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The Modern Girl's Guide to Buying Vintage Jewelry

Sujata Iyer May 4, 2019
Old is the new 'New'. Vintage jewelry has made a comeback. But wait, before you run to purchase an expensive vintage jewelry art-piece only to realize it when it's too late; read through this buying guide and pick a piece that's truly worth it.
If you're shopping for vintage jewelry online, never buy from a seller who doesn't have a return policy. An authentic seller will be ready to take his piece back because he knows its worth.
Vintage jewelry to a costume party or for the 'something old' in a wedding or just as a style, these are few of the many times you hear people talking about how awesome this jewelry is and how it ups the glamor quotient in a jiffy; hence, the immense popularity and rush to buy this breed of jewelry.
However, it has also given rise to a lot of vintage jewelry 'manufacturers' who are willing to go to great extents to dupe people into buying jewelry that was made probably a couple of years ago. It has become imperative. So, to understand what to look for when buying vintage jewelry and how to sift the fakes from the real pieces.

Let's Get This Straight

Vintage is such a loosely used term these days that the actual meaning has become ambiguous. To set the record straight, the vintage era is generally considered to be the years between 1910 - 1990.

Vintage Cheat Sheet

Whether you're buying it for use or are beginning to cultivate a collection, it is of utmost importance that the pieces you purchase are authentic and of sound quality. In this section, explained are the things you need to watch out for when you're shopping for vintage jewelry.

Know when it was created

As mentioned earlier, the years between 1910 and 1990 are considered to be the vintage era.
If you're looking for more popular pieces, it would be wise to look for something that was made between the years 1940 and 1970. This was considered the booming period for jewelry―design, pattern, and workmanship-wise.
Word to the Wise: Pieces with rhinestones in the Aurora Borealis finish (a rainbow effect inspired by the Northern Lights) didn't appear till the 1950s, so if a seller says the piece originated before that and uses it as an excuse to quote a higher price, he's probably lying.

Know where it comes from

Provenience is the term used to define the traceability of a piece of jewelry. It consists of details about the piece's origin, history, background, and the previous owners of the piece. While all of this may not always be traceable, an authentic piece worth its price will have at least some verifiable heritage.
Word to the Wise: The seller can claim that he does not have any written record of the piece. You can always ask him how he came upon the piece and ask for contact details to verify for yourself if the piece is worth it.

Don't settle

What we're trying to say is that just because a piece is vintage, a seller may try to sell a damaged piece for a huge sum. This is when you have to make a judgment call.
How bad does the piece look? If it has, say, a lot of stones missing, rethink your decision to buy it. Some sellers might try to sell a piece that has been badly repaired. For instance, stones and beads might have been glued back into the setting. This is one of the worst ways to deface vintage jewelry and speaks a lot about the knowledge of the seller.
Word to the Wise: If you can see this damage clearly, refrain from buying the piece as it is likely that it will need professional repair again.

Don't overspend either

There's this misconception that vintage jewelry is exorbitantly priced. And while many exquisite and detailed pieces might be steeply priced, you can find pieces that are reasonably priced too.
It's just a matter of where you buy them from (to a certain extent). You can find great deals online on reputed sites like eBay and Etsy. Again, as recommended by them and others, read the product description carefully to know the condition of the piece. Also, ensure that there is a clear image with the description so you know what the piece looks like.
Word to the Wise: Flea markets, garage sales, secondhand stores, and thrift stores are all great places to find vintage jewelry. How authentic they are is something that you'll have to decide when you see the piece.

Know patination from damage

Patination is a term for the protective layer that forms over most copper-based metal items and prevents it from eroding.
A certain amount of wear and tear leads to patina, especially in a piece of jewelry. So, it is understandable that some pieces be slightly distressed. In fact, it is quite rare that you'll find a piece of vintage jewelry that has not seen better days (unless it was bought and stored away by the previous owner, which is highly unlikely).
Damage, on the other hand, is pronounced. Dents, scratches, and discoloration are all signs of damage. While accepting a slightly damaged piece is not unheard of, it's the degree of damage that you're willing to accept that matters.
Word to the Wise: Sellers might claim damage to be patina and try to sell a piece. Differentiate between the two and make a decision.

Signed or unsigned - what to pick?

One of the defining features of vintage jewelry is that it was usually marked by the artist or creator.
A stamp, initials, or even a signature are some of the signs that help identify that a piece is vintage. By the initials or signature, its origin and background can be traced. Names like Sarah Coventry, Stanley Hagler, Eisenberg, Schiaparelli, Miriam Haskell, and Schreiner are popular design houses of the era.
Though signed jewelry is sought for its obvious authenticity, collectors claim that they find some exquisite pieces which were left unsigned. So, it is again choice and purpose that determine whether you buy a signed or unsigned piece of jewelry.
Word to the Wise: If you're buying jewelry for collection or for gifting, buying a signed piece has more value. If you're buying to use on a regular basis, even unsigned ones will work fine.

Tips to help you strike a good deal

● The piece should be ornate, have an elaborate design, and sparkling stones. Though there are contemporary pieces that have these too, check for patination and you'll have a winner.
● The clasp is probably one of the biggest clues to judge the genuineness of a piece. Vintage pieces, more often than not, have interesting, fancy, and elaborate clasps. Contemporary ones have simplistic ones.
● If a set is available, avoid breaking it. Meaning, if you're shopping for earrings and find that they're available in a set, it would be wiser to buy the whole set rather than just the earrings. The whole set, together, is worth more than when purchased or sold separately.
● If you can see that more than the usual number of the same pieces are being sold by a seller, chances that it is not a vintage piece are high. They weren't made in bulk, they were customized.
● Stones of vintage pieces are set in prongs. So, if you see stones glued on, it's not vintage.
Merely buying a piece of vintage jewelry is not enough. If not preserved neatly, they can see more wear and tear and get damaged beyond repair. Vintage jewelry aficionados suggest keeping jewelry with foiling separately in cushioned boxes. If you're not sure about how to clean and maintain your jewelry, ask the seller. He will definitely be able to help you.