Buying Vintage Jewelry

August 2013

With the current price of gold hovering around the $1400 per troy ounce mark, it's no wonder that the demand for vintage jewelry pieces is growing at an astonishing rate. Record numbers of enthusiasts are seeking out unique and quality pieces to add to their collections and making this sector of the overall jewelry market one of the most popular among consumers.

If you are new to the world of vintage jewelry, it makes good sense to take some time and study up on the intricacies of searching out desirable pieces. Learning to recognize the differences between authentic vintage jewelry items and clever reproductions can save you untold aggravation, heartache, and possible financial loss at some point in the future.

Whether you are buying from a jewelry shop, a reputable dealer, or an auction house, you should never be afraid to ask questions. Any legitimate seller should be more than happy to answer your questions thoroughly and honestly. There is also a wealth of information related to vintage jewelry online. This is a perfect way to educate yourself about the market before you actually make a purchase.

Tips to Buying Vintage Jewelry

  • Know the seller. Do some research on the dealer/seller you are working with. You can usually Google a person's name or a specific company on the internet and find pertinent information, including customer reviews or complaints. Your local Better Business Bureau is also a good source to check for possible lawsuits or other complaints.
  • Always inspect the jewelry piece and determine its condition. This is one of the most important factors when shopping for vintage jewelry. Never overlook obvious damage such as scratches, dents, bent metal, or missing prongs or gems. Any one of these flaws seriously de-values the worth of a vintage piece.
  • Be aware that "vintage, estate, or antique" jewelry does NOT mean lesser quality. The only thing jewelry items classified as one of these categories have in common is that they were all previously owned. Vintage pieces offer an excellent opportunity to possess Old World quality jewelry items at a fraction of their original cost. Plus the craftsmanship that went into making these older pieces is nearly impossible to attain today due to the tremendous production costs it would require. Estate jewelry is well-known for showcasing exquisite platinum-set jewelry pieces. Shrewd collectors have been known to find vintage diamond items at savings up to 75% of the cost of a new piece.
  • Know if the vintage piece is an original. Always ask if the jewelry item is a true original, in a certain "style", or a reproduction. These factors greatly influence the overall value of a vintage piece in terms of what you will pay and what you will receive should you ever decide to resell the item. Carefully inspect to see if any alterations were made to a piece. Has a brooch always been a brooch or was it made from an original pendant? Was the Art Deco dangle watch you are considering an original design or was it first sold as a simple watch? Anything other than an original piece will generally command a lower price in the vintage jewelry market.
  • Make certain an item is exactly what it is purported to be. There's a huge difference between gold and gold-filled, real stones versus synthetic ones, and true gemstones vs. glass. The gold market fluctuates daily so buying a plain gold piece for the express purpose of making a profit is a risky proposition. Always have confidence in the integrity of a vintage piece of jewelry before making a purchase.
  • Become familiar with the most collectible names in vintage jewelry. Exhaustive information about these designers can be found online but here are some of the most famous ones: Van Cleef & Arpels, Schlumberger (for Tiffany & Co.), Mauboussin, and Cartier. These designers' original vintage pieces, created prior to 1960 in Paris, are always in demand and command premium prices. More contemporary jewelry designers, such as Bulgari, Graff, H. Stern, and Harry Winston, are all known for using only the finest diamonds and colored gemstones in their creations. Finding one of their rare pieces is truly like discovering a hidden treasure.
  • Consider carefully before purchasing vintage jewelry solely as an investment. Buying vintage jewelry is very much like buying contemporary jewelry- it is usually more of an emotional decision than a sound investment one. There really is no way of accurately predicting whether the piece you are interested in will garner you a profit somewhere down the road. In reality, most people buy a certain piece because it appeals to them in some fashion. They love the way it looks. Or perhaps the history of the piece is intriguing and fascinates them. Whatever the reason, don't discount the value of sentiment. It is unique and personal and generally cannot be easily defined.