Guide to buying vintage jewellery....

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Vintage is the new black....

Everyone is tipping vintage to be the next big thing and whilst for some of us vintage costume jewellery has never gone out of style, for newcomers to the scene, here are a few tips.

Buying Online:
  • Always read the description carefully. Reputable sellers will take care to describe the item in reasonable detail. Ask questions of the seller if there is insufficient information in the listing. For example, does the seller specify the condition of the piece(s)? Are there stones missing? Does the catch work properly? Is there any damage?
  • Don't buy if there isn't a photograph -- you really can't tell what you are getting. If the photo is dark or fuzzy, ask the seller for another one.
  • Try to buy from a seller who shows some evidence of knowing what they are doing - or at least someone who has a good feedback score.
  • Don't be fooled by listings which say things like "granny's jewellery box contents". The items may well be a much loved relative's jewellery collection, but then again they may not. And there's no guarantee that grandma had any taste....!
  • Buy mixed lots or 'bundles' but be aware that you may end up with a great deal of stuff you don't want. My advice is to buy a few small individual pieces and learn a bit about the scene before you launch into the wholesale end of things.
General Tips
  • Don't expect vintage jewellery to be in pristine condition. The beauty of these items is that they have been worn before and that inevitably will show.
  • On the other hand, don't buy cheap stuff which is badly worn. Inexpensive costume pieces may often show wear in the form of the patina or coating degrading to show the dull base metal below. That can be ok if it's on the back of a brooch or something, but not so nice if it's on the front of a necklace.
  • Don't buy anything which needs repair, unless you are nifty at that sort of thing. And DON'T glue loose stones back with bog-standard glue. I have seen so many gorgeous pieces ruined like this by someone's hamfisted attempts at renovation.
  • If you are going to clean a piece you have bought, BE CAREFUL. If is a piece with good vintage rhinestones, you can destroy it by washing it or with harsh modern jewellery cleaners.
  • Try to buy signed pieces if you can - the quality is often better than the unsigned ones. Good vintage names to look out for are Trifari, Sphinx, Hobe, Coro and Haskell (the last is incredibly expensive).
  • Other good names where you can buy well and get a bargain include Jewelcraft, West, Hollywood, Miracle. Mizpah is collected by quite a few people and I like a lot of the pieces produced by Exquisite, but there are a lot of them about.
  • Other highly collectable names are Sarah Coventry, Napier and Monet, but stick to the earlier pieces (pre-1970) if you can. There are gorgeous future collectables produced after 1970, but you need to know what you are buying. By the 1970s, quality had dropped in many makers due to different materials and methods of production.
  • Designer items like Chanel and Dior are supposedly very good, but in my experience it is hard to tell what is the real thing and what is a knock-off.  Unless you are an expert, avoid 'em.
  • However, you can get absolutely gorgeous unsigned pieces and increasingly these are fetching really good prices with collectors. If you do buy these, stick to the 1930s-1960s. The jewellery was much better quality then than it is now - the stones are glass, not plastic for example. Try to buy eye-catching designs in vibrant colours.
  • You can usually pick up bargains at bootsales (junk shops seem to be a thing of the past!). Charity shops these days usually know a good thing when they see it, but you can still be lucky. Ebay really is the best place in my view to buy vintage costume pieces - the prices are relatively low and there are lots to chose from.
  • Price guides for vintage pieces are hard to come by. You will pay more for a good signed piece, but a well designed unsigned item might be a better investment than a dull example of a 'name'. Be prepared to pay a fair price  -- think of what a similar piece would cost if you bought it on the high street, but be pleased to pay a bit more for what is a better made, higher quality item you are unlikely to see on anyone else!
I write a blog about vintage jewellery - details on the 'about me' page. Check it out if you want to know more! There are also loads of good reference guides out there.

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