Today is Veteran’s Day – a day on which we all recognize the sacrifice and burden borne by those men and women who put their Country and its people before themselves. Anyone with a close family member in the service knows that the commitment of our soldiers, sailors and airmen (hereafter “service members”) effects not just the service member, but the families who stay home waiting and hoping for a safe return.
Fortunately, advances in communication technology during the last several decades have made it somewhat easier for service members to communicate with their families and friends– when time and circumstances permit. During the WWII era, however, the overwhelming majority of communication with the folks back home was by written letter.
It was not uncommon for service members to send small gifts back home along with their letters or to bring these gifts home. These gifts often consisted of jewelry items that corresponded with the member’s branch of service, specialty or posts. The jewelry was then worn at home as a memento, a display of patriotism, and an acknowledgment of the pride derived from a having a family member in the service. Recipients included mothers, sisters, wives, fiances, friends and of course – sweethearts!
Nowadays, these special items are collected by military collectors, jewelry enthusiasts and regular people who just appreciate them for the special items they are.
We like to divide jewelry items of this type into two broad categories: handicrafts made by service members (sometimes called trenchart) and manufactured items that were purchased by service members for the purpose of gift giving. Most of the Sweetheart Items we carry from the WWII era are of the manufactured type. We have not yet come up with a good system for verifying the authenticity of trench art pieces and are thus refraining from carrying them at the moment.
Many pieces of sweetheart jewelry, like the “Jump Wings” bracelet at the top of this article (from our ebay store – sold) are crafted from sterling silver. This bracelet uses the paratrooper’s symbol of a parachute between two gothic wings. The clasp is a classic 1940’s fanning hook clasp. It is marked sterling but bears no maker’s mark.
It is not uncommon for Sweetheart pieces to be engraved, wither by the service member, or the dealer from the member acquired the piece. Below is an example of 1943 West Point sweet hear bracelet that is engraved on the back.
West Point Bracelet from our ebay store
Authenticating WWII Sweetheart Jewelry
Unlike trench-art, there is not a lot of manufactured WWII era sweet heart jewelry being counterfeited. It is more common to run into a later piece that is wrongly attributed to the WWII era.
WWII ran from 1939-1945 – but there is some disagreement in the community as to what items can fairly be said to be from WWII. The United States did not enter WWII until December of 1941. Thus, arguably, U.S. pieces from before 1941 are not “WWII pieces”. Likewise, because the War ended in 1945, pieces manufactured after that date are also not “WWII pieces”. But this date range – 1941-1945 – does not consider the first few years of reconstruction or the fact that a brutal war was raging in 1939 and 1940. Because we are jewelers, rather than military collectors, we prefer to use the catchall “WWII ERA” when describing military items that date from 1939-1947.
Authenticating items from this period requires close examination. We rely on three approaches. First – ask the current owner. Personal prevenance is one of the best ways to authenticate an item. If it was sent by your friend’s grandfather from the front line – you’re pretty much done. Second, we look at general (non-military specific) jewelry construction and markings:
1. U.S. Sterling Silver Jewelry from the WWII Era should be stamped “Sterling” “Ster.” “Silver” or “SS”. We have not encountered any U.S., British or Australian pieces marked 925. If the piece was made in continental europe, or from materials derived from continental Europe, this rule goes out the window.
2. Clasps and catches should be fanning hooks, spring clasps, fold over hooks or custom safety clasps. Be weary of lobster clasps and lightbulb shaped clasps. At this point, safety (aka helmet) clasps were already common on most pins and brooches. Pin hinge construction was also modern.
3. Electric welding was uncommon and Laser Welding was not used.
Example of a Fanning Hook Clasp on a WWII Era Bracelet
Third, we look at the symbols, military insignia and any dates (obviously dates can be a huge help)
1. It is imporant to identify, at a minmum, the branch of serivice that the member was serving in. Hopefully you will also be able to determine his unit / division etc. If like me, you’re not an avid military historian or collector – this can be very tough. If you don’t have one of the many guidebooks available, you can try to describe the insignia and google it. For example “WWII Parachute between two wings”.
In general – Anchors indicates Navy. Wings indicates U.S. Army Air Forces (USAF’s predecessor). Keep in mind that there are hundreds of unit specific insignia. I like to use the website of “War Dog Militaria” – this site provides good color examples of authentic WWII era patches http://wardogmilitaria.com/index.php?main_page=index
2. Look for Dates! While they can be faked – it’s uncommon.
3. Ask for help. Most military collectors I’ve encountered are happy to help identify items for non-collectors, as long as you don’t abuse their willingness to help. If you frequently rely on a particular forum for assistance, you should make a contribution to that forum.
Finally – all of us here at Hunter Ridge would like to express our deep gratitude to all service members and their families.