Jewelry has been around since the early stages of civilization. In the beginning, it was used for magical protection, good luck, and warding off evils, but also for aesthetic purposes – we humans have been vain since the dawn of time! Considering how long jewelry has been around and the popularity it has enjoyed through the centuries, there is plenty of it on the market (although you won’t find any 75,000 year old beads on eBay…).
There are many people who collect vintage jewelry from all eras, and I have to say it is a pretty addictive hobby. For those just starting out (or even just shopping for a single piece), knowing where to begin can be tough. Where do you shop? What should you look for?
The First Steps
Going online to look is a natural first choice for many, and you can get a good start on educating yourself simply by browsing around. Vintage jewelry is hugely popular both among collectors and “regular shoppers” and there are plenty of forums online where you can learn a lot just from reading old threads, and of course also ask questions.
What Am I Looking For?
There are many that sell vintage jewelry on the internet, but the multitude of choices can be overwhelming. I find it helpful to decide on the style, material, designer and maybe even decade I want to focus on to help narrow things down a bit, for example: silver necklaces from the 1940s; Miriam Haskell bracelets; enamel Coro brooches; or maybe March birthstone charms in any material from any era.
It always pays to be cautions, no matter where you shop. There are many fakes and “faux vintage” pieces out there, and sometimes not even the seller knows if what they have is the real deal or not. The best way to ensure that you get a true vintage piece is to learn as much about the design / designer / era as you can beforehand. Learn about materials, marks, signed and unsigned pieces, telltale signs, common fakes, etc. And remember that “vintage inspired” and “vintage style” is NOT true vintage.
Read as many books as you can; visit local antique shops and ask questions; surf the net and read up on tips and advice at sites like Vintage Costume Jewels and Collectors Weekly. If you find a piece of jewelry you want to buy but are unsure about when it comes to authenticity, ask in a forum. People are usually more than happy to help and offer advice.
Also check out the rating and reviews of the seller you are considering buying from. Do they offer any sort of proof of authenticity? Do they accept returns? Are the photos on their site clear and crisp, and are there closeups of each part of the piece (including hallmarks)? Contact the seller and ask questions about the item, and to see more photos. If the seller doesn’t get back to you, or doesn’t answer your questions directly, it is best to stay away.
Always pay with a credit card or PayPal. That way you are protected and there is a record of the transaction (and your money can be refunded). If the seller won’t accept either of these payment methods, I would not do business with them.
As long as you do your research and make sure to buy from a reputable seller, buying online is a great way to add to your vintage collection. And if you happen to end up with a fake piece that the seller refuses to take back, consider it a learning experience (as long as you didn’t pay a ton of money for it – in that case I would suggest contacting a lawyer).
And, most of all, have fun with it. It’s important to enjoy the process, and want to learn more, otherwise it’s just another job.