Are you a fan of the shiny, the sparkly and the glitzy, but find yourself strangely unsatisfied with contemporary offerings? Do you long to revisit the styles of your youth, or wish to emulate what’s hot off the runway with a vintage twist? Buying old pieces can be a fun way to expand your jewelry collection and complement an outfit in a way that nothing else will. Also, while a new necklace or pair or earrings drops in value as soon as you exit the store, its vintage cousin will likely gain value over time.
Figure Out What You’re Into
Vintage is a huge category, typically covering every type of jewelry from a hundred years ago through the 1980s. What appeals to you? Art deco statement pieces from the 1920s? Three-strand lucite necklaces from the 1960s? Candy-colored earrings from the 1980s? Do some initial research on the field by visiting somewhere with a lot of inventory, like ebay or a local antique mall, to get a sense of what’s out there before you buy. Once you’ve gotten the lay of the land, you can opt to buy from somewhere with a more curated collection, like Krrb, with confidence.
Don’t Believe Everything You Read
I’ve been collecting vintage jewelry for a long time, and I see errors and exaggerations all the time. It’s not unusual for a seller to note that the item listed is from their grandmother or even great-grandmother as a way of certifying its authenticity. However, even if the poodle brooch is really from a beloved nana, I’m sure she bought jewelry over a fifty-year period if she is anything like my grandmother was. While some of her stuff was from the 1930s, she owned plenty of less desirable items from the 1980s. The fact that something came out of her jewelry box doesn’t offer us much information.
The other claim I sometimes see is that it’s an unmarked piece from a known designer. While there are a few vintage designers like Miriam Haskell who didn’t mark all their pieces, this happens not as often as you’re made to believe. Be wary of the outright fakes on the market, such as some Weiss pins. Once they’ve been passed around, sellers themselves often don’t know they’re not real.
Lastly, if something is reported to be decades old and looks way too shiny and new, steer clear.
Look For Manufacturer’s Marks
Manufacturers’ marks are an excellent way to help you determine the age and quality of a piece, adding to its collectability. There are many listings that include the years during which different vintage jewelry manufacturers were in operation. Armed with this information, you can easily see that a Vendome necklace, for example, isn’t from the 1920s as the seller suspects. Vendome only started manufacturing in 1944.
Illusion Jewels has a super helpful guide to jewelry marks that includes timelines of marks from companies like Coro. The vast majority of vintage jewelry is unmarked, but this does not mean it’s of bad quality. It simply means you need a discerning eye to pick out the good stuff.
Study Clasps and Construction
Another way to tell the age and manufacturer of a piece of jewelry is from the clasp. Some companies had their own specialized necklace ends. In unmarked jewelry, clasps still provide useful clues about age. Necklaces from the 1950s and 60s, for instance, commonly used hook clasps, while barrel clasps were more common in the 1930s. Note that some vintage jewelry may have been restrung and parts of the hardware replaced, so a newer clasp may not always accurately reflect the age of the item, especially if it looks distinct from the rest of the piece.
As far as construction is concerned, people tend to think of pierced earrings as contemporary. However, this is not always the case. You can find pierced earrings on the market from the 19th century.
Buy What You Love
Don’t worry too much about buying something that’s inauthentic or mismarked. If you buy a lot of vintage jewelry, you’ll probably get fooled occasionally, and that’s okay. If you always buy what you personally enjoy, you’ll never be disappointed. Happy hunting!