Shopping for vintage jewelry is a popular activity among jewelry lovers.
Hunting for and finding a unique piece delivers a thrill that few other shopping experiences can, yet many people who are new and unseasoned in the game are apprehensive about getting involved — and with good reason. With all the factors to consider, it’s easy to get overwhelmed and opt for buying items at a chain mall store and call it a day.
But why settle for a mass-produced, generic piece when you can have a unique item that has both stood the test of time and has a story behind it?
With a little bit of knowledge and some practice, anyone can successfully navigate the vintage jewelry scene. To learn more, we spoke with Dawn Sheppard, owner of Dawn’s Vintage Jewelry in Brookfield, CT. Here are a few things she says you should keep in mind when shopping vintage.
Vintage or Antique?
Although these two terms are often used interchangeably, shoppers should know they are not the same thing. Technically vintage pieces are more than 20 years old and antiques are over 100 years old. However, these definitions are not strictly adhered to, and the stylistic period of the piece holds more weight in determining whether it’s considered vintage or antique. Items from before the Art Deco period of the 1930s are generally considered antique and those after the ‘40s are considered vintage.
Fine or costume?
When it comes to vintage jewelry, there is also another highly important distinction that has to be made before you get involved. Shoppers should consider whether they want fine or costume jewelry.
In terms of vintage, fine jewelry is made of precious metals like karate gold, platinum and silver or precious to semi-precious stones like diamonds, rubies, and topaz. Costume jewelry on the other hand – which reflects the fashion of the period it was made in – is usually made with materials such as glass, plated metals, plastic and wood.
Do your research beforehand
There is nothing wrong with walking into a store and being drawn to a piece that speaks to you, but it can also work in your favor to know what you are looking for. Research the different era pieces – are you going for the nature-inspired designs of the Georgian Era, the geometric shapes of the art deco period, or the intricate etchings found in pieces from the early Victorian era? Knowing these details can make the experience all the more rewarding.
A few ways to expand your knowledge base is to dig up information online, speak with jewelry enthusiasts and collectors, and visit bookstores, libraries and museums.
When buying a piece, make sure you examine it closely. Although true vintage pieces (as opposed to reproductions) are of high quality, it is a good idea to look at the clasps and backings, as well as the weight and texture of the item before you buy. You want to be aware of any existing scratches, chips, missing pieces, discolorations, corrosion and other flaws. Sheppard also warns of green metal parts on pieces as that’s an indicator that the item has been compromised and will most likely continue to deteriorate. This can happen if the item has been placed in humid or wet conditions.
A good tip for beginners is to shop specifically at vintage stores as opposed to online, as you can look at the item in person. Additionally, the pieces in most of these stores are likely to have been pre-examined before being put up for sale, which takes the work out of it for you.
If you see a damaged item that you absolutely love and still want to make a purchase on, Sheppard suggests it might work in your benefit to point it out to the seller and negotiate a lower price.
Another thing to keep in mind is certain stores and repair shops will offer to fix items that have loose parts or have minor damages on. Make sure if you are having repair work done to ask for the correct era stones and parts if you want to maintain the integrity of your vintage piece.
Caring for your jewelry
Congratulations, you’ve made your purchase! Now you have to maintain it so you can love it, show it off, and pass it down to your children. To keep your items in good shape, follow a basic care guide: handle the jewelry gently, store in a dry, safe and clean place, and use a soft cloth and just a little bit of glass cleaner to remove any grime. Don’t use modern jewelry cleansers, as those may ruin your piece.
With these basic tips and tricks anyone can enter the vintage jewelry shopping world with ease. With practice and time you will garner enough know-how and knowledge to shop, buy, trade and collect vintage just like the pros.