At Diamond Estate Jewelry Buyers, we are passionate about all aspects of antique jewelry. Collecting antique jewelry can be a tremendously rewarding activity for anyone–not just professional estate buyers.
The jewelry itself offers a unique connection to the past. From the “whiplash” motifs of Art Nouveau jewelry to the Cubism-inspired Art Deco jewelry of the ‘roaring twenties’, antique jewelry is a window into our collective soul.
In addition to that, there is always the thrill of the hunt. You sometimes can find better made antique jewelry for less than a period reproduction piece, and finding that beautiful old period piece at a flea market or estate sale is a remarkable thrill.
Get an Education in Antique Jewelry
The first order of business in learning to collect antique jewelry is to get a basic education. A good place to start is with the history of styles. While there are many web sites devoted to the history of jewelry, a more definitive work is Understanding Jewelry by David Bennett and Daniela Mascetti. This authoritative volume is complete with timelines and photographs of antique jewelry from specific periods.
Once you begin to recognize what kind of jewelry is typical of a given era, you may find that your taste is for a particular style, such as the simple, all white elegance of the Edwardian period. You should plan on spending some time in the library as well. Research is the key to knowing the difference between the good collectible pieces and the reproduced junk you’re often likely to find.
Get Out into the World
A good next step is to get your head out of the books and find some actual jewelry. If you’re lucky enough to live in an area with an antique jewelry store (or an antique store that sells antique jewelry), you should start there. In addition to having many different types of antique jewelry, the inventory changes regularly, so you’re likely to see many examples from different periods. Ask questions about the pieces you’re interested in, even if you’re not quite ready to make a purchase. The staff should be happy to help you learn about the jewelry. After all, you’re a potential client.
Another good place to check out are local auction houses (if there are any in your area). Just be sure that you investigate the auction house and verify that it is a legitimate local business with a trustworthy background. There are a lot of fly-by-night auction houses that could roll into your town and misrepresent items, selling “antique jewelry” with bogus (hyper-inflated) appraisals.
Typically these outfits are just selling their own merchandise, often really cheap reproductions made in South America. They mail out post cards and/or run big ads in the newspaper under headlines such as “Estate Auction” or “Police Auction”, showcasing “auction pieces” that have ridiculously over-inflated appraisals attached to them.
Unknowing consumers see these ads and think they’re going to get a great deal on an expensive piece of antique jewelry, and they end up being taken. The “auction house” then moves on to the next town to repeat the scam. This type of outfit is much different from established reputable auction houses like Skinner, Potomack Company, or Bonhams–not to mention elite auction houses like Christie’s and Sotheby’s, which is where you will find the most extraordinary and valuable antique jewelry up for sale.
Flea markets and trade shows are also good places to continue your education in antique jewelry. Some vendors are very knowledgeable, and many are quite happy to share what they know. Local jewelers can be helpful as well, especially if they have antique or estate jewelry departments. They should be open to your questions and genuinely interested in furthering your education. Most master jewelers are walking encyclopedias, and are happy to help the serious student with basic information about diamonds and other gemstones.
Scan the local media for estate sales. While you might not find a knowledgeable jeweler there, you may get a chance to inspect some antique pieces. The more you see, the more you’ll learn.
Develop an Eye for Antique Jewelry
Once you’ve found the antique jewelry you’re interested in, you’ll need to have a good look at it, and that means more than just looking. You’ll need to handle the piece to make any kind of real assessment. The two most important things to consider are quality and condition. Some things are obvious, like missing stones or chipped enamel. Scratches in gold and silver can be repaired, but you should avoid antique jewelry with obvious cracks or blisters.
Get a Better Eye for a Better Look
To get an even closer look at the antique jewelry you’re interested in, you’ll need a jeweler’s loupe, one that magnifies at least 10 times. With your better eye, carefully examine the back of the piece. Check the clasp or closure mechanism. It should still be in working order, and be appropriate to the era of the piece. If a clasp or closure doesn’t match the type that was typically used in the period, it was probably replaced at some point.
Check the Back of Antique Jewelry
The back of the piece is where you are likely to find other tell-tale signs of repair. Any obvious solder is a good indication of previous repair, and greatly devalues the piece. The level of craftsmanship in antique jewelry was generally quite high, and the quality of the back of the piece should match the quality of the front. Many reproduced pieces simply copy a style, and a lack of craftsmanship will be obvious in the back. You are also likely to find a stamp on the back indicating metal content, and perhaps the signature of the jeweler if there is one. These ‘hallmarks’ can indicate quite a bit about the piece, and a basic working knowledge of them is a great asset in collecting antique jewelry.
To learn more about the hallmarks on antique jewelry, please check out our article: Identifying Estate Jewelry Hallmarks
Once you have begun collecting antique jewelry, there will be times that you wish to sell an item, to free up some cash to purchase another piece. When that time comes, you can contact Diamond Estate Jewelry Buyers for a free verbal appraisal and immediate cash offer.