If you spend enough time collecting vintage jewelry, eventually it will begin to pile up. Not only that, but over time, you’re going to find yourself not so much with pieces of jewelry, but with a lot of jewelry pieces.
Things break. Earrings get lost, leaving you with one. Stones fall out. It happens. While it would be nice if all of the antique or estate jewelry that I own is gold with genuine gemstones that was created by fine craftsmen, the truth is that most of it is costume jewelry, and over time, they fall apart.
So what do you do with a bunch of jewelry pieces? Obviously, you could toss it out, and that’s likely what most people do. On the other hand, there are always other options, and at this time of year, one of those options is to repurpose those jewelry pieces into something else.
You’d be surprised at how many people have begun making Christmas ornaments out of vintage jewelry. It requires some cleverness that’s a bit beyond my abilities (I’m not much of an artist,) but a number of people are creating some interesting and attractive ornaments for Christmas trees from vintage jewelry.
If you’re clever, you could certainly try it yourself. Most of the parts you’ll need (besides the broken jewelry, of course) are available at just about any crafts store, or perhaps even at Wal-Mart. Aside from hooks and things like that, you’ll likely need a hot glue gun. You’ll also need some sort of artistic ability.
If you’re like me, and you don’t have that ability, you can always just shop for such ornaments. There are plenty of them for sale on either Etsy or eBay, and if you buy them there, you’ll be helping out some people who are likely just doing it to earn some extra cash.
It’s amazing to see how clever some people can be. Sure, a lot of such jewelry is predictable in design – Santa Claus, Christmas trees and angels are the most common themes. But other people come up with more interesting ideas.
The best part about reusing vintage jewelry to make Christmas tree ornaments is that it naturally sparkles, which will make it look all the better once it’s hanging on your tree.
If you’re looking for such jewelry, I can recommend a few places to look, including this store over at Etsy.
Of course, it’s always better if you do it yourself. Got that glue gun handy?
I’ve always loved tennis bracelets, but I’ve thought the term was odd. After all, you’re not going to throw on diamonds and jewels to go play tennis, are you?
I mean, some people might, but those of us who live in the real world and who try to get by on real-world paychecks aren’t likely to glam up for a day on the courts.
Then again, perhaps royalty does that.
While the simple, elegant, stone-laden bracelet that we call a “tennis bracelet” has been around for decades, if not longer, he term “tennis bracelet” is a relatively new one. Reportedly, it dates from the mid-1980s, when professional tennis player Chris Evert, who did have the finances to wear diamonds while playing, stopped in the middle of a match to pick up her bracelet, which had fallen off of her wrist during play.
Apparently, someone took note of that otherwise, not-noteworthy event and applied the name “tennis bracelet” to that particular type of jewelry. The name stuck, and from that day forward, the term has been used to describe any simple bracelet that has gemstones in a line.
The beauty of a tennis bracelet is that it really can be worn for virtually any occasion, be it casual or formal. You can wear it with jeans or you can wear it with an evening gown, and no one is likely to criticize you for it. In all likelihood, they’ll just ask you where you got it.
As tennis bracelets have been around for a long time, “where you got it” can vary widely. Of course, you can run down to Tiffany if you like, and they’d be happy to sell you one that costs a fortune. If that’s your thing, by all means, you go, girl!
You can also find them at your local antique shop or antique mall, and sometimes you can find a variety of them. If you’re into costume or paste jewelry, you’ll likely find older versions that suit your taste, and the best part is that they aren’t likely to cost you a fortune.
Most older tennis bracelets are sterling and have glass or some other type of faux stone in them, so it’s quite possible to find beautiful examples for prices that won’t break your bank.
If you’re the type that just wants to buy but you don’t want to spend all day looking, you’d be surprised at how many affordable vintage tennis bracelets can be had at eBay. I was rather shocked myself to see that you can find a lot of attractive ones for less than $50.
Of course, you can spend a lot more if you’d like to have some real-life bling in your bracelet. After all, real diamonds do attract attention more than glass or amethyst. If you want to get a diamond-laden tennis bracelet, you can easily spend five figures or more, even if buying a vintage one.
Regardless of whether you’re buying a tennis bracelet with real gemstones or the faux variety, they’re fun and fashionable and something that you can wear any time of year. If you buy one, be sure to wear it!
If you’re a fan of jewelry that isn’t brand new, you’ll spend a lot of time looking for it in places where not-new jewelry shows up. That might be antique stores, flea markets, yard sales and perhaps the occasional online merchant.
When you see older items for sale, however, they’ll often be labeled in ways that can seem to be confusing. What is “antique” jewelry? What is “vintage” jewelry? What is “estate” jewelry? These are common terms that you’ll see, and I’d love to explain to you exactly what they mean so that you’ll never misunderstand or be misled ever again.
That will not happen. Not because I am incapable of explaining such things, but rather because not everyone agrees on exactly what these terms mean. Don’t misunderstand; there are some generally accepted notions of what they mean, and I will explain that. But don’t expect everyone to abide by my descriptions of what those terms should mean. People are going to label things as they see fit, and they’re usually going to label things in such a way that work to their own personal economic advantage. That’s the nature of the market.
“Antique” is generally understood to mean “at least 100 years old.” That’s mostly true, but again, there’s nothing preventing someone from presenting a mid-1930s piece of Art Deco jewelry as being “antique.” It’s not, but you’ll see that often. People who actually buy and sell antiques prefer to stick to the “100 years old” definition, but keep in mind that it’s sort of flexible. Still, anything labeled “antique” ought to be fairly old.
“Vintage” is even more vague. What, exactly, does “vintage” mean? No one really agrees. A lot of sellers will regard anything more than 20-25 years old as vintage, but at this point, do we really regard items from the late 1990s as vintage? The term is probably most often used to describe things that are more than 25 years old, but you need to watch out. Among collectors of watches, for example, the term could be used to refer to any model that is no longer in production, even if it’s just 3 or 4 years old.
If something is “vintage,” you can assume that it isn’t antique, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that it’s very old. The best you’ll be able to assume is that it isn’t current. After that, you’re on your own.
What about “estate” jewelry? Does that mean that it’s something that was dug up after Aunt Mabel passed away? Something handed down from Grandma? Something purchased from a public auction after Mr. Rich and Famous Local Person passed away?
It could mean all of those things. Or none of them, actually. Realistically, what “estate” jewelry refers to is any piece that was previously owned and worn by someone. Really. That’s about it. “Estate” jewelry might otherwise be described as “used,” which clearly has a lot less going for it. “Used” jewelry doesn’t sound interest. “Estate” jewelry has a somewhat more glamorous sound to it.
At the end of the day, you’re still going to have to use your own judgment when it comes to buying older jewelry. As of now, there are no set rules for how people are likely to describe it.[Top]
It’s fun to go out and shop for vintage jewelry, at least I think so. But sometimes, you have a pile of it thrust upon you by a friend or relative. Then what do you do? If you’re familiar with antique jewelry, then you might instinctively know how to handle it, but if you’re not someone who regularly spends time with such things, then the task can seem overwhelming.
Lots of older jewelry pieces that have been thrown in a box can end up in a tangled mess, so the first thing you need to do is sort through it. You can use something small and thin, such as tweezers or a skewer to help you separate everything.
After that, it’s best to separate everything into a pile of similar items – put earrings with earrings, necklaces with necklaces, bracelets with bracelets, and so on.
Once you have done that, you can start to make sense of what you have. Obviously, earrings are best worn in pairs, so separate out any mismatched earrings. Don’t throw them out just yet – the mate may turn up. Or the odd one may turn out to have some value.
Once you have separated everything, you can assess what you have. Separate out any pieces that have obvious damage. Some slightly damaged pieces can be repaired by a jeweler, but you need to be aware that there will be a cost associated with that, and it may or may not be worth your while to pay to have that done. In that case, you should ask yourself if the jewelry is something you’re going to wear? If so, you might want to pay to have it repaired. If it’s something you’re considering reselling, then you’ll have to find out the value of it in repaired condition, determine the cost of repairs, and then see if paying to have the piece(s) fixed will be worthwhile.
Some vintage costume jewelry can have value, and sometimes quite a lot. Make note of any jewelry that may be marked Eisenberg, Trifari, Miriam Haskell, Napier, Coro, Chanel, Joseff of Hollywood, Hobé, Christian Dior and Elsa Schiaparelli, for example.
Be aware, too that some “costume jewelry” could actually be the real thing. Most costume jewelry is just that, with imitation gemstones, but I have heard of more than one case of someone giving away a piece that they thought was costume jewelry only to discover that they’d given away a genuine diamond! It happens, so if you’re in doubt, take the time to have the piece assessed by a professional jeweler.
Once you have everything sorted out, you can then assess whether you want to keep any of it and whether any of it is worth reselling. Sometimes, you’ll just have to throw odd or broken pieces away, but keep in mind that there are always interesting ways to repurpose vintage jewelry. They make great decorative items, and there’s always sentimental value. Remember – that jewelry once meant something to someone. It may not be you, today, but you should think twice before throwing any vintage jewelry away.[Top]
Vintage jewelry is great. I love finding older pieces that probably have stories to tell. Older jewelry was well made, used high quality materials and was made to last a long time. If you take care of those vintage brooches, rings, earrings and necklaces, you’ll find that they will probably outlast you.
And unlike some pieces of jewelry that might need maintenance, most vintage items won’t need a lot of care. You just keep them clean and store them well and you’ll be fine.
Sometimes, however, you’ll find that you have some pieces of older jewelry that are no longer of any use to you. Perhaps you have a brooch that has a broken fastener. Perhaps you have earrings that are in the same condition, or worse, you have an earring whose mate has been lost. I try to keep track of all of my jewelry, but sometimes, things do get misplaced, and I’m embarrassed to admit that I have an entire box of misfit pieces that has been sitting around for longer than I would care to admit.
What do you do with broken or orphan jewelry? You can toss it out, and if you did, the landfill might be a bit prettier, but honestly, adding more garbage to our landfills does nothing to make the world a better place.
It would be better if you could find a way to repurpose those odd earrings or brooches so that you can give them some new life and perhaps add a bit of color here and there.
Here are a few suggestions regarding how to put old misfit jewelry to new life:
- Door knobs and drawer pulls – The odd earring might make for an attractive knob for either a drawer or perhaps the door for a cabinet. You can remove the back and then use epoxy or a glue gun to attach the piece to a plain old vanilla knob or drawer pull and you’ll have something prettier. Once you have an entire kitchen full of non-matching, colorful knobs, you’ll wonder how you ever managed to get by with the standard fare from Home Depot.
- Refrigerator magnets – This is a variation on the above. This time, just remove the fastener from the back of an earring or brooch and attach it, again using glue, to one of those tiny little “super strong” magnets. You’ll have something lovely to attach to your refrigerator to help hang the photos of your grandkids or the artwork that your children made at school.
- Belt buckles. An oversized earring or an old brooch can turn a thrift store belt into something that looks a bit more fashionable.
- Lampshades. An old, plain white lampshade can be turned into something interesting with the addition of a few oversized earrings here and there.
There really are dozens of things that you can do with old jewelry, a bit of glue, and some imagination. There are plenty of other ideas on the Web, so a bit of searching and you’ll likely find more ideas than you know what to do with. If you’re lucky, you’ll also find more ideas than you have broken jewelry to make.[Top]
People have a tendency to fall into habits, both good ones and bad ones. If you like buying one kind of vintage item, you might start buying vintage examples of other things, too.
For some people who regularly buy antique or vintage jewelry, the thought might occur to them that they should also consider buying a vintage wristwatch. While that may appeal to some buyers, others will likely prefer a more modern watch, and there are pros and cons to each approach.
A lot of this depends on the sort of watch you’re looking to buy. If you’re interested in an older Timex, for example, you can probably find them here and there for a relatively modest amount of money. If something goes wrong, you won’t have spent a lot of cash for something that turned out to be an unwise purchase.
For other brands, particularly those in the luxury or designer watch niche, there are some things that you may wish to consider before you spend a lot of money on a vintage watch.
Older watches may have mechanical problems. Watches, except for newer, quartz models, are mechanical devices with moving parts. These timepieces require regular maintenance, as moving parts and friction are not a good combination and over time, parts wear out. If you have a name brand vintage watch, you may still be able to get it serviced and parts may still be available. If it’s a more obscure brand or model and it needs parts for repair, you may be out of luck.
Older watches may not be original. There is a tremendous amount of collector interest in older watches from Rolex, Jaeger LeCoultre, and Patek Philippe, for instance. These are companies that have been making watches for a long time and they have developed a large fan base. Because of this, market demand for used watches is high, and particularly for certain models that may have had a certain dial or other features that were specific to that watch. These days, with prices being fairly high, it is not uncommon for unscrupulous individuals to replace watch faces, hands, or even entire movements to give the impression that a certain watch is something more desirable than what it really is.
Unless you are an expert, or know someone who is, you may find yourself paying a lot of money for something that is offered as an original but is in fact, a doctored version of something else.
Older watches are less reliable. There is that major point – over the years, the art of watchmaking has continually improved, and mechanical watches today are much more reliable and more accurate than they were 10, 20, or 50 years ago. They keep better time, they provide fewer problems, and they run longer without winding than older models.
On the plus side, there is an upside to buying vintage watches. Some brands are always in demand, and it’s possible that you may buy a vintage watch today that will increase in value over the years. There was a time, for example, when vintage Rolex watches were relatively cheap, but those days are long gone and the prices have steadily crept up over the past 20 years. A used Rolex that you buy today may very well increase in value with time.
Whether you want to buy a new watch or find a classic older one is a matter of personal taste and your individual budget. Just keep in mind that older watches do present some issues that newer models do not.[Top]
Most people who wear jewelry regularly take good care of it, and as long as it’s stored properly, you won’t have to worry too much about keeping it clean.
Sometimes, however, you may buy a piece of antique or vintage jewelry that is dirty to the point where you must do something to make it a little less grimy or a little more shiny.
That’s fine, provided that you don’t go overboard with it. It’s quite possible to do harm to vintage jewelry if you’re trying to clean it and that little bit of effort to make it look better may result in making it look much worse.
Ultrasonic cleaning machines may seem, at first glance, to be a great way to clean. You can use water in them, without any harsh chemicals and they use sound waves to remove dirt through vibration.
The problem with ultrasonic machines is that with older jewelry, particularly those pieces with gemstones, the stones may work loose while being cleaned. Furthermore, some pieces of jewelry, particularly older pieces that have foil-backed gemstones, should never be immersed at all.
A good place to start is with a can of compressed air. You can buy this at office supply stores, and a quick blast of air can remove small amounts of dirt. After that, you should consider using a soft, lint-free cloth or a soft toothbrush. You can use the toothbrush with a solution of water and mild soap. Be gentle with the brush and use a sweeping motion. Do not scrub.
When you are done, you can wipe the jewelry with a soft cloth.
Many Websites recommend using ammonia to clean jewelry. This can work in some cases, but ammonia has unpleasant and sometimes dangerous vapors. In addition, it can discolor some metals. It’s best to use the least-harmful solution when cleaning older jewelry, rather than using harsh chemicals.
Of course, if your vintage jewelry consists of valuable pieces, your best bet is to trust the cleaning to a jeweler. They have years of experience cleaning fine pieces, better tools at their disposal and more appropriate cleaning solutions than those that you’re likely to have around your home.
You should also keep in mind that overcleaning vintage jewelry isn’t a good idea. A 100 year old necklace isn’t supposed to look like one that’s brand new; it’s supposed to look like a well-preserved piece of history. Too much of a good thing is, well, not a good thing.[Top]
Finding vintage jewelry is easy. Finding nice vintage jewelry can be difficult. Finding affordable vintage jewelry can also be a problem.
It’s not hard to find older pieces, but sometimes they’re broken, or you’ll find one earring, but not a pair. Or you’ll find something amazing, but the seller wants a fortune for it.
Or it’s just junk. There is a lot of that out there, and wading through the junk is just part of the process of trying to find those amazing pieces that make the entire art of looking for vintage and antique jewelry worthwhile.
That’s why I was rather surprised to read an article recently about a shop on Instagram called Joya Shop. Founder Emi Moore has several shops on Instagram offering vintage items, and this one was created to showcase her fondness for vintage jewelry. She’s particularly fond of what she calls a “statement earring,” and it shows.
The earrings on the site are big, bold, and beautiful. These are not earrings that are subtle; these are earrings that will immediately become the topic of conversation if you wear them in public.
She sources the pieces through a number of contacts she has in the antique shop industry, and she sells them exclusively via her account at Instagram.
The earrings are big and dramatic, but the prices are not. Most of the examples I looked at were priced in the $40-$80 range. That’s the good news. The bad news is that many of the pieces indicated that they had already been sold.
That’s the problem with finding older examples of anything. You can often find them, but finding them in quantity? That’s a different story, and it’s always a lot harder to do.
So far, she has listed but 57 items on the site, but her shop has 1000 followers to date. If you’re interested in the exceptionally nice and striking offerings that she has for sale, I’d make a point of visiting her shop on a regular basis.
Otherwise, you’ll just be looking at photos of already-sold items.
How much gold is in that gold jewelry, anyway?
Gold is expensive. It always has been and as long as people want it, it’s likely to stay that way. It’s not super rare, though. There are about ten tons of gold mined every year for every ton of platinum, for example. But platinum kind of looks like less-expensive silver, and gold looks like – gold.
That’s why people like it, and that’s why gold remains popular. But when you’re buying vintage jewelry, you need to be aware that not every piece that looks like gold is gold, or at least, it may not be all gold.
There are gold-filled pieces, gold vermeil pieces, gold plated pieces, and pieces that are made from …wait for it…gold.
So what’s the difference?
Most of the “gold” jewelry you’ll see is actually gold plated. Gold plating is a thin layer of gold (often just microns thick) that has been applied to a base metal using an electromagnetic process. The result is real gold on top of a non-precious metal, so it looks like the real thing. The problem is that there really isn’t much gold there, and in time, it will wear off, leaving you with a piece of jewelry that isn’t all that attractive anymore.
Gold vermeil jewelry is a bit better; it still involves gold plating, but the base metal is silver. The pieces are usually marked, and you’ll likely see them marked as “sterling,” or perhaps “.925.” These marks indicate the silver content, as the gold content, as with gold plated pieces, is relatively negligible. On the other hand, gold vermeil pieces tend to wear better than gold plated ones, and they also tend to hold their value better, as the entire piece consists of precious metal.
Gold filled jewelry is made using a slightly different process, but it still involves a layer of gold on top of a base metal, which is often brass or copper. Gold filled jewelry, on the other hand, must use at least enough gold to comprise a minimum of 5% of the total weight. These pieces will also be marked, and you’ll see marks such as “1/10 10KT GF,” “1/20 12KT GF,” “1/20 14KT GF,” and “1/20 18KT GF.”
Finally, you’ll see pieces that are actually made from gold, but they’re not “solid gold,” as they’re often called. There’s a reason for that – gold is actually a fairly soft metal, and anything that’s made from 100% gold is going to be too soft to use for any length of time. Because of this, jewelers mix other metals with the gold to make it more durable.
The term “karat” (with a “k”, rather than a “c,” which is used for gems) is used to denote the percentage of gold in a piece, as follows:
- 24 karat = 100% gold
- 22 karat =91% gold
- 18 karat = 75% gold
- 14 karat = 58% gold
- 12 karat = 50% gold
- 10 karat = 42% gold
There are other variations and marks, as not all jewelers around the world use the same standards of marking. But these four classifications should give you a good idea as to what you’re looking at when you see a piece for sale and you’re not sure if it’s “really” gold or not.
In my last post, I wrote about repurposing vintage jewelry. It’s fun to wear and collect older pieces, but sometimes they break, sometimes they lose parts and sometimes you just don’t want to wear them anymore, at least you don’t want to wear them as they are.
That’s why it can be fun and helpful to find other uses for them, and turn them into craft projects, household items, or even other jewelry. That’s what’s happening in New York, where a woman by the name of Parmet Cook has built a business by reimagining vintage jewelry and turning it into new and interesting pieces.
The pieces are essentially bracelets, or “cuffs,” as she calls them on her Website. These fine leather cuffs are adjustable, so that one size fits pretty much everyone. Then a vintage brooch is attached, and these brooches can slide on and off, so you could interchange them if you like. The leather straps are handmade and are available in a variety of colors.
Ms. Cook spends a lot of time looking at estate sales and other sources of vintage jewelry to find pieces that have that certain look that will make them special once they’re mounted on her custom, one of a kind, cuffs. Each piece is unique, so you’ll know that you’re not likely to encounter one just like it anywhere.
The pieces on her Website are attractive, and they are unique. They’d look great with most casual wear, and a few pieces would also look good for an evening on the town. They’re not inexpensive, however, as they’re priced in the $200-$600 range. On the other hand, they’re all unique, attractive, and they do appear to be very well made.
You likely won’t find a large assortment of pieces at the site, however, as not everything Ms. Cook finds is suitable. She’s always on the lookout for that piece that’s “just right,” and she’s not going to rush that. She finds what she finds, when she finds it, and then, and only then, does it become a piece for sale on the site, which is called Eleanor Stone NYC.
If you like original, one of a kind, attractive pieces that won’t look like anything else in your vintage jewelry collection, then you should take a look at the pieces on her site.
It started as a hobby for Ms. Cook, but after a while, she realized that she wanted something more and turned it into a business. Like a lot of people who sell vintage items, she finds the search itself to be the part that’s the most fun. “I’m looking for high-quality, one-of-a-kind pieces,” she said.[Top]