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Marcasite originates from a natural mineral called 'pyrite'. Iron pyrite has a metallic finish and bright sheen. Its innate hardness allows it to stand up well to scratches and dings over the years, and therefore, vintage marcasite pieces can be found in good condition many years after their creation. Pyrite is found in various parts of the world, but only a small element of it is suitable for the cutting processes necessary to create marcasite jewellery. Marcasite is both elegant and popular and it has been used in many types of jewellery as far back as ancient times. Many years ago, people thought that marcasite had the power to remove negative energy, protect those performing dangerous difficult jobs, and improve a person’s ability to communicate.
After the death of Prince Albert, Queen Victoria wore black clothes for a long period of mourning. Her jewellery during this time tended towards darker colour items ,and therefore marcasite jewellery was a popular choice for the Queen during this mourning period. This started a major jewellery trend that would define much of the Grand Period of the Victorian Era. Ladies around London became great collectors of marcasite jewellery, from brooches to rings and necklaces. Marcasite was commonly used to create filigree-style borders on brooches and pendants. Fashionable motifs of the time were organic and floral shapes.
With the start of the machine age, jewellery fashions changed from organic forms of the Belle Epoque and the Victorian Era era to more geometric and structured forms. Art Deco Vintage jewellery usually uses platinum or silver along with crystals or diamonds to create the main body of a piece and then darker materials such as onyx, sapphires, or marcasite to create a good contrast with these lighter tones. The fashion of the light-and-dark motif in Art Deco jewellery meant that Marcasite became a sought after material during this period. Art Deco marcasite pieces can be anything from tennis style bracelets to geometric statement necklaces.
A good rule of thumb to determine genuine marcasite jewellery is to inspect how the chips of marcasite have been set into the jewellery piece. On true vintage items , tiny pieces of silver should curve up and over the edge of the stone, in order to hold it in place. On more modern items, there might be tiny decorative silver beads placed beside the marcasite as accents, however, they are not actually securing the stone in place. Another thing to look for is silver markings on the piece. Any item that has a 925 silver marking is likely not old marcasite .
Once shoppers have purchased vintage marcasite for a collection, it is always useful to have a good idea how to care for it, in order to ensure the longer term condition of the piece. In general it is always a good idea to put on jewellery as the last thing when dressing, so that the marcasite is not exposed to chemicals in hairspray, perfume, and other substances. Marcasite buyers should also keep their items as dry as possible since water can loosen the minerals.
Marcasite jewellery should not be cleaned using modern chemical, or ultrasonic solutions. The best way to clean marcasite jewellery is to use a a damp cloth and then immediately wipe it dry with a soft cloth. The silver in marcasite can be gently rubbed with a jewellery cleaning cloth, using the polishing side to lightly buff the entire piece.