Marcasite, as found in nature, is similar to iron pyrite but not identical. Iron pyrite, as many know it, is called “fools gold”. Marcasite is also referred to as white pyrite. The primary difference between the two is the structure of the crystal, making iron pyrite the more stable and structurally strong element. Because marcasite is more brittle than pyrite, it is actually the pyrite that is used in marcasite jewelry.
Although marcasite jewelry goes back to ancient times, marcasite jewelry gained its modern popularity during the Art Deco period of the 1920s and into the 1940s. The glittery marcasite was usually set into sterling silver settings and was an affordable alternative to diamonds. Now, true, authentic vintage marcasite jewelry can be very pricey for a lovely brooch, pendant or ring. Reproduction pieces and new designs can be purchase at affordable prices at most department stores and jewelry stores. Marcasite is often paired with onyx, jet, pearls and other colorful gems such as rubies, garnets, sapphires and emeralds.
Caring for marcasite jewelry is similar to any other fine jewelry piece. Don’t drop it, check the settings and don’t throw it loose into a box with other jewelry pieces. The settings can come loose and pieces of marcasite can be broken or fall off and become lost. Marcasite is often glued on instead of mounted in a setting. Anything that will soften the glue such as chemical cleaners, steam cleaners or hot water is a bad idea. If you are taking it to a jeweler to be cleaned or repaired, ask them if they have experience with marcasite. If they don’t, you would be wise to take it to a place that works with vintage jewelry. Antique dealers may be able to recommend a professional who deals with restoration of jewelry.
Vintage jewelry is highly collectible and costume jewelry pieces are a prized part of every vintage collection. A jeweler’s loupe will be a great tool to carry around in your pocket for examining vintage pieces when shopping. If you don’t have one, ask to borrow one at the shop if you can. But if you are a serious collector, you should have your own. Examine settings, clasps & links. Look for scratches and broken pieces. Some pieces may be easily restored but be sure to get a recommendation from the dealer for a good jeweler who works with antique jewelry.