Vintage Jewellery Buying Guide
CONDITION & QUALITY
As with everything, condition is all important. A serious designer piece in poor condition should not retail for the full market value. It may be a way to afford something that might otherwise be out of your reach but too much damage could mean a poor quality copy, or something badly looked after.
That said, real vintage pieces will have genuine wear from years of
love and use. Anything perfect claiming to be 80 years old looks
suspicious! A practiced eye will help you determine between genuine
and faked wear.
Quality pieces will have weight; the clasps should be well made and
secure; if the clasp is silver that’s an excellent sign.
If you’re planning on wearing it regularly, check the stability of the
stones, the string, the clasp; all the bits that hold it together. If
something seems too fragile it might be worth keeping for special
occasions but you also don’t want to be constantly worried about
However, that is the whole point and joy of costume jewellery: you can go to
a party in fantastic £10 earrings, or even £100 paste collar and earrings and
not have to worry about it being a £40,000 diamond collar and earrings.
However, whenever you can, the golden rule is… always buy the best quality you can afford. And then take care of it.
The big names will always carry an allure, as well as a big price tag. The big guns will include Tiffany, Cartier, Van Cleef & Arpels, Asprey, Chanel, Dior, Georg Jensen, Lacroix…
Some of the older names still carry a lot of weight, such as Miriam Haskell, Coro, Trifari, Napier, Ciner, Schreiner, Schiaparelli to name but a few.
Obviously the best option is to find something with the name marks but unnamed pieces can also be valuable if they can be positively identified. Marks change through the decades so they can be helpful in dating pieces and will alter the values. If you want to get into marked designer jewellery specifically then you must do your research.
THE REAL MCCOY
If buying real stones always go to reputable dealers and auction houses who will check for authenticity and quality diamonds should come with certificates. Antique stones may have had a hard life so check the setting is secure, and there are no hairline cracks or chips. If it’s supposed to be a diamond and there are cracks then it’s a weak stone likely with internal flaws already.
Diamonds should be able to score glass and should not stay fogged up if you breathe on them. They shouldn’t look multi-coloured. Antique stones are a soft off-white, not bright white, even with modern settings.
If something is claiming to be silver or gold, check for hallmarks. British silver should have the full set and a dealer can help you identify them. Or use websites like www.925-1000.com. Continental silver might just say “925” which is Sterling quality, or a lower value meaning it’s less pure, but that can also mean it is less expensive. Gold quality depends on the carat value (purity). 9-carat should say “375” or “9-375”. Higher values mean higher carats. www.gold-traders.co.uk have a great identification wizard.
It’s always possible with antique jewellery that the stone is older than the setting, many families pass the stones down and each generation might have had them reset to the current fashion. If you’re unsure, always take it to an expert.
Pearls have always had a special lustre and have never gone out of style. Cultured and faux pearls have become so good that it can be difficult to tell the difference. One sure fire way is to gently run your teeth along the pearl, sort of biting it. If the surface feels smooth, it’s not real. If it feels gritty, it’s the real deal. Many old faux pearls now have the surface peeling off which is a definite giveaway!
There are some fantastic books out there as well if you want to dig deep:
I’d recommend Warman’s Costume Jewellery by Pamela Y Wiggins; The Napier Co: Defining 20th Century American Costume Jewellery by Melinda Lewis; Costume Jewellery (DK Collectors Guides) by Judith Miller and John Wainwright; and Collectible Costume Jewellery by Cheri Simmonds.
Good sources of information can be found at: