Jewellery glossary, meanings and terms explained A to Z
Here is our jewellery glossary with as many jewellery meanings and terms we know of. Its a bit like a dictionary for jewellery really, but not for the spelling - But that does help!! It is a brief explanation of the words used in descriptions that you may come across in looking for a brooch or earrings you may want to buy; or to help in any jewellery research you may be undertaking. Each letter of the alphabet is looked at its meaning in each section separately. From A to Z and we will be undertaking re-publishing this glossary through out 2021.
Glossary of jewellery starting at with the first letter of the alphabet - A
From abalone to Aventurine, azurite and many other terminology that begin with A in between. We have built this jewellery glossary and dictionary to help explain terms used commonly in jewellery that start with the letter A.
ABALONE - This material comes from sea snails and other sea mollusc's. Its thick inner layer has nacre - mother of pearl which is famous for its highly iridescent silvery white, blues and greens mixed with pinks, reds and other bright colours. The colour of this shell comes from the different species used and the creatures actual diet. Highly prised in jewellery making. Abalone was used from the late 1950s and 1960s and continues today. Although it is said to becoming harder to find the shell.
Above an abalone brooch by Exquisite from the 1970s.
ACRYLIC - This is a light weight transparent thermoplastic used in jewellery. It was first used in 1933 and has several trade names used including Plexiglas, Acrylite, Lucite, Perspex, Optix and Oroglas. Ideal for embedding objects like coins, diamante, shell, etc. It can also be tinted and coloured. For our acrylic rings available
ADULARESCENCE - This is the term for the shimmering and light playing effect of a moonstone. It comes from the actual field spar variety known as ADULARIA, this moonstone is a beautiful colour from a light blue, opaque to almost clear. Adularia was named after the Adula Alps in Eastern Europe where it was originally mined. Popularly used in Art Nouveau jewellery especially by the artist Rene Lalique.
AFRICAN EMERALD - This pretty green fluorite gemstone is mined in South Africa. Although given the name Emerald it is in fact not a true one.
AFRICAN JADE - This is a green garnet that varies in colour and can have black inclusions in. So not really jade at all. It is a much prised gem though as it is said to attract love! It can also be known as Emerald Quartz.
AFRICAN OPAL - This new opal was discovered within the last 10 years. a much earthier color in beige, white, yellow, brown and green. It lacks the translucent and fire qualities of true opals.
AGATE - Quartz with strata of different colours or inclusions which can resemble moss, have banding or just be in a plain coloured. Named for the river Achates and one of the oldest found gemstones used. It is used to ward of storms and is said to be a protective stone. Used extensively in jewellery especially Scottish agate jewellery. Easily coloured so now found in a huge variety of colours.
Above a Scottish agate brooch in silver.
AIGRETTE - This French term denotes a hair or hat ornament that is jewelled and has a plume of feathers or in a design that looks like feathers. The most famous and recognisable hat aigrettes were worn in turbans. They became very fashionable during the late Victorian era, but due to the demise of many a bird. Legislation was brought into force and they faded out in the early part of the twentieth century.
AIGUILLETTE - This is a cord knot with a decorative end called an AIGUILLETTE usually jewelled worn by sixteenth and seventeenth century to Victorian men and women. Can be on low cut dresses, one on each shoulder matching or just one shoulder similar to a larger brooch. It is also a braided cord often seen on uniforms. Today they can be found on bolo necklace (shoe string necktie).
AJOURE - Open pattern variety of a technique for jewellery making. Either cutting out parts of metal to form an open section or for gems set as AJOURE. That means they are open backed and so allow light through.
AKOYA PEARL - This is a type of cultured freshwater pearl. Very similar to freshwater pearls but slightly larger with a more lustrous colour.
ALBERT CHAIN - Named after Albert, Queen Victoria's husband. It is a gold, alloy metal or silver chain with a bar at one end and a fitting to hold a watch or charm at the other end. Designed to use on a pocket and it allowed easy access and safety for a pocket watch.
ALEXANDRITE - A variety of chrysoberyl (gemstone - this name is no longer used as caused confusion, but used extensively in the Victorian period) which is green by natural and red by artificial light. Named after Alexander 11 of Russia because it first came to light on his birthday. ALEXANDRITE is known for its ability to change color under different light. This is known as the ALEXANDRITE EFFECT. Russian ALEXANDRITE can be green under daylight but red under artificial lighting. Simulated ALEXANDRITE can also be found.
ALLOY - This is a mixture of metals to form another one. Examples of alloys used in jewellery are steel, brass, pewter, bronze, sterling silver, continental silver and red-gold.
ALPACA - This is nickel silver. It is from a copper alloy usually mixed with nickel and zinc. It is not real silver but it is sometimes mistaken as such. Jewellery is often seen from Mexico with Alpaca stamped on the back.
ALUMINUM - It is a light weight silver grey coloured metal. Very resistant to corrosion and decay, so much prised and long lasting for jewellery. Always used as an alloy with another metal to increase hardness. Started out in the early nineteenth century but became very popular in the 1950s.
AMAZONITE - An opaque green field spar. A rock forming important mineral used extensively in the jewellery industry. The name is of course taken from the Amazon river, because some green stones were found there - although these were probably not the AMAZONITE we see today. It is said to soothe the spirit and calm the soul. An ancient gemstone used in beads and talisman.
Amber - Golden yellow fossilised tree resin created 2 to 50 million years ago. Amber has been used in jewellery for a very long time. Stone age beads and amulets have been found across the world. Light weight and warm, easy to wear and was thought to be a guiding magical light in the afterlife. Insects can be found embedded in the amber from the Jurassic period. These are very rare and one should be suspicious if offered one today.
Amblygonite - A semi-sparkling light green gemstone.
AMERICAN RUBY - Not a real ruby but a garnet. These stones were first used in the late 1880s. Green marbled markings with pink spots. Also known as Pyrope, Almandite or rose quartz.
AMETHYST - A violet to purple translucent quartz. Its name comes from the ancient Greek amethustos, meaning not drunken, so this gemstone was thought to ward of drunkenness and sharpen the intelligence. The amethyst because of its purple color was accepted and used in the late 19 century, to the end of the mourning period in jewellery.
Ametrine - Part pink and part yellow natural gemstone.
AMMONITE - A fossil used in jewellery making. This extinct marine creature has the characteristic spiral shells. varies said properties including petrifying snakes and for healing or prophesy. AMMOLITE is a gemstone formed from fossilized Ammonite shell.
AMULET - This can be any object including a pendant that is said to have the properties to protect the wearer from harm and also any danger. The word amulet comes from the Latin Amuletum. there are many named amulets from many different cultures and traditions available.
ANGEL SKIN CORAL - This form of coral is a very light pink with white found in the tropics, typically like a pale nude skin colour. It is a precious form of high value, that is highly prised.
ANKH SIGN - The Egyptian symbol found in a hieroglyphic form meaning the sign for "Life".
ANNEALING - Softening and reworking metal by re - heating to remove its brittleness.
ANODIZING or ANODISING - A process used to increase the thickness of a metal surface and it can also be then dyed. Usually with Aluminium but other metals can be anodised. Anodised Titanium is one of this well known process.
ANTIQUE - An object over 100 years old.
Antique cushion - An old square faceted cut with rounded edging to gemstones
APACHE TEARS - This is a black to a reddish - brown coloured Obsidian. Volcanic black glass that has a translucent quality when held up to the light. Found in the Arizonian Desert in the fifties. The name is a fabled one as this gemstone was formed from lava flow way back in ancient history. But it was said that when the Apache warriors were driven to their death in the 1870s. The stones formed from the Apache women and children's tears.
Apatite - A sparkling blue hued gemstone.
APPLE JUICE BAKELITE - An apple juice coloured plastic form of Bakelite. Made from 1908 and incorporated in cheap and colourful bangles, necklaces and pin.
A bangle in Bakelite with clear diamante and brad studs. Circa 1920s of age.
Aquamarine - Pretty blue popular gemstone.
ARIZONA RUBY - Not a ruby but a garnet from Arizona.
ARIZONE SPINEL - This is a garnet not a ruby from Arizona that closely resembles a Spinel.
ARCADE SETTINGS - This is when a gemstone is set into a ring shaped base and held securely with claw prongs. Also known as a coronet or chaton setting.
ARCTIC OPAL - Man made stone that has a blue background and green markings. Not a real opal but faux variety.
ARKANSAS DIAMOND - This is clear crystal rock and so not a real valuable diamond.
ART DECO - This style of jewellery and decorative art came in following the First World War, it replaced the dreams of peace and beauty of the Art Nouveau era. This had been banished by the brutality of the war and so replaced was by the machine inspired modernist look leading to Art Deco.
Art Deco dress clip - above.
ART NOUVEAU - A style that gripped France through out the middle of the eighteen hundreds and then spread to Europe and lastly to America. It flourished and faded prior to the First World War of 1914. Aspects of Art Nouveau include naturalistic, fantastical and medallion subjects and designs.
Art Nouveau brooch with a naturalistic design. Light weight and hollow.
ARTS & CRAFTS MOVEMENT - From between 1860 and 1910 this was a craft movement that flourished as a movement against the mass produced machine products being produced. It was a back to tradition design period with simpler forms used.
Art Glass - glass with white or other coloured swirls and stripes. made to appear like a real gemstone. Circa 1970s to 1980s were the main years that this was used in jewellery cabochon..
Blue Art Glass brooch circa 1970s.
ARTICULATED - jewellery is said to be articulated when it has two or more moveable joint. This makes it more flexible and interesting to wear.
Articulated large shoulder brooch. It is articulated to allow movement. Circa 1980s of age.
ARTIFICIAL QUARTZ - Every natural crystal virtually has an artificial counterpart. It can be very difficult to distinguish one from the other. First manufactured in 1845 but until the 1970s was not used extensively in the jewellery industry. Includes Austrian Crystal
ASSAY - Used when testing and analysing metal in jewellery. Usually for hall marking purposes.
AURORA - She is the goddess of the dawn and sister of Helios. The dawning of a new day can be interpreted as the dawn of a new century. Thus it was a popular subject for Art Nouveau jewellery. The goddess is often depicted in a swirling dress, outstretched wings and holding a garland of flowers.
AURORA BOREALIS (AB) - This is when diamante, rhinestone or crystal is coated with a material that makes the "oil on water" effect of iridescent multi colours. Invented and patented in 1955. So very helpful when dating a piece of jewellery.
A pretty choker necklace with aurora borealis diamante. Clear diamante that shine various colour tones. Necklace circa 1970s to 1980s.
AUSTRALIAN RUBY - This is a fine garnet. The colour ranges from red to a deep pink in both translucent and opaque looks.
AVENTURINE QUARTZ - Quartz with glittering flakes of mica (a mineral that has the properties that seem to glitter) inside them. The most common colour is green, but it comes in brown, orange, blue and grey. AVENTURINE GLASS - this is called goldstone and is now available in a wide range of colours including the traditional gold and blue. It is a man made glass with golden or sparkling copper features just like the quartz version. The common miss-spelling for this stone is Adventurine.
AWABI PEARL - This is the Japanese name for abalone pearls. A natural iridescent blue pearl found naturally in a mollusc's species. They are by nature very difficult to culture and so are the rarest and most desirable of pearls found.
AZURITE - An azure vibrant blue gemstone that is fairly soft. Used as a dye for textiles as well as mixed with other gemstones such as malachite. Mainly used for decorative carving. Rare and mainly a collectors gem.
Updated January 2021. Copyright Jewels & Finery UK/Vintage Geek Jewels.