By Danielle Olivia Tefft, Jewelry Writer
First things first: The jewelry term “marcasite” is actually a misnomer. Iron pyrite, a chemically identical cousin of marcasite, is actually what is used in most “marcasite” jewelry. (You may know yellow iron pyrite as “fool’s gold.”) Even though they are made of the same material, iron pyrite is used instead of marcasite because it has a stronger crystalline structure. Genuine marcasite is actually a quite soft material that can easily chip and crumble. So it’s really not suitable for jewelry! You can read a great article about these two mineral cousins at Gemselect.com.
Why then, does the jewelry world refer to iron pyrite as marcasite? Well, unlike marcasite, old habits are hard to break! Most of the world overlooks the incorrect designation. (Though I’m sure it must make gemologists and mineral collectors cringe!)
The renowned Swarovski Company defines the term “marcasite” as such:
“Marcasite is derived from a natural mineral called 'pyrite'. Pyrite is found in many parts of the world, but only a small fraction of it is suitable for the cutting processes required to create marcasite jewelry.”
So for the sake of consistency, I will refer to iron pyrite jewelry as marcasite jewelry from here on in this article. (But now you know there is a distinction!)
I love how faceted, silver-grey marcasite stones glisten in jewelry. In fact, marcasite jewelry has been beloved by many throughout history. Beginning in the 1700s, marcasite was often used as a substitute for diamonds. It grew popular again in Victorian times and remained a favorite accent stone all the way through the Art Deco Era of the 1920s and the 1930s. Marcasite was less popular in the 1940s, 50s and 60s. But it was still used.
A modern revival in marcasite jewelry occurred in the 1970s and 1980s. And now, in the early 21st century, marcasite jewelry is very popular once again. This all means that there are jewelry pieces from many eras out there with marcasite stones in them.
Often, the only way to tell what period of time that a marcasite piece was actually made in is to know the style and craftsmanship traits of each era. I know: you’d have to be a jewelry nut like me who eats, sleeps and breathes jewelry to pin things down! And guess what? I have problems sometimes, too. Especially since antique and vintage replica jewelry is becoming more and more popular. The differences can be extremely subtle.
For example, the brand 1928 Jewelry has been making replicas of antique and vintage jewelry since 1968. They made many sparkling marcasite pieces in the 1970s and 1980s and are still making them today as you will see in the two photos below.
Now, compare these 1928 Jewelry pieces to a vintage marcasite ring above from the 1920s or 1930s.
If you don’t see the difference, don’t feel bad. It’s very hard to determine the age of a piece of jewelry with marcasite stones. Just beware of new pieces with marcasite being sold as old by unscrupulous or unknowledgeable dealers.
Author's Note: Please don’t email me photos of your marcasite jewelry and ask me to determine age. It takes more than photos! Your best bet is to get a couple opinions from antique jewelry dealers in your area. Hint: If they seem to salivate over your piece, you can bet it’s probably older!
Collecting Costume Jewelry 101 by Julia C. Carroll (2008). Collector Books, Paducah Kentucky.
Popular Jewelry of the ‘60s, ‘70s & ‘80s by Roseann Ettinger (1997). Schiffer Publishing , Ltd., Atglen, PA.
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Danielle Olivia Tefft is a professional writer with a lifelong passion for gems, jewelry and fashion. She is a GIA accredited jewelry professional and the owner of online antique and vintage jewelry shop, Treasure Box Antiques. Current projects include ghostwriting jewelry and fashion blogs for clients worldwide. When she is not writing, she spends time in the garden, spoiling her cats and traveling with her significant other. Would you like to hire her to write for you? Visit her website danielleoliviatefftwrites.com for clips, terms and more information.
About This Blog:
The Found in the Jewelry Box Blog is my attempt to teach others about the wonderful world of gems and jewelry, past and present. Please enjoy!