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]
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]
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.
In 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.
Napkin 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.
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.
With 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.
Check 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.
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 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.
Vintage 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![Top]