Antique jewellery has a unique charm – a heady mix of history, meaning and beauty that is often entirely one-of-a-kind. These jewels are timeless and, when passed down from generation to generation, often priceless as well. Think about wonderfully symbolic antique engagement rings, passed down through the generations to to-be brides, or heirloom antique necklaces and antique bracelets handed down from mother to daughter through the ages. And if you don’t have your very own heirloom jewels, it’s never too late to start a beautiful tradition by buying wonderful antique jewellery.
Unfortunately, in this day and age, almost everything can be duplicated with ease. What looks like antique jewellery could turn out to be cheap replicas with no value or backstory. If you love old estate jewellery, you need to make sure what you pay for is what you get. We delve in to the ins and outs of antique jewellery, how to buy it and what to look for when you find a jewel you love. But first…
What Is Antique Jewellery?
The terms ‘antique’, ‘vintage’ and ‘estate’ are often thrown around interchangeably but these three words have distinct meanings in the jewellery world. Antique jewellery refers to jewellery that is over a hundred years old. Estate jewellery consists of jewels that have been owned before. Vintage jewels are linked to an era – think art deco or retro. Therefore, both antique and vintage jewellery can be broadly classified as estate jewellery.
How To Buy Antique Jewellery
When buying jewellery, you always make sure you buy from a reputed jeweller, based on recommendations and personal experience. With antique jewellery, you don’t always have the luxury of buying from a known seller. Here are some tips to make sure you get a decent deal:
Ask Questions & Research about Antique Jewellery
Don’t be apprehensive to ask the seller about details on the jewel you are buying. Going to consumer and tradeshows and exhibitions may ensure that some standards and criteria are set for those dealers participating. Nevertheless, always ask for details on the source, age, and background of the antique jewellery you are interested in. Check whether the documents are trustworthy by checking their credibility online. There are many jewellery associations and websites that guide with this online.
Closely Inspect The Piece
Take a close look at the state of the jewellery you are purchasing. Check for cracks, chips or obvious and deep scratches. Check the enamel and precious stones especially to see whether any damage has been done over the years. Gold and silver vintage jewellery is prone to cracks and holes too. Corrosion and discoloration can also be permanent flaws that bring down the value of a jewel so be sure to scrutinise the piece from every angle to be sure. Surface scratches can often be polished and are less of a worry. You want to buy estate jewellery in tip-top condition and not on the decline because it has to last you for many years to come.
Craftsmanship in Antique Jewellery Designs
Fine estate jewellery isn’t just pricey because of its age or previous owners. The reason it stands the test of time is often due to its fine craftsmanship. When checking out antique jewellery designs, look for straight lines, fluid curves, impeccable finish and symmetry in the jewel’s finish. Consistency in colour, shape, and cut of diamonds or gemstones in antique jewels is also a mark of their quality.
Watch Out For Fakes
Look out for the maker’s mark in the antique jewellery you are eyeing – most pieces will have these visible through a loupe or magnifying glass. These identifying marks can give you an idea of the value of the jewel. If you find inconsistencies between the marks and the documents or are suspicious of the origin, double check with an expert or research the marking only. Check the style of the estate jewellery you are looking to purchase against the fashion of the era it is claimed to be from – a more modern design could point to a counterfeit.
This isn’t always possible but it’s best advised that you buy antique and vintage jewels that is sold with credible documentation. Having the right documentation automatically adds value to the jewel – it can be seen as an investment as well as appreciated for its ornamental charm. Some documents useful to obtain include notes or letters by the previous owners citing their ownership of the jewel, receipts that include the previous owners’ names or any other documents that corroborate the jewel’s past.
Take A Professional Opinion
Antique and vintage jewels don’t come cheap. It’s worth spending extra to get your prized potential purchase checked by a antiques professional to make sure you don’t go home with a not so golden oldie. An expert confirmation in writing on the value of jewel you want to purchase can also help you resell the jewel in the future. Diamond and gemstone professionals can help evaluate the intrinsic value of the jewel based purely on the quality or stones used. GIA certification provides gradings for the 4Cs and the antiques dealer should have these if applicable to the jewel – so always insist on it.
Go With Your Gut
If you are an avid antiques lover, you will already have a fair amount of knowledge of what makes a good estate jewellery buy. It’s also important that you fall in love the jewel you are about to purchase – you don’t want buyer’s remorse. Make sure you try on the piece and spend ample time thinking about it before committing; you want a timeless jewel you can enjoy and pass down through generations.
Where To Buy Antique Jewellery From
You can stumble across antique jewellery almost anywhere. It’s not necessarily true that all antique and vintage jewellery is valuable. So, while you may find something with decades on it from a particular era that you love, it may not be worth a heavy price tag or you could bag yourself a bargain if the seller is reasonable.
If you are hunting down antique jewellery, look online for sellers, visit yard sales and flea markets. Look up estate sales, trade shows, exhibitions and craft fairs – these are often, but not always, more credible sources of estate jewels. Specialised antique stores in or around your city, with a good reputation, may also house a jewellery section worth looking at.
Whichever way you decide to look for antique jewellery, follow our buying tips to make sure you get the best deal possible.
Caring For Antique Jewellery
Maintenance is key to keeping your estate jewellery looking pretty and also avoid it depreciating in value. Here are a few tips:
- Prevent the jewels from getting scratched by placing them flat in a fabric lined box.
- Do not store it with other jewels to avoid tangling and damage.
- Avoid exposing the jewellery to harsh weather conditions and moisture. Pearls, however, thrive with some amount of moisture so wear these often in order to expose them to the atmosphere. Read all about pearl jewellery and maintenance here.
- Take care of precious gems mounted on jewellery. For example, emeralds are extremely delicate and crack easily so be extremely careful when wearing jewellery like a bracelet that could encounter a bang easily.
- Wear the jewellery only when needed – don’t bathe or sleep with it on.
- Depending on the material with which your jewellery is made, research on the specific way it must be cleaned.
- Have your jewellery checked regularly by a reputed jeweller to make sure links are strong and stones are not loose and at the risk of falling.
- Clean your gold jewellery regularly to dissuade tarnish and keep it sparkly bright. See how to effectively clean gold jewellery.
- Clean diamonds regularly, too. Click our article on how to clean diamonds for an in-depth guide to maintaining the precious stones.
- For more tips on packing jewellery, read our article.
Whether you are buying an antique wedding ring, a vintage necklace or an antique bracelet, it is important that you are enamoured by the jewel completely. Make sure it is something you will want to wear often and with enthusiasm. Its investment value should be secondary, as jewellery prices vary according to the diamond and gold markets. You may not always make money off your purchase when you want to sell. But if it’s a piece you genuinely love, you’ll be happy to keep it forever, or at least until the time to sell is right.