Special, unique, carefully crafted: shopping for vintage jewelry can bring you some of the most beautiful items you will ever own. And considering they’re often times not just adornments, but artistically designed little pieces of history, there’s no wonder prices for them can reach dizzying heights.
But what do you need to know before you immerse yourself in the world of vintage and antique jewelry? What to consider before you spend your money on these glimmering baubles? And how to make sure you get the real deal and not a dupe?
Look at the item’s markings
Markings are one of the easiest ways to date an item, and also gather some information on the actual metal composition. They can also show you if they belong to a certain designer or house, and even where the item was made.
Discussing jewelry markings is an exhaustive subject, that could fill multiple books, but there are numerous online resources to start with.
Consider the item’s condition
Keep in mind that a vintage item will most likely have some flaws. At the very least it will be dirty and show a certain patina of time. It may also very well be scratched or even cracked, so it’s up to you to spot any issues and consider if they are fixable. Keep an eye out also for super shiny items that are a bit too perfect! It can be a sign of newly produced jewelry, even if the style mimics a previous era.
Research the product and seller
While this may be a bit more difficult or even impossible to do when you buy from a flea market, it is a no-brainer if you’re shopping online or from physical stores. Consider buying from reputable specialty shops until you get a well practiced eye. Oh, and always check the seller’s rating when buying off sites like Etsy or Ebay.
Check the fastenings and clasps
Fastenings and clasps can also give you an idea of how old your item is. It may help to know that for example brooches of the Victorian age featured T bar clasps with no holding or closing mechanism. C clasps were introduced in the 20th century, and the rollover or spinning lock mechanism was used post 20’s.
When it comes to earrings, hinged ones popular in the 19th century and also today. Screwback earrings can be dated post 1894, while earring clips appeared in 1934 and became popular in the 40’s. A necklace’s hook clasp would have been often used in the 50’s and 60’s, while barrel ones have been used in very old times, as well as today. Of course, the hardware can also be changed along the years, so don’t count exclusively on it when dating your jewelry.
Research the style of the period
Different periods have different styles, of course. And knowing and understanding them will not only help you more accurately date your purchase, but also help you more easily find something that suits your personal style.
For example, filigree jewelry was extremely popular in the 19th century and the first part of the 20th. White metals, pastel or clear coloured gems and reproduction jewelry (faux pearls and glass stones) were all the rage in the 1920’s. They marked the Art Nouveau current- which I am a huge fan of- thanks to its very feminine and delicate air.
This was promptly replaced by the much more colourful and geometrical Art Deco, inspired also by Surrealism. (As always, arts, history and fashion are tightly linked throughout the decades.)
The war brought on restrictions on every level, including accessories, while the New Look of the 50’s brought back romantic looks, colours and iridescent gems.
Colourful, plastic jewelry became king in the 60’s, while the 70’s brought a darker, moodier and more natural look and feel to accessories and jewelry. This will again alternate in the 80’s, 90’s and modern days. As you see, fashion is indeed cyclical and opposing trends tend to be replacing each other every decade.
I hope you find my tips helpful when trotting around the next vintage fair you go to. Let me know if you have any special such pieces in your wardrobe, and also if you have any tips for spotting that perfect vintage gem!
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