An Old Soul’s Guide To Antique Jewellery (2022)

Antique jewellery has a unique charm – a heady mix of history, meaning and beauty that is often entirely one-of-a-kind. These jewels are timeless and, when passed down from generation to generation, often priceless as well. Think about wonderfully symbolic antique engagement rings, passed down through the generations to to-be brides, or heirloom antique necklaces and antique bracelets handed down from mother to daughter through the ages. And if you don’t have your very own heirloom jewels, it’s never too late to start a beautiful tradition by buying wonderful antique jewellery.

Unfortunately, in this day and age, almost everything can be duplicated with ease. What looks like antique jewellery could turn out to be cheap replicas with no value or backstory. If you love old estate jewellery, you need to make sure what you pay for is what you get. We delve into the ins and outs of antique jewellery, how to buy it and what to look for when you find a jewel you love. But first…

What Is Antique Jewellery?

The terms ‘antique’, ‘vintage’ and ‘estate’ are often thrown around interchangeably but these three words have distinct meanings in the jewellery world. Antique jewellery refers to jewellery that is over a hundred years old. Estate jewellery consists of jewels that have been owned before. Vintage jewels are linked to an era – think art deco or retro. Therefore, both antique and vintage jewellery can be broadly classified as estate jewellery.

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How To Buy Antique Jewellery

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When buying jewellery, you always make sure you buy from a reputed jeweller, based on recommendations and personal experience. With antique jewellery, you don’t always have the luxury of buying from a known seller. Here are some tips to make sure you get a decent deal:

  • Ask Questions & Research about Antique Jewellery

Don’t be apprehensive to ask the seller about details on the jewel you are buying. Going to consumer and tradeshows and exhibitions may ensure that some standards and criteria are set for those dealers participating. Nevertheless, always ask for details on the source, age, and background of the antique jewellery you are interested in. Check whether the documents are trustworthy by checking their credibility online. There are many jewellery associations and websites that guide with this online.

  • Closely Inspect The Piece

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Take a close look at the state of the jewellery you are purchasing. Check for cracks, chips or obvious and deep scratches. Check the enamel and precious stones especially to see whether any damage has been done over the years. Gold and silver vintage jewellery is prone to cracks and holes too. Corrosion and discoloration can also be permanent flaws that bring down the value of a jewel so be sure to scrutinise the piece from every angle to be sure. Surface scratches can often be polished and are less of a worry. You want to buy estate jewellery in tip-top condition and not on the decline because it has to last you for many years to come.

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  • Craftsmanship in Antique Jewellery Designs

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Fine estate jewellery isn’t just pricey because of its age or previous owners. The reason it stands the test of time is often due to its fine craftsmanship. When checking out antique jewellery designs, look for straight lines, fluid curves, impeccable finish and symmetry in the jewel’s finish. Consistency in colour, shape, and cut of diamonds or gemstones in antique jewels is also a mark of their quality.

  • Watch Out For Fakes

Look out for the maker’s mark in the antique jewellery you are eyeing – most pieces will have these visible through a loupe or magnifying glass. These identifying marks can give you an idea of the value of the jewel. If you find inconsistencies between the marks and the documents or are suspicious of the origin, double check with an expert or research the marking only. Check the style of the estate jewellery you are looking to purchase against the fashion of the era it is claimed to be from – a more modern design could point to a counterfeit.

  • Get Documentation

This isn’t always possible but it’s best advised that you buy antique and vintage jewels that are sold with credible documentation. Having the right documentation automatically adds value to the jewel – it can be seen as an investment as well as appreciated for its ornamental charm. Some documents are useful to obtain include notes or letters by the previous owners citing their ownership of the jewel, receipts that include the previous owners’ names or any other documents that corroborate the jewel’s past.

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  • Take A Professional Opinion

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Antique and vintage jewels don’t come cheap. It’s worth spending extra to get your prized potential purchase checked by a antiques professional to make sure you don’t go home with a not so golden oldie. An expert confirmation in writing on the value of jewel you want to purchase can also help you resell the jewel in the future. Diamond and gemstone professionals can help evaluate the intrinsic value of the jewel based purely on the quality or stones used. GIA certification provides gradings for the 4Cs and the antiques dealer should have these if applicable to the jewel – so always insist on it.

  • Go With Your Gut

If you are an avid antiques lover, you will already have a fair amount of knowledge of what makes a good estate jewellery buy. It’s also important that you fall in love the jewel you are about to purchase – you don’t want buyer’s remorse. Make sure you try on the piece and spend ample time thinking about it before committing; you want a timeless jewel you can enjoy and pass down through generations.

Where To Buy Antique Jewellery From

You can stumble across antique jewellery almost anywhere. It’s not necessarily true that all antique and vintage jewellery is valuable. So, while you may find something with decades on it from a particular era that you love, it may not be worth a heavy price tag or you could bag yourself a bargain if the seller is reasonable.

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If you are hunting down antique jewellery, look online for sellers, visit yard sales and flea markets. Look up estate sales, trade shows, exhibitions and craft fairs – these are often, but not always, more credible sources of estate jewels. Specialised antique stores in or around your city, with a good reputation, may also house a jewellery section worth looking at.

Whichever way you decide to look for antique jewellery, follow our buying tips to make sure you get the best deal possible.

Caring For Antique Jewellery

Maintenance is key to keeping your estate jewellery looking pretty and also avoid it depreciating in value. Here are a few tips:

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  • Prevent the jewels from getting scratched by placing them flat in a fabric lined box.
  • Do not store it with other jewels to avoid tangling and damage.
  • Avoid exposing the jewellery to harsh weather conditions and moisture. Pearls, however, thrive with some amount of moisture so wear these often in order to expose them to the atmosphere. Read all about pearl jewellery and maintenance here.
  • Take care of precious gems mounted on jewellery. For example, emeralds are extremely delicate and crack easily so be extremely careful when wearing jewellery like a bracelet that could encounter a bang easily.
  • Wear the jewellery only when needed – don’t bathe or sleep with it on.
  • Depending on the material with which your jewellery is made, research on the specific way it must be cleaned.
  • Have your jewellery checked regularly by a reputed jeweller to make sure links are strong and stones are not loose and at the risk of falling.
  • Clean your gold jewellery regularly to dissuade tarnish and keep it sparkly bright. See how to effectively clean gold jewellery.
  • Clean diamonds regularly, too. Click our article on how to clean diamonds for an in-depth guide to maintaining the precious stones.
  • For more tips on packing jewellery, read our article.

Whether you are buying an antique wedding ring, a vintage necklace or an antique bracelet, it is important that you are enamoured by the jewel completely. Make sure it is something you will want to wear often and with enthusiasm. Its investment value should be secondary, as jewellery prices vary according to the diamond and gold markets. You may not always make money off your purchase when you want to sell. But if it’s a piece you genuinely love, you’ll be happy to keep it forever, or at least until the time to sell is right.

‘If you want to wear ancient jewellery all the time, I would recommend buying an ancient engraved stone or cameo set in a modern gold ring.. Offered in Antiquities on 12 April 2022 at Christie's in New York. When one hears the term ‘ancient jewellery’, it is understandable that many automatically associate it with astronomically high prices.. Offered in Antiquities on 12 April 2022 at Christie's in New York. Christie’s 12 April Antiquities sale in New York features a Western Asiatic Banded Agate Bead Necklace from the late 3rd to early 2nd millennium BC.. Sold for $325,000 in Antiquities on 27 October 2019 at Christie’s in New York. In ancient Mediterranean, Near Eastern and Egyptian cultures, gold and silver were as much a symbol of luxury and status as they are today, and highly valued.. Offered in Antiquities on 12 April 2022 at Christie's in New York. As with any ancient work of art, knowing the provenance of an object is essential and can add another interesting dimension to ancient jewellery.. ‘Ancient diamonds were not cut as they are in contemporary jewellery,’ Solomon explains.. Diamonds were, however, prominently exploited for their durability and used to carve images into other stones.

Vintage jewelry is jewelry that is at least 30 years old, while antique jewelry must be older than a century.. This means that there are many different types of vintage and antique jewelry based on fashion trends, manufacturing styles, popular materials, and jewelry stamps.. Here's a brief breakdown of the most popular jewelry styles by era:. White gold and platinum were popular, as well as garland designs that incorporated bows and leaves.. Art Nouveau: (1890-1910): Overlapping the Victorian and Edwardian styles, Art Nouveau jewelry is a very distinctive style that's characterized by nature-inspired designs and smooth, sweeping curves.. The colors are more muted and natural, including stones such as opal, amber, and moonstone.. This white gold art deco ring is set with diamonds.. In the UK, however, 9k gold is very popular and this is a common indicator that the item was manufactured there.. Aside from gemstones and metals, different materials were introduced to jewelry at certain points in time.. These were introduced in the late Victorian era, and are different from other synthetic opals that were made from plastic or sparkly glass.. These stones are also popularly used in vintage costume jewelry, especially from Mexican manufacturers.. As a result, a piece of jewelry made from palladium will most likely date from the 1930s or later.. Jewelry stamps or hallmarks on the piece often help determine an item's origins, or even the year it was made.. Metal stamps, such as 14k, 18k, 925 (for sterling silver), and PLAT or 950 for platinum can also help you identify the material.

Of course, the jewelry they wore in the old days was not made like we make it today.. The ancient people wore jewelry made of feathers, bones, shells, and colored pebbles.. Even today, we hear the tales and adventures of people long ago who somehow found luck and fortune because of gemstones and jewelry.. In following the trail or evolution of jewelry from the ancient worlds of Africa to the Mediterranean then Europe and finally the United States, we can see how jewelry evolved over time and is found in jewelry stores today.. There they found mummies encrusted with every imaginable type of jewelry worn, headdresses, necklaces, earrings, rings, crowns, and pins.. Greek jewelry included crowns, earrings, bracelets, rings, hairpins, necklaces, and brooches.. In the Middle Ages the royal family and churches frowned on commoners wearing jewelry or trying to copy their clothes or manners.

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