Repurposing Vintage Costume Jewelry

It’s fun to collect vintage costume jewelry, and older pieces are often of higher quality than their modern equivalents.   Older pieces often reflect the style of a bygone era, and they’re usually big, bold and colorful.

That’s great, but sometimes you find that you’ll have pieces that you can no longer use.  The reasons may vary; you might have an orphan earring that has lost its mate.  Or a necklace or earrings that have a broken clasp.  They could be repaired, but sometimes with less expensive jewelry, even of the vintage variety, it’s just not worth the trouble or expense to fix them.

pumps with vintage jewelryIn those cases, what can you do?  You could just throw the damaged pieces away, and that’s likely what most people do.  That’s fine; the landfills are already full of vintage costume jewelry and on the whole, it’s not really rare.

But you could repurpose those stray pieces and make them into something a bit more useful.

I recently came across an interesting blog post that offers 25 different ways to repurpose your old costume jewelry, and they had some clever ideas for putting damaged or orphan pieces to use.

I won’t go into too many details, as you can read the article to see all 25 ideas.  But a few of the interesting ones were:

Dress up your pumps – a vintage earring can give your pumps a little extra bling.  It shouldn’t be hard to take a pair of earrings and adjust them so they’ll fit on a pair of pumps and look like they belong there.

drawer pullsNapkin rings – Earrings or a brooch can also be used to adorn custom napkin rings.  These are easily made with some fancy ribbon and a bit of glue.  Everyone at your table can have one that looks unique.

Drawer Pulls – Sure, you can buy attractive drawer pulls at the local hardware store.  But why not make some that are truly unique and interesting?

Refrigerator magnets – Refrigerator magnets are often boring, but you can bring them to life by adding a bit of jewelry to them.  Like most of these ideas, it just takes some patience and a bit of glue.

I’m not really the creative sort, and I’m certainly not the arts and craftsy kind, but these projects are both interesting and easy to do, so I might give a couple of them a try.



Which Jewelry Era is Your Favorite?

If you’re new to collecting vintage jewelry, you might think that pieces fall into two categories – new and used.  For many people, that’s enough, and they buy second hand jewelry because it either appeals to their sense of style or because it’s simply more affordable than new pieces.

If that’s you, great.  It’s not my place to tell anyone what they should collect or what they should buy.  After all, it’s really about buying what you like.

victorian earrings

Victorian Earrings

For the hard core among us, there are several different eras of antique or vintage jewelry, as described in a recent article I found online.  They’re all distinctly different, and each has their fans.  Of course, you might like several of them, or all of them, or none of them.  Such is taste.

The Georgian era is the first era that’s widely sought out (though less widely collected due to rarity) by collectors.  This period covered most of the 18th century and consisted of ornate pieces that were heavily laden with gemstones.   There were lots of diamonds and little else, and for that reason, a lot of pieces from the Georgian era have been disassembled for the stones.  You might see the occasional ring or earring, but bigger pieces like necklaces are either in private collections or in museums.

The Victorian era covered most of the 19th century and corresponded with the rule of Queen Victoria of England.  This era is divided into two sections, defined by Prince Albert’s life.  When he was alive, popular fashion included pieces with hearts and birds, but later, after his death, jewelry of the period began to feature dark stones, such as onyx.

Art Deco Necklace

The Art Deco period was a short lived but well-remembered one.  Art Deco is hard to define; it’s one of those “I know it when I see it” sort of things.  Popular in the 1920s and 1930s, the style made use of bold lines, symmetry, and rectangular or triangular patterns.  Pieces from this period often included diamonds along with jade, coral or lapis.

The Retro and Mid-Century periods overlap, and cover the time from just before World War II to the 1960s.  These pieces are sometimes referred to as cocktail jewelry and offered big, bold pieces that were designed to grab your attention.  Pieces were designed to look glamorous and colorful, even if they used fake stones, rather than the real ones used in previous eras.  Pieces from this era are quite popular today, due to the influence of retro-themed movies and TV shows.  Plus, the pieces are far more affordable than those from earlier eras that may have included lots of gold or real diamonds.

Your preference is your own, and most women own clothes that will work well with a variety of jewelry from various eras.  While you likely won’t want to mix and match pieces from different eras with the same outfit, it helps to have a wide variety of pieces in your jewelry case, as you just never know what is going to look best with whatever it is you’re going to wear today.



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!


Vintage Earrings Can Have a Downside

Statistically, nearly three quarters of American women have pierced ears today.  It’s pretty rare for a woman to have her ears pierced in adulthood, too, as most girls have them done while they’re in elementary school or perhaps when they’re in their early teens.

Pierced ears are so common that it’s relatively difficult to buy clip-on earrings anymore, though they’re somewhat easier to purchase online.clip on post earrings

That wasn’t always the case, though.  Back in the day, from the 1940s through the late 1970s, pierced ears were relatively rare.  Most women wore clip-ons instead.

That’s not necessarily bad; it’s just the way things were back then.  What it means today is that if you’re looking for vintage jewelry, and particularly if you’re looking for vintage earrings, you’re much more likely to encounter the clip-on variety than you are to find earrings for pierced ears.

A lot of women might instantly dismiss clip-ons, but there is no reason to pass on them.  While you can’t wear earrings for pierced ears if you don’t have holes in your lobes, anyone can wear clip-ons.  So why don’t more women wear them?

spring back earringsLargely because clip-ons have a reputation for being uncomfortable.  It’s true that some of them can hurt, especially if they’re of the type with the spring back.

On the other hand, those with an adjustable screw post are not only more comfortable, but they’re also adjustable.

One of the advantages of clip-on earrings is that you can wear bigger and heavier earrings than you can with pierced models.  Pierced earrings focus all of the weight on a single point, and particularly heaving earrings can not only be uncomfortable, but they can also cause a “drooping” effect that isn’t very attractive.

Clip-ons, particularly the spring variety, can distribute the weight over a larger amount of ear lobe, which results in a more attractive appearance.

While it’s true that you can technically have vintage earrings that were designed as clip-ons modified for pierced ears, there are some downsides to that:

  • It can be expensive.  You’ll have to pay a jeweler to do that, and the process may not be cost-effective for older costume jewelry.
  • Damage can result.  The jeweler will likely have to apply high heat to the earring to solder a new mounting post on them, and this can damage fragile older earrings.

A better idea is simply to learn to get comfortable wearing clip-on earrings.  If you like vintage jewelry, you’re going to encounter a lot of clip-ons, and if you wave your hand and unilaterally decide that you’re not going to wear anything not made for pierced ears, then you’re automatically declaring a whole bunch of attractive and affordable vintage earrings to be off limits.

Why limit yourself?  Find a pair of vintage clip-ons with screw-type posts and give them a try.  You can adjust them for comfort and wear them for short periods of time until you get more comfortable with them.  After that, you can try the spring-back variety.  They can be a bit more uncomfortable, but that can vary dramatically by style, as there were a number of different spring-back types.

Some work better than others and some are more comfortable than others.

If you like vintage jewelry, you’ll just have to accept that some of what you find isn’t going to be exactly the way you’d like it to be.  They’re still pretty pieces, however, and you’ll still look great wearing them.

Have fun!


What Color Are Diamonds?

What color are diamonds?  That’s a trick question, right?  Aren’t all diamonds clear and colorless?

That’s a common assumption, and there’s a reason for that.  Nearly all diamonds are clear and colorless.  They’re still beautiful, and people still want them, and nice ones still sell for a fortune.

Most people assume that gemstones with color in them must be rubies or emeralds or sapphires.  While those stones do have color and are themselves beautiful stones, they’re distinctly different from colored diamonds.

yellow diamondColored diamonds are exceptionally rare and can sell for a great deal more money than your (ahem) run-of-the-mill clear ones.   Diamonds, are, by definition, created from carbon under extreme pressure.  If the material is 100% carbon, you’ll get the traditional colorless diamond as a result.

Sometimes, however, trace amounts of other substances can find their way into the mix.  This can happen under the Earth’s surface, where temperatures are hot and the various elements aren’t exactly separated from one another.  While scientists know that a small amount of boron in the mix can create a blue diamond and a little bit of nitrogen can turn the stone yellow, they’re not entirely sure why some stones end up pink or red.  Exposure to certain types of radiation is thought to create green diamonds.

This happens on occasion, though it’s quite rare.  It’s been estimated that only one in ten thousand diamonds has any color to it at all.  If you take into account that the vast majority of diamonds are not suitable for gemstones, you’ll understand why we rarely see colored diamonds for sale or even hear about them.

The Hope Diamond

The Hope Diamond

Some, of course, are famous.  The Hope Diamond is probably the best-known example, partially because of its famous history, and partially because, at more than 45 carats, it’s an exceptionally large diamond, whether it’s colored or not.  Of course, it is colored, and it’s a beautiful shade of blue.

If you’re shopping for colored diamonds, you’ll likely have to pay more for one than you would for a colorless one.  There are jewelers who specialize in colored diamonds, such as Leibish.  They’re not the only specialists, however, and a quick Web search will turn up a few other reputable vendors.

In recent years, manufactured diamonds have finally matured in that the industry has finally figured out how to consistently manufacture gemstone quality diamonds for use in jewelry.  As you might suspect, manufactured diamonds are also available in colored varieties, and they’re likely to be far more affordable than the natural ones, as they can be produced more or less on demand, where the natural colored diamonds turn up rather randomly, and rarely.

The usual factors that go into pricing a diamond – cut, clarity, color and carat weight, also apply to colored diamonds, and they’ll be priced according to those factors.

Diamonds are terrific and beautiful.  But they’re not just colorless.  They come in all of the colors of the rainbow.


Engagement Rings Aren’t Always About Diamonds

When you think about engagement rings, you probably think about diamonds.  OK, you might think about your husband, or your fiancee, or that hunky guy at the office that you wish would ask you out, but when it comes to the jewelry aspect of engagement rings, most people think about diamonds.

more than diamonds

There’s a reason for that – the diamond industry.  They’ve been working for the past 50 years to make sure that people everywhere automatically think “diamonds!” when they think about engagement rings.  I get it; they want to sell as many diamonds as possible.  There’s nothing wrong with that, either.  I like diamonds.  Most people do.  They’re pretty.  Actually, they’re gorgeous.

It might come as a surprise, however, to discover that diamonds haven’t always dominated the engagement ring market.  Prior to the big push to have diamonds rule the world in the 1960s, an engagement ring might have made use of diamonds, or it might have had rubies, or emeralds, or sapphires, or even a combination of several stones.

A diamond in the center with another type of stone surrounding it makes a lovely accent, and has the ability to actually draw more attention to the diamond itself.  You can have the diamond in the middle, with other stones surrounding it, or you can reverse that and ve another colorful stone in the center, surrounded by diamonds as a supporting cast.

Either way looks great.  Sure, it’s a throwback to the vintage days, but no one is going to notice that.  They’re going to notice that the ring looks terrific, and that the bride-to-be looks gorgeous.

I’ve even seen rings with black onyx and diamonds.  That sounds like an odd combination, but it sort of creates a “black and white” vibe that can look terrific, especially if you’re wearing black and white, or black, or white.

emeralds and diamondsOne advantage to buying rings that have different colored stones is that the might be less expensive than going all-diamond.  Diamonds are still the choice for engagement ring shoppers, there’s still more or less a monopoly on the market by DeBeers, and jewelers know that guys aren’t going to want to appear to be cheap when they’re shopping for a ring for their bride to be.

That being the case, and with less demand for rings with other colors of stones, you may be able to find a drop dead gorgeous engagement ring at a somewhat lower price than you might have to pay if you go with the herd and buy a ring of the all-diamond variety.

If you’re shopping for an engagement ring (or encouraging someone you know to shop for one for you,) you should give some thought to thinking outside the box when it comes to design and color.  Sure, there may be some pressure from family (hi, mom!) and friends to stick with the status quo, and at this point, diamonds are the status quo, but these days, more and more brides are taking a more unique approach to every aspect of their wedding, so there’s no reason why you shouldn’t do the same with the engagement ring itself.

In the end, the ring is about love and commitment.  If you’ve got that part down, you can get a ring, new or vintage, with any kind of stones that you like.

It will still be pretty.