It can be hard to date antique jewellery if it is not hallmarked. As it was not compulsory in most countries to hallmark jewellery, with some exceptions, more often than not we have to ascertain the date of a piece by examining the style, construction, and materials used to manufacture it. In this post, I am going to discuss necklace fastenings.

Early fastenings for necklaces were cords, up until the 3rd century BC. Stones, buttons and wooden toggles were tied to  cords and were passed through a tied loop at one end. Also popular as a fastener from 300BC and through the Roman and Byzantine periods was the hook, often S-shaped.

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Byzantine hook clasp

Ribbon began to be used from the 4th century BC. Ribbons were to become very common again in the 1400s until the 1780s.

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D shaped end

Late 17th and 18th century necklaces used circular, rectangular or D-shaped metal terminals (strong characteristics of this time period) through which to thread the ribbons (see photo above).

Of course, many necklaces had no clasp at all if they could be slipped over the head and this was the case with a lot of the necklaces from the 14th to 16th centuries.

So prior to the Georgian period, which ran from 1714 to 1836, ribbons, cords, and hooks were the primary necklace fasteners and this continued until the 1800s when the tongue clasp was introduced. The tongue clasp was a  sprung metal tongue which fitted into a slot. These slots could just be a bar or a thin square outline. (see photo below)

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The spring clasp slotted under the square bar

Many jewellers incorporated the slot into the design of the necklace (see photo below).

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Hidden Georgian spring clasp

The tongue clasp developed into push-in box clasp with a wedge-shaped spring-part fitting into the box (see clasp at he beginning of the post).  The box clasps were handmade which allowed for quite beautiful ones to be used, often set with gemstones, enamel or inlay work, and sometimes with compartments for woven hair. Often, there were slots on each side of the clasp to allow a tongue clasp to be inserted into each side.

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Georgian clasp with pearl surround and woven hair.

Also used was the barrel and tongue clasp where the thin v-shape tongue fitted into a barrel-shaped box, known as a barrel and pin clasp. In many cases, the barrel or box into which the tongue was inserted was shaped like a hand.

The next post will discuss Victorian necklace clasps.