How To Build An Antique/ Vintage Jewelry Collection (2022)

While browsing the recent Las Vegas Antique Jewelry & Watch Show and talking to exhibiting dealers and store buyers , I began to think, with all of the antique and vintage jewelry on the market today—in shops, online, on IG and websites-how do you figure out what to buy and how to build a jewelry collection of pieces from the past?

Simon Teakle Art Deco emerald and diamond ring by S Kirk and Sons, Circa 1925. Photo: Simon Teakle

Simon Teakle

I have done articles on the ultra high-end investment pieces, and how to navigate a large antique/vintage jewelry show (here) for tips on how to decipher different time periods, bargain, find trustworthy dealers and educate yourself on real from repro.

But building an antique/vintage jewelry collection can be overwhelming until I remembered when I first started collecting jewelry 20 years ago. I thought about the advice I sought as I shopped different antique shows and flea markets. I wanted to familiarize myself with the feel and look of different materials and motifs of different time periods. And, the more I talked to experts and perused the pieces, I realized, that, although it is very different for starter collectors today, there are some common links to get you started on your way to assembling a wardrobe of jewelry that will put a smile on your face every time you hook a clasp, slip on a ring, slide an earring on, or fasten a brooch.

Fred Leighton emerald and rose cut diamond antique locket. Photo: Fred Leighton

Fred Leighton

Let’s just take a quick look at the changes. Back when I first started, we did not have the online search engines like we do now and we had to trek around, on foot rather than let our fingers guide us through googles’ answers to our queries. I think different ways of finding and gaining knowledge is all important when you are starting to collect antique and vintage jewelry and I am thankful for the authoritative research that is provided on the internet. But nothing beats personally meeting face to face those with the same passion as you, seeing their merchandise and hearing the advice of trustworthy dealers in person. Starting any type of collection is risky, but if you go in armed with as much of an education you can learn while having a whole lot of fun, like I did.

You might not make the wisest decisions at the start. In a few years, you might trade up, your style might change, but while all this is happening, you are gaining knowledge first hand, teaching yourself how to bargain and barter and listen to your instincts about the most honorable dealers. And, like I did, you might make your fair share of mistakes and happily discover your fair share of rare finds. Most importantly, you will decipher which styles, categories and time periods to which you are most drawn.

Dealers and store owners agree that there are different ways to approach collecting. You can collect from a purely historical academic and aesthetic point of view in which you zoom into one period and try and find all of those rare pieces from the time in which they were made. Even if you are partial to a certain time period, our experts agree that when starting out, it’s best to try out different styles that popularized periods in jewelry and figure out what works best for you. You might want a sentimental Victorian ring with a motif that signifies romance and a great Art Deco thin line bracelet both which can become staples in your daily life and your collection.

Fred Leighton is one of the most magical stores when shopping for antique and vintage jewelry. Although you may not be one of the stars who walk the red carpet in the renowned jeweler’s pieces, it’s worth it to stop in and get lost in the assortment that can mesmerize you into spending hours surveying the cases of the most awe-inspiring antique and vintage jewels. In addition to the antique and vintage goodies, there is the Fred Leighton Signature collection, which is the collection, creatively based on the past that Rebecca Selva, Chief Creative Officer, and PR director of the company has brought to fruition. Rebecca is a guru among antique and vintage jewelry experts, one of the most talented jewelry stylists I have met when mixing time periods, metals and the unexpected. I caught up with her in Las Vegas to get her advice while working on this story at the show.

"If you are collecting antique and vintage jewelry, you have a desire for pieces that are uniquely special and authentic. For novice collectors, this doesn’t have to mean a piece that is worth a year’s salary. Throughout my years at Fred Leighton, I have found alluring pieces at many price points. Building a collection of antique and vintage is all about aesthetically staying true to your look, embracing the old while wearing it with a current vibe and being realistic when it comes to your lifestyle.” She adds. “Jewelry is meant to be worn, not saved, not put away in a safe and you should get excited every time you put on that amazing five-stone ring Victorian era ring or turn-of-the-century French chain. These pieces should speak to you on an emotional and visceral level. You should also ensure you are buying something in original and excellent condition for its time frame and always considering your budget, which might change with time."

Simon Teakle who ran the jewelry department at Christie’s New York for 20 years and then in 2012 opened Simon Teakle Fine Jewelry in Greenwich Connecticut and who exhibited at the show, agrees. “When you invest in a piece of jewelry, you are investing in your present happiness and your future. But it’s the here and now that you want to think about. You can trade up later but when you begin to collect, you need to educate yourself and familiarize with different periods. When starting out, it doesn’t matter if not signed or if say, you choose a pair of diamond earrings from the Edwardian era and they are more delicate then the ones you originally saw in a book. These are the style you can wear more often and if they are authentic and it gives you pleasure, you can’t go wrong.”

Running into Elizabeth Doyle of NYC’s Doyle & Doyle at the Las Vegas Antique Jewelry and Watch show helped me gain even more perspective as we perused jewelry together as I was interviewing her. “We are always trying to find antique jewelry that is accessible to young or new collectors with limited budgets and try to cover a range of price points and scale.”

Both Selva and Doyle agree that the sentimental pieces of the Victorian era are hitting a responsive chord among starter collectors who are interesting in the romance and meaning of jewelry.

In addition to selling a substantial amount of Victorian pieces, some which look as modern today as when they were designed," Doyle says, “there is also a movement toward bigger statement pieces in yellow gold from the retro period through the mid-20th century. They are durable and suit the modern lifestyle with ease and versatility.”

She continues, “Our customers are breathing new life into antique lockets and medallions, wearing them on a watch fob chain with other meaningful charms. This has given a whole new look to what our mothers and grandmothers wore as charm bracelets when we turn them into contemporary talisman style necklaces."

Rebecca Selva's styling of pendants and lockets on an ultra long bead chain wrapped around the neck.... [+] Pedants and lockets from the 19th Century

Fred Leighton

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Like Teakle and Selva, Doyle believes that if your style changes over time and you buy right, you can always trade up and begin collecting new pieces that are more you at different times in your life.

Dana Kiyomura from Keyamour another exhibitor at the show who previously worked at Fred Leighton and before that Christie’s, echoes what the other experts said, “the best way for newbies to get the feel of collecting is to buy what speaks to their personal sensibilities and lifestyles and choose pieces that will go with their fashion and that they want to pull out and wear every day.”

She adds, “As you become more knowledgeable and as your passion becomes stronger, you can then invest more deeply in the time periods you have grown to love or signed pieces that will appreciate over time. Right now the thing is to train your eye, wear pieces you love and eventually you can decide if you are a ‘thematic' or 'historic' collector or one that loves many periods and continues to buy across the board. And always remember, “there is as much value in loving what you own and wearing it today as the pieces you buy to extend your portfolio tomorrow.”

Another Leighton alumni Pat Saling who worked at the prestigious company for 21 years before branching out on her own 16 years ago, explains, “It's important to want to wear the jewelry that you love and had to own. But, be smart, disciplined and arm yourself with knowledge before buying.” When talking about antique though vintage time periods (Georgian through the 1970s), the finest workmanship, high-quality materials and rarity all affect how valuable something is. When you have all of these things going for the piece and it’s in excellent condition, you can feel secure that the piece will hold its investment and give you joy while you are wearing it and help to define your style."

Taking all this into consideration, Rebecca Selva of Fred Leighton helped me develop a list of accessible pieces for starter collectors from different time periods and in different categories of jewelry:

Drop and Pendant Earrings:

Single or double drop diamond earrings with the character, lively personality and the subtle sparkle of old mine cut or European cut diamonds are a must have for any collector. They appear in all time periods in different iterations. These include Georgian styles of single drops or dormeuse earrings in collet cut back settling with silver topped gold which was also foiled and closed back to hide imperfections of naive cutting techniques, but their look is unparalleled in antique small drops. Victorian styles featured open backs as diamond mines and new cutting techniques allowed for the diamonds to shine on their own. These are mostly seen in claw, crown and petal-like floral settings. During Edwardian times, jewelers were still using old mine and European cuts but with the advent of platinum, they showed them first in platinum over yellow gold or all white styles. These lent themselves to delicate lacework and thin bezel settings with fine millegrain details. Selva explains, "Women are on the run now more than ever. We used to change our jewelry to go from day into evening, but these days to simplify our lives, what we dress in the morning needs to keep us going until cocktails or dinner. These small subtle drops are the perfect solution --they look great any time of day or night."

Keyamour single and double drop antique earrings

Keyamour

Other earring styles to consider:

Etruscan revival earrings in yellow gold in a range of silhouettes. Says, Selva, "The gold looks as relevant today as it did in the time it was made. They are lightweight, easy and have just enough movement and have some length for women who prefer to go longer when they opt for the versatility of earrings that work for any time and any occasion."

Ishy Antiques Victorian Etruscan Revival earrings. Photo: Ishy Antique Jewelry

Ishy Antiques

Art Deco earrings take the linear streamlined look to another level. These are sleekand thoroughly modern. When the jewelers of the Art Deco movement brought in color they turned up the wow factor. These amethyst and diamond earrings display the idea that the jewelers of the day could render glamorous earrings with beautiful but more accessibly priced stones than rubies, diamonds and emeralds. 'These are the type of styles that are truly unique and rare." says Selva.

Spicer Warin Art Deco diamond and amethyst earrings. Photo: Spicer & Warin

Spiicer Warin

A Great Chain

Every woman needs at least just one superior chain and these days we have myriad options from which to choose. We are seeing lightweight but large links of Georgian chains, men's watch fob chains of the Victorian era and turn of the century (that women are wearing with pendants, lockets and charms), and the sophistication and elegance of early 20th-century French chains. We are also seeing a return to signed and unsigned but beautifully crafted heavy curb and solid oval links from the mid-2oth century and vintage rectangular and elongated ovals from the 1970s.

The most sought after chains are from the Georgian period and are lighter and delicate in their construction and their price points reflect the rarity of finding one in its original length and with its original clasp, many of which were charming bejeweled hand clasps.

Fred Leighton gold chains from different periods in England and France. Photo: Fred Leighton

Fred Leighton
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Other highly collectible chains include turn of the century, long French filigree chains which have a delicate look with openwork patterns, but they are often come with a heavier irresistible weight in rich 18K buttery gold. They can be worn alone long, double tripled or can be layered with other time periods. "If you can find one in its original length (many have been cut down over the years) or a longer length that can at least be doubled, this is the style of chain that I would start with." Selva offers.

Keyamour layered French 18K gold chains. Photo: Keyamour

Keyamour

Eileen Kirkwood's 18K gold French antique filigree chain.

Eileen Kirkwood

Stackable Bracelets

"One of my favorite bracelets to stack with other styles and time periods right now is a slender Art Deco line bracelet." says Selva. "There are numerous ways in which it can be worn: piled on with other line bracelets in platinum and diamonds and/or with precious gems. It can also shake up and lend spark and character to a wrist full of gold bangles and link bracelets from different eras. It speaks to the multiple bracelet trend we are seeing and the juxtaposition of styles leads to a more personalized intriguing look."

Simon Teakle's Art Deco onyx and diamond bracelet. Photo: Simon Teakle

Simon Teakle

In Victorian times, matching hinged bangles were given for the engagement and one for the wedding day gift. Brides wore them on the big day --one each wrist and then throughout their life. There is a difference between wedding and memorial bangles, but they all look amazing when stacked on one arm, or styled the way they were when first popularized. One on each wrist. To break up the gold, you can also add some cut onyx bangles or cut jet or another other thinner bangles with gemstones.

Keyamour pair of Victorian buckle wedding bangles. Photo: Keyamour

Keyamour

Many of the sets have been broken up over the years, given to different sisters or members of the family or to make them easier to sell. You can invest in one that catches your eye and then another similar one and the two different styles can have a striking effect. But if you find a pair like those below, you should snap them up. "The thing about antique jewelry is if you are passionately in love, go for it. You might find something similar but you will never find the exact same one or pair." Selva says.

Fred Leighton's Victorian memorial bangles and cut onyx and gold bangles

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Fred Leighton

Victorian and early Edwardian padlock bracelets have made a major comeback. They are available in various price points and karats- 9K, 15K and 18K if they from the UK. You can wear the rounded curb chain bracelet, which is also on the market in different widths and can turn them into two looks by sporting them with or without the padlock. "These also can be stacked with other time periods--so experiment, mix, match, contrast and combine." Selva advises.

Fred Leighton Victorian curb link and padlock bracelet in high karat gold. Photo: Fred Leighton

Fred Leighton

Marilyn & Co 15K curb link bracelet, circa 1900. Photo: Marilyn & Co.

Marilyn & Co.

The Gold Hatpin Victorian padlock bracelet

The Gold Hatpin

Retro tread bracelets are chunky, statement-making, often feature two colors of gold and many look heavier than they are and still feel luxurious on the wrist.Due to World War II, styles changed from the white-on-white platinum and diamond looks or those that conjured up exotic colors, flowers and scenes of faraway lands. Platinum was restricted for use in the war; therefore, rose and yellow gold took over as the metals of choice. Jewelers of the day drew inspiration from the treads of assembly machines, as well as the treads of wartime tanks. These provided concepts for wide bracelets, which featured geometrical and oversized links, When materials were scarce and spirits needed lifting, designers realized that women entering the workforce needed a dose of glamour, similar to what they were seeing onHollywood starsand offered up various styles to accessorize ultra structured work uniforms. These send out a current vibe and are stand-alone pieces or can be stacked with other bracelets

Humphrey Butler Retro two-tone gold bracelet. Photo: Humphrey Butler

Humphrey Butler

The Must-Have Rings

"Signet rings offer a substantial look without a big budget price and there is so much charm that they offer women. You can go for bigger or smaller styles depending on your frame and your finger size," says Selva.

Signet rings often are hand engraved with the initials or sayings or those that came before. Many of them also are impressed with family crests and/or motifs of hobbies and profession. The earlier signets were used to impress the ring into the wax and use as signatures for important documents. It's quite lucky to find your own initials but if you aren't the type that has the patience to wait, at Fred Leighton you will find blank samples that were never engraved. Instead, they were used as samples to sell the rings. These are some of the most breathtaking Art Nouveau styles I've seen and you can have your own names, initials, dates, and words engraved.

Fred Leighton group of French signet rings. Photo: Fred Leighton

Fred Leighton

If you want a juicy stack of colored gemstones then look no further than the Victorian era's five stone rings. They look wonderful all piled on together and also work with thinner eternity bands from different times.

Keyamour pearl, turquoise, diamond and opal five store Victorian rings. Photo: Keyamour

Keyamour
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Charms, Fobs and Lockets

Once your collection is underway, you should have at least one of these style of pendant drops. In all three of these categories go for the more unexpected and usual such as fobs that once hung from watch chains. Depending on the time periods, many were beautifully engraved with chasing or repousse work on top or the figures of lions, snakes and other animals. On the bottom, you would then find the most enchanting aspect- intaglios of hard stone in a variety of shapes that followed the lines of the design. The intaglios like the signet rings were once used as signatures. Many of them feature sayings and mottoes in English and French that range from love to friendship to getting through hard times. Often they are rebus (puzzles of words and motifs) The give any chain a three-dimensional effect and a standout look without overpowering the wearer.

Marilyn & Co. Georgian fobs some with ornate tops and others with mottos on the bottoms. Photo:... [+] Marilyn & Co.

Marilyn & Co.

Lockets were designed in a variety of shapes, in all different periods with and without enamel stones and motifs. The always romantic Victorians went for the symbolic with overlays of turquoise, diamond and other gemstones in anchors for hope, swallows for safe home and pansies for think of me and forget me nots for remembering a loved one. It was a time of sentimental jewelry and flowers ("The Language of Flowers") represented meanings that ranged from friendship to terms of endearment and passionate love.

Lucy Verity pendant/brooch of floral design.

Lucy Verity

When we get into the Art Nouveau period the florals blossom into lockets that bloomed with colorful enamels and diamond botanicals taking the language of flowers to a more artistic form.

Moira Fine Jewellery enamel Art Nouveau Locket with enamel and diamond flowers. Photo: Moira Jewelry

Moira Jewelry

The Comeback of Brooches

This feeling spilled over into brooches which are a popular piece again today to wear in numerous ways including scattered over dresses, jean jackets, backs of gowns and most prominently in the hair.

Fred Leighton floral brooches from different time periods--Georgian through Art Nouveau. Photo: Fred... [+] Leighton

Fred Leighton

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f you look at so many pendants and charms today, they are all inspired in some form the symbolism of Victorian times, which is a great place to start your collection and build from there.

"And, when you talk about investing, there is no greater return on your original and authentic antique and vintage jewels that getting pleasures out of wearing them," Selva concludes.

FAQs

How do I start collecting antique jewelry? ›

How to Collect Antique Jewellery (5 Top Tips) - YouTube

How do you make a good jewelry collection? ›

HOW TO BUILD YOUR OWN FINE JEWELLERY COLLECTION
  1. Know what you like and don't mind other people's opinion. ...
  2. Start off with a small piece first. ...
  3. Go after something, that matches your style from the beginning. ...
  4. Wish for jewellery for special occasions. ...
  5. Treat yourself. ...
  6. Mix and match. ...
  7. One of a kind. ...
  8. Add color.

How many items should be in a jewelry collection? ›

How Many Pieces Do You Need in Your Jewelry Collection? There are many schools of thought on the perfect number of jewelry pieces every woman should own. Some say 4 pieces, other say 10 to 15. Like the title of this post suggests, we believe you should always have at least 6 essential items.

Is vintage jewelry worth more? ›

Antique and vintage jewellery is worth more than the sum of its parts because each piece is unique and it cannot be duplicated using modern production methods. Generally speaking, antique and vintage jewellery costs less than new jewellery and yet it's worth more!

What is the best jewelry to collect? ›

The 10 Essential Pieces of Jewelry That Are Worth the Investment
  • Stud Earrings. There's a reason the stud is your first earring. ...
  • Hoop Earrings. It's a classic style that delivers subtle attitude. ...
  • Bangle Bracelet. ...
  • Pendant Necklace. ...
  • Gold Chain Necklace. ...
  • Pearl Strand. ...
  • Signet Ring. ...
  • Stacking Ring.
Feb 16, 2021

Is there a market for vintage jewelry? ›

There is always a market for high-quality vintage jewelry and antique jewelry. If you've inherited or obtained pieces that don't suit your style, but you suspect they might be valuable, it's worth taking a bit of time to assess their value.

How do I make a daily jewelry collection? ›

Where to Begin: Starting your Jewelry Collection
  1. Define Your Personal Style. ...
  2. Choose Your Precious Metals. ...
  3. Create a Base Collection of Classic Jewelry Pieces. ...
  4. Invest in Some Statement Jewelry. ...
  5. Consider Bridal Jewelry. ...
  6. Add Some Meaningful and Personalized Pieces. ...
  7. Try Not to Be Led by Trends. ...
  8. Take Your Time.
Jan 26, 2021

What are jewelry must haves? ›

10 Classic Jewelry Staples Every Woman Should Own
  • Diamond Studs. ​Diamonds studs are truly a must-have accessory. ...
  • The Go-With-Everything Necklace. Diamonds complement every outfit. ...
  • Simple Bracelets. ...
  • Hoop Earrings. ...
  • Stacking Rings. ...
  • Long Layering Necklace. ...
  • Bangle Bracelets. ...
  • Pearl Necklace.
Apr 27, 2022

How do you make a ring collection? ›

The Definitive Guide to Building the Perfect Ring Stack
  1. START YOUR RING STACK WITH THE CLASSICS. ...
  2. MIX AND MATCH METALS. ...
  3. GET YOUR PINKY IN ON IT. ...
  4. BUILD YOUR RING STACK OVER TIME. ...
  5. INCORPORATE VINTAGE PIECES INTO YOUR RING STACK. ...
  6. LEAVE AT LEAST ONE FINGER BARE. ...
  7. INVEST IN ETERNITY. ...
  8. LET YOUR STATEMENT PIECES BREATHE.
Sep 3, 2019

What is considered too much jewelry? ›

To be on the safe side, a man should never go for more than one watch, one bracelet and two rings, one on each hand. It is very important to choose jewelery pieces based on the place you are going, your outfit and the occasion. Try to avoid pieces that look gaudy and subdue your personality.

How much jewelry does a minimalist own? ›

How Much Jewelry Should A Minimalist Own? There is no specific answer for this but in my opinion, owning 5 to 10 pieces of jewelry should be enough for minimalists. You don't need to own all categories of jewelry – rings, bracelets, necklaces, earrings, etc.

Is jewelry making profitable? ›

Making jewelry is therapeutic and profitable, you can make it at home, be your own boss, work at the hours when you feel best and, above all, is a wonderful profession in which you add beauty to people's lifes through your jewels. Making jewelry is fun!

What does BSK mean on jewelry? ›

Wonderful Vintage BSK Jewelry brought to you by the EcoChic Vintage Jewelry Team on Etsy!!.. The initials BSK stand for the owners: B for Benny Steinberg, S for… More.

What can I do with my old grandma's jewelry? ›

15 brilliant ways to save old jewelry you wish you knew sooner
  1. Brooch wreath. Gather up the retro brooches in your jewelry box and put them to beautiful use. ...
  2. Pearl bracelet. With just a few dollars, upcycle old pearls into a brand new bracelet. ...
  3. Wind chime. ...
  4. Curtain tie back. ...
  5. Button rings. ...
  6. Pot planter. ...
  7. Magnets. ...
  8. Drawer pulls.
Jul 18, 2017

What does 1928 mean on jewelry? ›

The name 1928 was chosen for the jewelry company when the creator of the company Mr. Mel Bernie decided he would name it so when he saw a magazine article that referred to 1928 as “the year of opulence.”

How do I know if my costume jewelry is valuable? ›

How to Tell valuable Costume Jewelry by Dr. Lori - YouTube

What is the meaning of antique Jewellery? ›

In jewellery trade terms, 'antique' describes a piece that was made at least 100 years ago. That means that any jewellery made around 1920 or before is technically antique.

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