Category: Articles

5 Tips When Buying Vintage Jewelry

While price shouldn’t be your primary consideration when purchasing any jewelry, be it old or new, it is going to be a factor, regardless.  The price is determined by a number or things, of course, such as whether the piece contains precious metals or gemstones.

The age is also a factor, though a bit of a vague one.  Many sellers think that “older is better” and will price their pieces accordingly.  That’s fine, as far as it goes, but some sellers attempt to pass off newer pieces, or even reproductions, as vintage items.  Then they price them as though they are really older or more valuable than they really are.

antique pendantWith online shopping, you can’t really examine a piece before buying, which just adds to the likelihood that you may not be getting what you think you’re buying.  Here are a few tips to help you be a smarter shopper when you’re looking to buy vintage jewelry.

Who is the seller?  Do they have a good reputation?  If you’re on a site such as eBay, you can check their feedback and see how long they’ve been selling, what buyers had to say about them, and see what else they have for sale.  Is it all one-of-a-kind pieces?  Do they have the item you’re thinking about buying in quantity?  That might raise an eyebrow if you think you’re buying a vintage item.

Where did they get it? Questions about sourcing can usually give you an idea about an item.  Lots of sellers routinely scour yard sales and estate sales and those are generally good places to find vintage pieces.  It never hurts to ask the seller where they got it.  Obviously,  “a wholesaler in China” is not the answer you’re looking for.

Older pieces often have a mark or signature on them, as it was quite common in the early to the middle part of the 2oth century for makers to put a mark of some kind on their products.  While it wasn’t universal, it was common at one time and if you find such a mark, it could be an indicator that the piece is indeed a vintage one.

vintage necklaceCheck the condition.  Does the piece have dents, scratches or some other indication that it’s seen actual use.  True vintage pieces rarely look brand new.  Most have some signs of aging to them.  If you can examine the piece in person, pay attention to its heft and the materials used.  Older pieces tend to be both sturdier and heavier than more modern ones, especially with costume jewelry, which is made to be sold at a relatively low price.  Modern examples are usually quite cheaply made, while older ones, even if they aren’t gold or silver, are usually pretty solid in construction.

What about the price?  Vintage pieces will often bring higher prices than newer pieces.  If the piece is surprisingly inexpensive, that may be an indication that it’s not what it pretends to be.  True, sometimes bargains are out there, but you should be cautious when you see something that just seems like it’s a whole lot less expensive than it should be.

It’s unfortunate that it’s necessary to be cautious when spending money on vintage jewelry.  But the last thing you want is to spend both your time and money on something that turns out to be a modern reproduction.  It’s better to be safe than sorry.



What is Vintage Jewelry, Anyway?

When it comes to buying old things, such as jewelry, the terminology can be a bit confusing.  “Old” is a word that rarely gets used, as it doesn’t really convey anything positive.  Instead of seeing “old” or “used,” you might see “vintage,” or “estate,” or “antique.”

These things are somewhat vague, and they’re often used interchangeably.   What do they mean?  What do they mean for you, if you’re trying to buy an older piece of jewelry?  The differences in the terms are sometimes meaningful, sometimes not, and sometimes used just to justify charging a higher price.

antique necklaceAntique jewelry should, in an ideal world, refer to a piece that is at least 100 years old.  Often, that’s the case, but the term is often used casually to describe pieces that are much newer than that, including pieces from the Depression, for example.  Of course, it’s often hard to date such things precisely, but as a rule (and legally,) the word “antique” should be used to describe something that is at least a century old.

Estate jewelry is a name that sounds fancier than it really is.  Technically, I suppose, it refers to pieces that came from someone’s estate after they’d passed away.  A lot of jewelry that turns up on the market, especially of the antique variety, does meet that description.  But often, “estate jewelry” is used as a euphemism for “second hand jewelry,” which just doesn’t have the same ring to it.

Adding “estate” to a description just gives the piece a little extra je ne sais quoi when the seller is trying to get a few more dollars for it.  The problem with using “estate” to describe a piece is that it really says nothing about its age, but rather describes where it came from.  It could be describing something 150 years old, or something that someone purchased new last year.

Period jewelry is a bit more precise than “estate,” as it’s going to describe a certain portion of the past from which the piece may have originated.  It may describe the Roaring 20s, or the Depression, or World War II, or mid-century, which encompassed the 1950s and 1960s.  A “period” piece is likely not also an “antique” piece.  Period just gives you a rough idea as to when a piece was made.

antique ringVintage jewelry is another somewhat vague term.  What, exactly, does “vintage” mean?  It means “not new,” but beyond that, it’s sort of hard to tell.   Sometimes, it may mean “at least 20 years old.”  Other times, it may mean “at least 50 years old.”  That, unfortunately, is up to the discretion of the seller, as the term “vintage” isn’t really defined anywhere.   Today, at least, it likely doesn’t describe something that was made in the 1980s or 1990s.

Most of the time, people are interested in buying jewelry that they like and that they can afford.  Attaching terms such as “antique,” “period,” “estate,” or “vintage” to it is usually done to help facilitate a sale.  It’s not going to help you decide if you can afford it, and it’s not likely to help you decide if you like it.

Still, the terms are occasionally helpful in giving you some idea as to where and when the piece originated.  Just keep in mind that none of these terms (aside from “antique”) are official.  Beyond that, just find something you like!