Archive for the ‘Vintage’ Category

Collecting Vintage Fashion Jewelry

Sunday, January 9th, 2011

Vintage fashion jewelry (also known as costume jewellery) pieces have become increasingly popular collectors’ items over the past few years. It is easy to see why – there is a huge variety of styles to choose from, many are quite affordable, and it’s a collection you can wear and enjoy every day.

A Focused Collection
You can of course buy any vintage jewelry you like, but sometimes it’s easier to focus a collection around a certain theme and zero in on specific pieces, such as fashion jewelry necklaces, brooches, bracelets, charms, cocktail rings, earrings, etc.; a certain material like Bakelite, enamel, stainless steel, Swarovski crystals, wood, etc.; a particular motif such as frogs, elephants, flower baskets, etc.; a specific designer – Chanel, Coro, Miriam Haskell, Dior, Coppola e Toppo (or lesser-known names); a particular decade – you get the idea.

Signed or Unsigned?
For those who are just starting out collecting, the safest bet is to go with signed items (at least for pricier pieces). There is lots of gorgeous unsigned vintage designer fashion jewelry on the market (many pieces are even made by the most well-known and collectible designers), and they can often turn out to be your most valuable finds, but until you have developed an eye for a designer’s style and know that what you are looking at is in fact an unsigned designer piece, investing a lot of money in it can be risky (this advice can obviously be ignored if you have completely fallen in love with the item and don’t care if it’s the real deal or not!).

The best way to learn to recognize vintage designer jewelry is to study designs online, in museums, and in books. Also make sure to visit antique and vintage shops (ideally ones that specialize in vintage fashion jewelry) and ask questions about the pieces.

Parures, Diamanté, Pavé – Some Common Terms
Once you start exploring the world of vintage fashion jewelry, you will come across certain terms again and again, and it is good to know what they mean. Here are some that I had to look up when I first started getting into this:

Apple Juice – a semitransparent, yellow plastic
Bakelite – a type of moldable but sturdy plastic (made from formaldehyde and carbolic acid)invented by Dr. Leo Baekland. Popular in costume jewelry in the 1920s-1940s.
Cabochon – a smooth stone or paste with a rounded dome-like top and flat bottom
Demi-Parure – a set with fewer pieces (2-3), often containing a matching necklace, pin and earrings
Diamanté – diamond imitation made from rhinestone
Gilt – gold plated or dipped in gold
Japanning – a finishing technique that colors metal a dull or shiny black (an imitation of Asian lacquer)
Jelly Belly – a pin or brooch in the shape of an animal with a glass or lucite stone for a belly
Lucite – a transparent plastic (acrylic resin)
Parure – a set of jewelry (4-5 pieces), most often consisting of a matching bracelet, brooch, necklace, earrings and sometimes a ring
Paste – glass that has been cut and faceted to look like gemstones
Pate de Verre – also called glass paste or poured glass. Glass is ground into a paste, sometimes mixed with colors, placed in a mold and fired in a kiln, resulting in a dense frosted glass piece
Pavé – design term for stones placed so close together you cannot see the surface beneath them (it is “paved” with stones).
Pinchbeck – a gold imitation made from copper and zinc, invented by Christopher Pinchbeck
Prong setting – a setting where the stones are held in place by metal prongs (claw-like “fingers”)
Rhodoid – laminated layers of cellulose acetate, invented by designer Lea Stein’s husband in the late 60s
Russian gold – a coppery, matte antiquey-looking gold finish developed by Joseff of Hollywood in order to cut down on reflections from jewelry in films
Vermeil – silver with a gold plate coating

Where To Shop
You can find collectible vintage jewelry in many places – flea markets, yard sales, antique shops and shows, estate sales, online, auctions, relatives’ attics, etc. With the vast amount of vintage fashion jewelry on the internet, it is tempting (and easy) to buy online. But beware – there are lots of fakes out there, and many are even stamped with the supposed designer’s name. When starting out, I recommend buying pieces in person rather than online, Find a reputable, well-renowned dealer in your area (and in places you are traveling to – do your research well ahead of time). Buying “live” gives you a chance to closely inspect each item, and learn more about it from the seller.

Having said that, I would like to mention that an inexpensive piece presented to you as designer vintage costume jewelry does not necessarily have to be a fake. Many stunning pieces are surprisingly affordable, especially those that were mass-produced.

Inspect The Jewelry
Always make sure to examine each piece closely (with a magnifying glass) and be on the lookout for cracks, scratches, missing pieces, fading, and obvious repairs. Is it of good quality or does it feel flimsy? Are the stones firmly set (and how – prongs? glue?) or are there loose pieces? Prong-set stones are preferable to glued, because the glue can dry over time, causing the stones to come lose. Make sure the clasp works.

Maintenance And Care
When wearing your vintage jewelry, be careful with it and avoid it coming in contact with lotions, hair spray, soap, perfume, etc. (not easy, I know). Clean it with a soft cloth and use a q-tip or very soft toothbrush to get dirt out of hard to reach places. Store the pieces in jewelry boxes (one item per box, unless you have set, in which case I prefer to keep them together) lined with acid-free paper.

I hope I have inspired you to explore the world of vintage fashion jewelry. Even if you don’t want to turn into a full-blown collector, it is a lot of fun browsing for it, testing your knowledge and see if you can pick out a certain designer’s work, and finding a gorgeous item to be enjoyed for decades. And they make beautiful gifts.


Using Vintage Jewelry To Make A Charm Bracelet

Tuesday, December 21st, 2010

Vintage jewelry can be so many things – expensive designer as well as very affordable “no-name” pieces, estate and costume jewellery, etc. The term “vintage” usually describes jewelry that has been owned before, but opinions differ on which specific era or years they hail from.

Some good sources for finding vintage jewellery include antique and consignment stores, flea markets, estate sales, auctions, yard sales, online, and older relatives’ attics. Prices vary widely; you can find old buttons for pennies and end up spending thousands of dollars for designer vintage fashion jewelry. Stores and flea market vendors mark their products up, and at auctions, prices can escalate quickly as the bidding begins. At a yard sale on the other hand, the seller wants to get rid of the stuff and not have to pack it up again at the end of the day, and if you arrive close to the end of the sale, you may be able to negotiate even better prices (although you also risk missing something that sold earlier in the day).

You may find a vintage piece you love to wear just the way it is, but you may also find jewelry you only like certain elements of. Or you may find you want to use old pieces in a new way – for example, old sparkly earrings can be re-made into pendants, vintage buttons and beads can become charms, antique watch faces can be hooked together into a bracelet. We are all trying to be good about recycling, re-using and upcycling these days, and it’s not only fun to create jewelry this way, but also a great way to give old, forgotten pieces new life.

Perfect examples of this are the stunning vintage cluster earring bracelets from Auckland-based designer DotStitch.

Photos: DotStitch

She also makes rings and necklaces, and I asked her how she came up with the idea for the bracelets and where she finds her supplies. She graciously agreed to share her story with us:

I began making these bracelets early in 2010. I have always loved vintage and antique costume jewelry and I was first inspired to make something using these pieces by the gorgeous statement necklaces I had seen that used vintage components. Then one Saturday I went to an artisan market and a lady was selling cute button bracelets using a bracelet base and stacks of buttons and beads.

At the time I only had about 30 or 40 vintage earrings that came from my Mother’s costume jewelry collection and various charity shops. It was enough to put together a bracelet. You know the little feeling of excitement you get when you create something that you know is right? I got it and I was hooked. It took several tries before I got the technique right, so that the earrings were not damaged and sat flat on the base and that the bracelets were robust. Finally, around six months after seeing the button bracelets, after sourcing supplies and researching glues and most importantly, wearing a couple of my own bracelets to test their durability and “wearability” I was ready to go.

I started DotStitch in August 2010 and I love it! It’s just wonderful that people purchase the items I make. I have already had several commissions for wedding jewelry and more recently a lady has asked me to make a bracelet out of a special pair of her Mother’s earrings that her Mom used to wear when she went dancing with her Dad. Such a great idea!

I find a lot of the earrings on ebay. Also, estate sales, charity shops, vintage shops and curiosity shops can be great sources.

Inspiring, isn’t it?

Another great example is the charm bracelets by Michigan artist Pamela Ball of Curly Girl Boutique. She uses a mix of new and vintage fashion jewelry to create these fabulous pieces:

Photos: Pamela Ball

So how do you make a traditional charm bracelet using vintage jewelry supplies?

If your going all vintage, you need to find a chain of some sort, vintage jewelry findings (a clasp, head pins and jump rings), and trinkets to use as charms. The chain does not necessarily have to be an old bracelet – it can be a necklace, fob or pocket watch chain, anything you find and like. The clasp can also come from any type of old jewelry piece, as long as it hooks together somehow.

And now the really fun part: the charms. If you’re like me, you’re probably always keeping an eye out for pieces that can be used as charms, and it really is an ongoing process. Say you want to create a blue and silver charm bracelet – in my case, I would dig through my collected trinkets to see what I have that would work, and then supplement them with new (vintage) purchases. Or, maybe you find that you have 4 equestrian-related pieces that can be re-worked into charms, and decide to do an entire horse-inspired bracelet with those pieces as your starting point. If you don’t have jewelry boxes full of charms already, start searching for items that would be perfect for the bracelet. Be warned though: this “hunting for charms” is a very addictive hobby!

Once you have all your components, lay out the chain and position the charms along it (do not attach them yet). Move them around until you like what you see, and start attaching them with the help of head pins and/or jump rings. Or, if you prefer items that attach with a lobster clasp, Thomas Sabo charm style, put a small clasp on each charm and then attach them to the bracelet (make sure the chain you have works for this before you start though – the chain openings can’t be too narrow). Add the clasp, and you are all set!

For more detailed instructions on tools and how to attach charms, see my “Putting together a traditional charm bracelet” and Make a charm bracelet from silver rings posts.

To see more examples of how old items get a new life, check out my post about costume jewelry made from recycled items


Costume Jewellery

Sunday, November 21st, 2010

Costume jewellery encompasses adornments of all kinds (necklaces, charms, earrings, pendants, charm bracelets, brooches, rings, bangles, etc.) made from inexpensive materials and intended for wear with current fashions. It is also known as junk or fashion jewelry, but the former is quite a misleading term, since many vintage pieces were made from high quality materials by well-known designers (and are sought after collector’s items today).

The term costume jewelry is rumored to have been coined by Coco Chanel in the 1920s or 30s. She developed a collection of unconventional, colorful and bold jewelry pieces meant to finish off an outfit without breaking the bank. The jewelry was made from materials like faux pearls and glass and was an instant hit

If we think of costume jewelry simply as more affordable jewelry, then it had certainly existed before the 1920s (the Victorian era is a prime example). But what Coco Chanel did was to turn it from something you would buy because you couldn’t afford the real thing (and hope nobody noticed) into a chic and contemporary fashion statement. Women were not ashamed to flaunt the fake pieces because they were not meant to be passed off as precious jewels – they were an appreciated art form in themselves.

In addition to being affordable, a huge advantage of costume jewelry was (and is) that you didn’t have to get it insured, lock it in a safe and only take it out on special occasions, and fear that it got scraped or nicked when you did wear it. Chanel wore her pieces everywhere, including on the beach. And when styles changed, you could just get rid of your old pieces and buy new ones to match the look of the moment.

Around the same time, Italian-born designer Elsa Schiaparelli (famous for her trompe l’oeil sweaters and surrealist-inspired dresses, such as the lobster dress she created with Salvador Dali) also developed a line of costume jewelry. Hers was also big and bold, but more on the Dada-inspired side. As an interesting side note, one of her jewelry designers was Jean Schlumberger, who later became vice president of Tiffany & Co.

Elsa Schiaparelli bracelet. Photo via So Suburban Chic

Other 1930s well-known designers who developed their own lines of costume jewelry include Emanuel Ciner, Cartier, Trifari, Boucher and Eisenberg. Many of the designs were bold, colorful and quite “blingy”, but you could also find more delicate designs intended for the more conservative customer.

The 1940s saw more abstract and industrial-inspired jewelry, and, with many materials taken off the market for war-related production, jewelry made from Bakelite and Lucite jelly bellies (many made by Coro and Trifari) were introduced. Miriam Haskell created beautiful jewelry from wood, shell and beads, and Marcel Boucher (who previously worked for Cartier) designed gorgeous enamel pieces.

Miriam Haskell Wood Earrings. Photo: Bag Borrow or Steal

Costume jewelry’s popularity continued to rise, and in the 1950s, it reached new heights. Post-war optimism and joie de vivre abounded, and designers were once again able to get their hands on materials that had been unavailable during the war. Hollywood movie stars wore costume jewelry both on and off screen, rhinestones were everywhere, and pearls of all colors continued to be extremely popular.

The charm bracelet was in style again, and the leading manufacturer at the time was Walter Lampl, who designed a huge collection (around 750) of both costume and high-end, many of them puffy silver heart charms. Costume jewelry designers picked up on the trend, and many made charms in different materials. Trifari and Schiaparelli continued their popularity, and some of the other notable jewelry designers of the 50s include ModeArt, Napier, Dior (who had a whole bunch of famous designers working for them), Alice Caviness, Sherman, Hobe, Sarah Coventry, Hollycraft, Joseff of Hollywood (who designed the jewelry worn in huge productions such as Gone with the Wind), and Schreiner.

Photo: Jennifer Lynn’s timeless jewelry

In the 60s, mod, hippie and ethnic jewelry was in style, and popular designs included flower-power and op-art. Materials such hemp, plastic, paper, and Lucite in neon-bright colors were all the rage. Trifari, Coro (under the name Vendome) and Schreiner were still very popular, along with other designers such as Kenneth Jay Lane, D&E, and Coppola e Toppo.

The 70s saw a drop in the enthusiasm for costume jewelry, but designers such as D&E, Kenneth Jay Lane were still popular.

In the 80s, shows like Dynasty and Dallas once again brought big, bold costume jewelry into the limelight. Designers such as Larry Vrba (who was head designer at Miriam Haskell in the 70s), Robert Sorrell and Eric Beamon, as well as fashion houses like Lagerfeld, Delacroix and Balenciaga created colorful, over-the-top pieces to complement clothes.

Today, almost all fashion designers like Dior, Prada, Valentino, Badgley Mischka, Armani, Yves St. Laurent, etc. have their own line of costume jewelry. Trifari, Coro, and Kenneth Jay Lane are still creating costume jewelry. You can find their pieces in their own stores, large department stores, and, of course, online.

There is also a huge market for very inexpensive, no-name costume jewellery. Many small businesses buy this type of jewelry and re-sell it. If you want to buy wholesale costume jewellery, you need to have a tax ID number, which you can get from the IRS (available for free for registered businesses of any size). If you want to sell costume jewelry at fairs, online, or in a store, this is definitely the way to go. Wholesalers usually have all types of jewelry available, and it can be very affordable.

For those who, like me, have a fondness for the designer costume pieces from the past and are fascinated enough by them to do a bit of research (and perhaps want to start a collection), the best advice is to read as much as you can about the designer(s) you want to focus on. Look at pictures of their jewelry so you get a feel for their style and the materials they typically used. Read up on trademarks.

There are lots of gorgeous unsigned vintage pieces out there (and many were designed by the big names), but until you have trained your eye enough to recognize a piece by a particular designer, the best way to ensure you are buying a quality designer piece is to look at the stamps or signatures.

Regardless of whether your tastes run to vintage or modern, there is a piece (or many pieces, in my case!) of costume jewelry out there that is perfect for you and the outfit you want to match it to.

Also, don’t miss my post about goregous modern costume jewelry made from vintage and/or recycled items.


Shopping For A Vintage Silver Charm Bracelet

Sunday, September 19th, 2010

Silver is and has been just as popular as gold and used for coins, jewelry and other decorative pieces for thousands of years. I personally prefer silver to gold; to me, it provides a more restrained and minimalistic look, and it doesn’t hurt that it’s less expensive too!

Silver was first mined in what is now Turkey and that area was also where the majority of silver crafts were produced at the time. Throughout history, it has been found in many places all over the world, and today, the top 5 silver producing countries are Peru, Mexico, China, Australia and Bolivia.

Silver is soft, only a little bit harder than gold, and there are many uses for this malleable precious metal. In fact, it is so incredibly versatile that it’s almost magical. It is obviously used for silverware, jewelry and photography, but did you know it is also all around us? It is inside electric switches, under the keys on your keyboard, inside circuit breaker boxes, in eyeglasses, mirrors, behind your car’s dashboard, behind the control panel on your microwave, the list goes on.

And – here is where it gets magical – silver has antimicrobial and germicidal properties. People knew about this very early on; Hippocrates wrote about its healing properties, and the Phoenicians are rumored to have used silver containers to store water and wine. It has been used extensively for medical purposes, in many cases the same way we use antibiotics these days. In the late 1800s, a German obstetrician discovered that applying a weak silver nitrate solution to newborn babies’ eyes helped prevent gonococcal opthalmia, a disease that causes blindness. Recent findings suggest that silver can speed up healing times of both wounds and bone injuries, and you can already buy a few wound care products and band aids that contain silver.

There is also clothing with silver. Since it reduces odor and inhibits the growth of fungi and bacteria, it is perfect in workout wear. Other research has found that silver is a fantastic water purifier, both for drinking water and in swimming pools. Who knows, maybe we can do away with that horrible chlorine soon and use silver in some form instead?

Pretty fascinating stuff. But now, back to silver jewelry. As I mentioned earlier, silver is soft, and in jewelry, you will most often find it alloyed with another metal, often copper. The most common and well-known blend is sterling silver (stamped .925) which consists of 92.5% silver and 7.5% copper.

Let me tell you right from the get-go here, that shopping for antique or vintage silver is not easy. If you want to become a pro, you can spend the better part of a lifetime learning and memorizing all the markings and stamps.

When you’re shopping for silver charm bracelets, you need to check not only the charms, but the chain as well, if you want to make sure you get a quality piece and not something that’s only plated, or not even silver at all. Oh, and make sure to bring a magnifying glass – even if you have perfect eyesight, it can be very difficult to see the marks without one. (For more, check out my Puffy Silver Heart Bracelet post).

German silver (sometimes marked G. Silver) looks like silver, but it’s not. It is a blend of copper, nickel and zinc, so watch out for that if you’re shopping at a flea market or yard sale (where they can often be found). Also, keep an eye out for things marked Alpacca (or Alpaca), Nickel (NS) or New silver (also called Nysilver) – these are not silver either, but that same type of copper-nickel-zinc alloy. Sometimes you will see 1MA, Prima or Extra Prima nysilver – same thing, the alloy again.

Then there is also silver plating, where a less expensive metal has received a thin coating of silver – probably not what you want if you are looking for a collectible (unless you fall in love with the design and don’t care about the materials).

I touched on silver markings briefly in my gold charms post, but we will go into in in more depth here. All (quality) silver pieces of jewelry will have at least one, but often many stamps on the back. The number tells you the fineness of the silver (like .925), and the “hallmark” tells you who made it and where it was made. It can be just 925 with the initials of the silversmith, or it can be a whole little “picture book”.

Reading the hallmarks can be quite a challenge. Sometimes everything is spelled out, and sometimes, it’s just little squares or symbols with barely visible letters and digits. Most of us are not able to decipher them on the spot, but there are forums, experts and even entire hallmark encyclopedias online. If you are going to be shopping for antique or vintage silver jewellery made by a specific designer at an auction for example, it doesn’t hurt to read up on the typical marks he/she used beforehand.

American hallmarks tend to be easy to read, often written out in plain English, even including the word “Sterling”. Those from other countries can be a bit more cryptic, and each country has its own marks and standards, which varies from each part of the country as well as time period. Often, if you go way back, there were no standards at all. Holland, for example, did not have a national standard until 1814.

Standards for silver purity are also different from each country and has often changed within the countries throughout history. In Denmark for example, the standard for silver used to be .826, then .830, and then, from 1936 and on .925. However, since jewelers had to pay a fee to the assay office for changing to .925, a lot of silver made around that time is still stamped .830 when it is in fact 925 sterling.

In Britain, the standard for Sterling has always been .925 and the British hallmark system is wonderfully organized. It always consists of 4 to 5 marks telling you the fineness of the silver, where the piece was made, who made it, when it was made, and for pieces made between 1784-1890, a duty mark, which certified that the appropriate taxes had been paid.

The French system presents quite a challenge. Instead of using numbers, they use images of animals and human heads, different ones for different parts of the country and for specific time periods, so you need to memorize quite a few if you’re going to be able to tell when and where the piece was made right there at the flea market vendor’s table.

Below is a short list of a few different common grades of silver and where they are from:

999 – Pure silver
980 – Mexico (ca 1930-1940)
958 – Britannia silver
950 – France (1st standard), Japan, U.S. (19th century), the Netherlands (before 1814), Switzerland, Italy, Yugoslavia, Bulgaria, Romania, Hungary, Mexico
947 – Russia (91 zolotnik)
925 – Sterling silver
916 – Finland, Russia (88 zolotnik), Latvia, Poland, Romania, Spain, Portugal
900 – US coin silver
835 – Germany, Austria, Portugal, Belgium, the Netherlands
830 – Scandinavia (older pieces), Portugal
826 – Denmark (1893 – 1972), Norway (before 1892)
800 – Germany (after 1884), France (2nd standard), the Netherlands (before 1814), Italy, Portugal, Spain, Switzerland, Poland, Romania, Japan, Canada, Turkey, Egypt, Lebanon. Sometimes called “Continental silver”.

Again, this is only a short list, there are other grades out there too, so if you see one that is not on this list, definitely look it up online.

As you can see, shopping for vintage silver is a whole science, but if you like me love silver, and enjoy the hunt for a true treasure, it is a fascinating and enjoyable one to study and learn.

For tips on how to authenticate silver, see my “Sterling silver charm bracelet or not” post


Collecting Charms

Wednesday, June 30th, 2010

Once you start exploring the world of charms, it’s hard to stop yourself from looking for them everywhere and buying more than you could ever use (which I guess is true of any collection).

The great thing about a charm collection though, is that they are small, light, and wearable, so unlike pottery for example, they are not going to take up a ton of space in your home and just sit on a shelf and collect dust. And even vintage or antique pieces can be very affordable. You can start collecting any type you want, of course, but sometimes, focusing on a particular kind makes things a little bit easier.

Here are a few suggestions:

Vintage Charms

Since charms have been around for thousands of years, there are plenty of them out there, ranging in price from a few dollars to several thousands. Costume jewellery from the last century is a very popular, and varied, vintage category. Decide on a theme (puffy silver heart bracelets, movable charms, coins, good luck charms, etc.) or a certain decade and hunt for charms from that period.

Cracker Jack Charms

Celluloid charms were made in the 1920s-1940s and there are tons of them available on the market. They can be plain (a whitish color) or painted and some even have small gold accents. To make sure that what you’re buying is an actual Cracker Jack, look for a “Cracker Jack” or CJ stamp on the piece, and you may also want to consult an expert before you hand over a lot of cash.

Charms by a Specific Designer

Focus on just one designer and build your collection around that brand. You can go with vintage/antique fashion jewelry – there are plenty to chose from (for example Coro, Hobe, Kramer), or a contemporary designer (Juicy Couture, Rona K, Sydney Evan, Rembrandt charms). Some have been around for a long time and are still in production, such as Raymond Yard, Danecraft, or James Avery, which gives you the best of both worlds.

A Particular Animal

I love elephants, and it seems many other people do too, because you can find a huge variety of elephant charms from almost every time period in every material. Pick a favorite animal and build your collection around that.

A Specific Material

Focus on one particular material, like bakelite, silver, copper, etc. This is obviously a huge category, so you may want to narrow it down to for example silver typewriters, or 14k gold charms from the 1950s.

Where To Find Collectible Charms

These days, anything can be found online, but flea markets, antique stores and shows, estate sales, auctions and yard sales, both at home and in other countries can be great sources. If you’re traveling abroad, read up on the history of charms in that particular country, so you know what to look for (and check out our “Charms in Other Languages” post so you know what they are called in the country you will be visiting).

Also, don’t forget to tell everyone you know about your charm collecting hobby! They make perfect gifts, and we all struggle with what to buy someone for the holidays and other special occasions. This way, your friends and family will know exactly what to get you.