartier neatly on top.

Boucheron Paris signature on a piece of jewellery

If the jewellery is not signed, does that mean it’s not genuine?

With time, signatures can rub away or become illegible. A specialist in London once examined an emerald necklace that appeared to be Cartier but had no signature. After close examination, he discovered extremely faint letters spelling ‘Par’ and possibly a ‘C’. Because the specialist believed the jewel was by Cartier, the owner went to the company, which found the necklace in its archives. It was originally signed ‘Cartier Paris’ and sold for £3 million. If it hadn’t had the signature or been traced to Cartier, the necklace would have likely sold for half its value.

Cartier Paris signature on a piece of gold jewellery

If there is no information regarding an item’s provenance, the rule is to assume the piece is ‘wrong’ until proven right. If its value is a few hundred pounds, the ramifications of a mistake are fewer. But for a more valuable item, the buyer should carefully review the provenance and must trust the reputation and authority of the seller.

In terms of value, does the period matter?

There are always exceptions that break the rule, but generally, the Art Deco period generates the most interest, followed by Belle Epoque, Retro Period, Art Nouveau and Arts & Crafts.

sapphire and diamond ring

Will the age of the piece affect the value?

Value does not depend as much on the age of the piece as its maker, but it is important to confirm that the piece is authentically from the period and not a modern or older reproduction. For example, jewellery might be contemporary and made in the Art Deco style. You must trust the person selling the piece or request a written receipt that documents the dates. In that case, a refund could be made if there were genuine mistakes.

flower shaped earrings in white gold with diamonds

Offered in London this November is a private collection of signed jewels formed over the past 15 years. All jewellery had the boxes and copies of paperwork for many of the pieces, this is not often seen with jewellery.

flower shaped ring with diamonds set in white gold

What else should be considered?

Make sure the jewellery has not been embellished. This can falsely increase the value of the piece if undetected. Even signed, if the item is no longer in its original condition, its value is diminished. Some jewels have been altered for practical reasons, such as a repair; a long necklace might have been divided into several shorter necklaces, thus decreasing its value.

Which signed jewellery is most popular among collectors?

Cartier, Van Cleef & Arpels and Harry Winston signed pieces are highly desirable. Contemporary works from designers such as Viren Bhagat, Wallace Chan, Edmond Chin and JAR attract strong followings and fetch considerable sums. Many makers that enjoy a strong following include Belperron, Boucheron, Bulgari, Chaumet, Schlumberger, Tiffany, Webb and Yard.

The necklace below is by the Lebanese firm Tufenkjian, founded in 1909. The family-run business is renowned today for its one-of-a-kind pieces and sets made from diamonds and coloured stones, including emeralds and sapphires.

Tufenkjian necklace and earrings set

How should a new collector of signed jewellery begin?

There are many ways to build a signed jewellery collection, whether by period, such as Art Deco, or a particular article of jewellery, such as cufflinks or animal designs. It makes the most sense to go for a maker or a period, or it could be both — such as Art Deco jewellery made by Cartier in the 1920s, one of the most creative moments in its history.

white gold and diamond necklace

Stick closely to the theme or period and curate the collection thoughtfully. Pieces should complement each other to be worn together for a more impressive effect; this will also add value. If it becomes a good investment, that’s great news, but buy the pieces you enjoy.

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