Antique Chain Buying Guide

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Antique Chain Buying Guide

Every exquisite necklace, quirky charm bracelet, and chic anklet starts with a good, strong jewellery chain. These chains are not much different than those found in household wares except for the fact that their links are smaller, and many are made from precious metals. Antique chains are used for crafting pieces of vintage jewellery. Either they can be a real antique chain that is over 100 years old with its own unique patina, or they can be a modern chain with an antique finish. Jewellery stores and crafting shops often sell the second type, but original antique chains can be difficult to locate unless one visits an estate sale. Websites like eBay typically offer both styles, giving buyers a single place to shop for all their vintage jewellery needs. Buyers who want an antique chain, need to determine the size and length of the chain along with the type of metal they want.

Types of Antique Chains

Buyers who want an antique chain need to determine if they want the real thing, or a chain that simply looks antique. For example, it is possible to find an original Victorian gold chain, as well as a gold chain with the antique finish. The main difference is going to be in the price and metal used. Typically the Victorian chain is more expensive since it is older, and likely to be entirely made out of gold. Modern chains with an antique finish are typically made from plated metal. That means the replica antique gold chain likely has metal alloy chain links covered with a thin layer of gold and coated with an antique finish.

Choosing an Antique Chain Type

Select a type of based on the jewellery project. For example, if the buyer is making a piece of costume jewellery, then there is no need to pay top dollar for an actual antique chain. However, if the buyer is looking for a replacement chain for an heirloom pendant, going with the genuine antique chain is typically the better option. In other words, for costume jewellery select chains based on how they look, not their actual value. For fine jewellery pieces, select chains based both on their looks, and the overall value of the metal.

Measuring Chain

Jewellery chains are measured in two ways: by the size of the links and by the length of the overall chain. For example, many chains are marked as 3mm chains, or 3 x 2mm chains. In the first example, the chain links are completely round, having a 3mm diameter. In the second example, the chain links are oval shaped, being 3mm long and 3mm wide. More delicate necklaces use smaller chain links, while chains chosen for charm bracelets typically use slightly larger chains.

Chain Lengths

Chains used for crafting jewellery are often sold in long lengths of usually a meter or more. These chains allow the craftsman to cut them according to different lengths. Others are sold in set lengths that are already adorned with a clasp, but it can sometimes be difficult to judge how these chains look when worn. The chart below compares different chain lengths with necklace styles, giving buyers an idea of what to expect.

Length (inches)



choker length. Worn against neck.


Worn around the collarbone


Worn just below collarbone


Either at or slightly above the neckline of most shirts


Below the neckline of most shirts

There are also longer chains, such as those at 35 inches, which hang down the across the chest. Keep in mind that necklace fit may vary slightly between men and women. Typically, the length is slightly shorter on a man as opposed to a woman.

Antique Chain Metals

Antique chains usually come in gold, silver or bronze. Whether the chain is wholly made of a single metal, or produced using metal plating, its appearance is typically in one of these three colours. There are pros and cons between each of the pure metals, and with the plated necklaces. The main difference between these two is value and age. Genuine antique articles rarely use plating, while it is more commonly found in modern necklaces.


Gold is an extremely precious metal, and it has been used in jewellery making going back to antiquity. Pure, natural gold produces a soft yellow colour, although in modern jewellery, the metal is often enhanced with alloys and rhodium plating, making white gold. This metal is measured in carats, with pure gold being 24ct. However, in its pure state, gold is quite soft, which is why metalsmiths often dilute the metal with other alloys to give it additional strength. The chart below shows the amount of pure gold in different carats.

Gold Carat

Percentage of Pure Gold

British Mark













It is rare to find chains made of pure gold since they are extremely brittle. The one exception is golden chains produced for investment purposes on the gold market, but these pieces are rarely worn as jewellery. Many antique pieces use 18ct or 14ct gold chain.

Drawbacks of Gold

High value, high carat gold is both prohibitively expensive and impractical for everyday jewellery. Keep this in mind if the customer wants to buy a golden chain for a bracelet or necklace worn on a daily basis. Gold also scratches easily, though lower carat weights such as 9ct, are stronger than 14ct.


Silver is the soft counterpart to the yellow radiance of gold. It too is a precious metal with a white lustre and grey sheen. Pure silver is rarely produced except in bullion form for storage in national treasuries. Most silver chains use a mixture of silver and an alloy like copper. The chart below lists the different types and markings of silver.


Pure Silver Percentage


Britannia Silver



Mexican Silver



Sterling Silver



Coin Silver



The higher the pure silver content, the stronger the chain's resistance to tarnishing. Sterling silver is usually the hallmark of good silver. Anything with a higher silver content than sterling silver is usually labelled as fine silver on the market.

Possible Drawbacks of Silver

The main issue most buyers have with silver is that it tarnishes, turning the metal black. Even pure silver tarnishes, but lower quality silvers mixed with copper oxidise quicker than their finer counterparts. While silver does not scratch as easily as gold, it does need to be polished far more frequently to prevent tarnishing.


Bronze is a metal alloy made from copper and other additives like tin. While it is not considered a precious metal like gold or silver, it is one of the oldest metal alloys made by man. Bronze has a deep brown metallic colour with a golden sheen. Many antique bronze chains were produced for people who could not afford the high asking price for gold or silver. They were also popularly made during wartime when precious metals were extremely scarce.

Possible Drawbacks of Bronze

Overall, bronze is not as valuable as gold or silver. Since it is also made mostly from copper, it tends to tarnish into a green metal. Furthermore, the high copper content can also discolour the skin around the chain, turning it green. Bronze chains need polishing more than silver or gold, to keep them looking great.

Plated Chains

Plated metals usually only have a coat of gold or silver on top of another metal. Sometimes, especially if the plated metal is steel, the strength of the chain can actually be increased. Plated chains are often found in costume jewellery and can be used to hold up large, heavy pendant necklaces. Antique plated chains are coated with a special finish that dulls the lustre of the metal, making it look older than might actually be.

Drawbacks of Plated Chains

Plated chains are less valuable than chains made out of a pure metal. They also lack durability, and when used daily, the thin plated coat starts to peel away rather quickly. This ruins the entire finish, and the plated chains often need to be replaced within a few years if they are heavily used. They are best saved for jewellery pieces that are only worn on occasion.

Buying Antique Chains on eBay

eBay is the perfect place to shop for an eclectic collection of antique chains. Whether the buyer wants a genuine article or a cheap replica, eBay sells them all. It is an ideal place for a jewellery craftsman to get their supplies, or even for the occasional buyer who simply needs a new chain for their necklace or bracelet. There is such a vast selection of antique jewellery chains on eBay that the buyer can often get overwhelmed.

Searching for Antique Chains on eBay

Using the search engine is the quickest way to find antique chains for sale on eBay. Those who are searching for actual antique chains, can do so by time period. For example, a search for 'Victorian chain' returns all results from the Victorian era. The results could be further narrowed down by searching for 'Victorian gold chain', limiting the search to only Victorian chains that are gold. Chains with an antique finish can usually be found by searching for 'costume jewellery chains' or 'antique chains'.

A Note on Buying Precious Metal Antique Chains

Only buy products that you know are correctly labelled. For example, if a seller states that a chain is made from fine silver, then they need to show an actual picture of the item with its silver mark. This is true of any piece of precious metals. Sometimes sellers do this unintentionally because they do not understand the difference between fine silver and other types of silver. By understanding the different grades of precious metal, you can keep yourself informed and only buy from the reliable sellers.


When it comes to jewellery making, antique chains are chosen for several reasons. Some customers buy them to wear with old heirloom pieces they inherited, or simply because they like the chain pattern. Others buy chains with antique finishes to complement their own jewellery designs. Selecting the right chain means taking several factors into account. First, buyers must determine if they want an actual antique chain, or one with just an antique finish. Secondly, they must decide the size and length of the chain they want from several options. Finally, potential customers looking for an antique chain must pick a type of metal used in the chain. This can be a difficult process unless the buyer is well informed about different types of precious metals on eBay. As long as buyers stay informed, they can make the best decisions and select the antique chain that is right for their jewellery needs.

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