Tips for Buying Antique Jewelry: Where to Start?

When you’re looking to purchase a new piece of jewelry to add to your collection, you should consider antique or vintage jewelry. These pieces are made in a distinct manor and style that will allow you to stand out from the crowd versus a typical contemporary piece worn by everyone. Also, antique and vintage jewelry holds their intrinsic value, meaning they’re something you can pass down through the family tree and treasure for generations. From Georgian to Retro, there are several eras of jewelry to explore.

But you may be asking: Where do I start? What do I look for? We’ve got you covered! We have these five tips that you’ll find helpful when purchasing antique, estate or vintage jewelry.

Do Your Research
With so many options available on the market today, it’s a good idea to know what to look for and understand the history behind each jewelry piece when available. Don’t be afraid to ask the dealer about the details and background on a piece. The key is to find a dealer you can trust and with whom you can build a relationship. Dealers who frequently exhibit at antique jewelry consumer and trade shows are commonly vetted by the producing company, therefore, it’s a safe place to start your jewelry journey. U.S. Antique Shows hosts nine antique shows annually in the U.S., four specifically for antique jewelry and watches.

If you know what era of jewelry peaks your interest, you can also do your own research online prior to shopping for a piece. There are a multitude of resources available today, just be sure to always be aware of the documents’ source and if it’s reputable. Jewelry associations are a terrific place to begin your research and they typically can recommend great resources.

Here are a couple we suggest:

Association for the Study of Jewelry and Related Arts (ASJRA)
National Association of Jewelry Appraisers (NAJA)

Pay Attention to the Details
When purchasing any vintage or antique jewelry piece, it’s vital to carefully evaluate the condition of the item. Make sure to check for any chips or cracks in the stone or enamel. Other flaws to look for include corrosion, discoloration, bumps, holes and cracks in the surface of the gold or silver pieces. Unlike scratches, these flaws can’t be repaired and can affect the value placed on the piece. Whenever possible antiques should be purchased in very good or mint condition in order to retain their value for many years to come.

Dealer Jeff Cohen of N. Green & Sons gives us his insight when shopping for antique jewelry. “The quality of the craftsmanship needs to be obvious in jewelry pieces – lines are straight, the finish is good and the stones are set symmetrically.”

Spot the Fake
A significant sign that your piece of jewelry might be a fake is any discrepancies with the marks and signatures. Antique jewelers are known to leave a maker’s mark somewhere on their piece. Use a magnifying glass or jewelry loupe and be sure to examine each item carefully for these valuable identifying marks. Other clues include the age of the piece and if it’s associated with a pattern or style common of the time period. However, there is a possibly that many old pieces were not signed by the maker, if this is the case, I recommend talking with a dealer about the details and background on a piece as I mentioned above.

Obtain Documentation and Authentication
When possible obtain documentation on the origin of your jewelry piece This documentation could not only add monetary value to an item, but also knowing the origin can bring personal value if you plan on passing the piece on through your family.

Documents to consider include:

  • Original receipts showing the purchaser’s name
  • A photograph of a person wearing or using an object in a specific location
  • Handwritten notes from previous owners or from a gift presentation
  • Other documented research proving a piece’s history

Having the jewelry piece authenticated by a professional is another way to validate its value. An authentication is a letter or certificate coming from someone considered to be an expert in the field. These letters state in their educated opinion that the piece is genuine. GIA, the world’s foremost authority on diamonds, colored stones, and pearls, provides unbiased gem grading and analysis to help to protect the gem and jewelry buying public.

“You should always look for the GIA certificate when purchasing diamonds or colored gemstones. The certificate will tell you the color, clarity, cut, weight and make, and it should come with every piece. If the dealer doesn’t present the certificate with the jewelry piece, I don’t recommend buy it!” says Eli Noor of Ely & Co Fancy Diamonds Inc.

Be Your Own Judge
Above all, before buying a piece of jewelry, you need to decide if you like it and will enjoy wearing it. If you don’t love it, you run the risk of regretting the money you invested. Jewelry pieces are objects of beauty, so make sure you try it on and see if you fall in love with it.

Proper Care for Vintage and Antique Jewelry
Once you’ve bought your piece of antique jewelry, you’ll need to know how to clean and care for it. Here’s our advice:

All vintage and antique jewelry should be handled and stored with care to preserve its beauty and value. This jewelry is delicate and requires special care when cleaning and storing. To prevent pieces from being scratched, its recommend that you store them in a cotton-lined box at a moderate temperature. Also, avoid bathing, house cleaning, gardening and exercising in your jewelry as this can damage the piece.

Be sure to do your research on the proper way to clean your specific piece. Lang Antique & Estate Jewelry recommends to have your items checked by a local jeweler every six months to ensure all gemstones are tight and the piece is in good condition to wear. Gemstones can become loose overtime and it’s best to fix when they’re a little loose instead of replacing a lost stone.

Let’s hear from you: Tell us about a favorite antique or vintage jewelry piece you’ve acquired. Leave a comment below, tweet us @USAntiqueShows, or post on our Facebook page: Facebook.com/OfficialPage.USAntiqueShows

References
6 Tips for Buying Antique & Estate Jewelry
By Jacqueline Curtis

How to Find Values for Your Antiques and Collectibles
By Pamela Wiggins

Rules for Valuing Antiques and Collectibles Like an Appraiser
By Pamela Wiggins

Ways to Add Value to Your Antiques
By Pamela Wiggins

9 Comments

  1. I have been thinking about getting some antique jewelry for my wife. I think that you definitely have to be your own judge. It’s hard to tell how much something is worth that is that old. If you care for it properly, then it is worth as much to you as you make it.

  2. In the past, I would join my mother to go looking at antique jewelry stores. I am looking to do it again, but it’s been such a long time that I need to remember what exactly I need to look out for and watch out for. Your article actually provides me help, especially when I try to understand which one is the fake and which one is legitimate. I know my mother used to bring a magnifying glass, so I guess it’s time to whip out mine a well and go visit some jewelry stores.

  3. Thanks for writing this article, Mary. It’s my wife’s fiftieth birthday next month, and I’m wanting to get her something nice. She still looks very youthful, so a nice, antique necklace would go along with her perfectly! I’ll be sure to follow your suggestion and do my research.

    Alex Jennings |

  4. These are some great tips for buying antique jewelry. It seems like antique jewelry can be quite valuable as long as it’s the real thing. Having all of the documents that verify whether any piece of antique jewelry that you buy is authentic is a very good point. I’m going to a estate liquidation sale this weekend, so I’ll definitely ask for necessary documentations and authentication papers to make sure that I get what I’m paying for.

  5. Estate jewelry really is such a great idea for adding unique and beautiful pieces to your collection. You know that they’ll stand the test of time, and you can be sure that not everyone is going to be wearing the same jewelry as you. There’s so many options, too, for really bold statement pieces. You can really let your personality shine. Thanks for the helpful tips on how to go about buying jewelry!

  6. Hi There

    This was a good read and got some good tips from it, thanks for sharing.

    We are launching a new portal website called Antiques Boutique where you can show off your vintage, art, chic, antiques, decorative items and more.

    Can’t wait to see more.

    Lydia x

  7. Great post Mary- We have a television show here in the UK where people take their antiques to get a price on them and all you ever see are members of the public holding pretty pieces that are actually worth nothing and I think that says a lot about antique shopping here- that in a bid to find the most valuable piece we can get so lost and clouded we end up with something that is worth nothing. Actually doing research and knowing what to look for would make a huge difference!

  8. Thanks for the advice. My dad has been looking for something really special for my mom for their anniversary. My mom really loves antique jewelry, so that is what my dad would like to get her. I will be sure to share your suggestions with my dad, especially your tip about finding a dealer he can trust. I will also remind him to get authentication for whatever he decides to get.

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