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How to shop for your first vintage jewellery piece

How to shop for your first vintage jewellery piece

Timeless treasures

Text: Kelly Lim

Image: Getty Images
Image: @theadventurine via Instagram

The online market for vintage jewellery is vast but so are the pitfalls that could befall you. Below, read up on all the important things you need to know before you go on your treasure hunt

What's old is gold––when it comes to vintage jewellery, the saying has never been more true. Alongside the worldwide boom of the pre-loved luxury market, the demand for hard luxury items like watches and jewellery is also growing––and at a pace faster than the industry itself. Thanks to the internet, what was once only attainable through family inheritances and in-person auctions is now much more accessible as the market for vintage jewellery has entered the online space. Digital platforms like Vestiaire Collective and Omnēque cater to a growing audience of treasure seekers looking for unique, forever heirlooms; increasing the global circulation of jewellery with a more democratised access.

According to Vestiaire Collective, vintage jewellery is one of the top searched and highly popular categories on the platform. And because of its rarity and inherent sustainability, its value is soaring.

"Jewellery is a good investment whether it is signed or not because the price of gold and diamonds has been rising for the last 20 years, as reflected in the prices of jewellery on the platform," a representative says. "They are also a safe haven in times of global crisis, such as the current Covid 19 pandemic."

When we talk vintage in the world of jewellery, the standard definition requires a piece to be between the years of 20 to 100––anything older is considered antique. Unlike the terrain of preloved bags or clothes, the current landscape calls for more complex navigation. In addition to price, value and authenticity, there's also the question of different metals, stones and carats. Where does one even begin to start?

How to shop for your first vintage jewellery piece (фото 1) Research! As with any investment purchase, the first step is to educate yourself. Glean as much information as you can to get a better understanding of what you're looking for or on the piece you have in mind. This is especially important with a decision that's closely associated with personal style, as the overall value of a jewellery piece comes from how well suited it is to your own taste and whether it will fold into your wardrobe or collection. There's a wealth of styles out there, from different time periods, with no need to rush. The more you know, the better equipped you are to avoid the fakes in abundance and to reach a calculated conclusion.

How to shop for your first vintage jewellery piece (фото 2) If the process feels too intimidating, there's also the option of working with a jewellery consultant. Familiar with the ins and outs of the business, they have the connections, experience and insights to help you put your money where it's worth. Tip: Scour social media. In an interview with Forbes, New York-based expert and private jeweller Jill Heller mentions that as of late, more people discover and reach out to her via Instagram for advice. The platform has been experiencing a gold rush of sorts; alongside seasoned collectors and industry experts, accounts like @bigohbijoux and @rarebird.jewelry are among the many curated marketplaces selling vintage jewellery.  

How to shop for your first vintage jewellery piece (фото 3) Once you start to circle in on a piece, it's time to bring out the questions. Ask about the jewels and if accessible, for its provenance and condition reports to help you evaluate authenticity and value. Note that designer pieces often bear a signature (this means an engraving of the name of the jewellery house or maker) and hold higher value, though genuine pieces can also exist unsigned (or without the designer's markings).

How to shop for your first vintage jewellery piece (фото 4) Know who you're buying from. Though you never know what you may find in a vintage jewellery shop or antiques show, the best way to avoid fakes is to buy from a trusted, reputable source. Luckily, many of the larger online marketplaces employ industry experts to ensure the quality and authenticity of their products. Buying jewellery at an online auction has also been gaining popularity. Not only is there more variety, the transaction is more sustainable and you'll have in-house experts on hand to guide you through the entire process.

A Simon Teakle Boivin ball ring made around 1937

At the end of the day, bank on the jewellery you love instead of following trends or what looks the most beautiful. The more meaning a piece of jewellery holds to you, the more value it'll add to your life. And before you run off to consider your first investment, scroll on for a few final pointers as Vestiaire Collective share their insights to help you seal the deal:

What are important things to consider and know about when looking at vintage jewellery?

"The style of the jewellery is going to be the most important thing because some eras have very current designs. At Vestiaire Collective, we have rigorous quality checks where for example, we analyse if all the stones are well fixed because with time some can start to move––it would be silly to lose one! Our quality checkers suggest a small cleaning, or even a rhodium plating of the jewellery, is sometimes necessary to give it back its former glory."

Fun fact: Mexican actress María Félix had one of the most incredible collections of animal jewellery––ever. Above, she wears a pair of Cartier snake earrings. 

What are the hottest vintage eras right now and could you introduce a piece from each?

"Two eras stand out: Art Deco (1920s) with frames with very contemporary geometric shapes, and the Chanel Gripoix made by Victoire de Castellane in the 1980s."

Art Déco:

Chanel Gripoix by Victoire de Castellane in the 80's: 

Could you talk about an interesting style that people should know?

"Gemstones or not, what will add value to a handcrafted piece is the setting and cutting work of the craftsman who gives real interest to a simple stone or a banal ring.

"Some stones are increasingly present in the collections of major jewellers to compensate for the scarcity of certain stones in the mines. Spinels are replacing rubies more and more because they (rubies) are very difficult to find and their price is skyrocketing. We're also finding more synthetic diamonds, despite the fact that though they possess equal characteristics, do not have the soul of a natural diamond according to some."

How do precious stones add value to a piece in comparison to its artistry and craft? Which ones retain a high value and which particular gemstones are currently having a moment?

"In addition to adding value, thanks to the intrinsic value of each stone in weight and quality, the stones bring a contemporary, baroque, art deco style according to their size. At Vestiaire Collective, we observe the gems with the highest resale values to be the classics like diamonds, rubies, sapphires and emeralds. There is also an increasing demand in ornamental stones like coral or lapis lazuli or gems such as tanzanite and morganite thanks to their intense blue and pale pink colour."

American designer Bunny Mellon’s Jasmine necklace from her extensive collection of Jean Schlumberger jewellery 

Does the value of a piece of jewellery change with fashion?

"Fashion will influence designs, colours, and mixtures of alloys such as the use of gold and steel in the '80s. But fashion has no impact on the value of a jewel. Geopolitical crises or the scarcity of stones on Earth have more influence."

What is the main difference in craft between vintage jewellery and the jewellery made today?

"The very old jewellery from the beginning of the 20th century and before had different diamond sizes. For example, the tip of the diamond called colette used to be cut. But since 1930, we can say that all diamonds now have a modern cut instead."

Salvador Dali’s famed Eye of Time watch brooch was offered for auction at Sotheby's in 2017 with an estimate of US$300,000 – US$400,000

Read: The surrealist body bijoux of Schiaparelli changes the way we see jewellery

Final tips to keep in mind before making a purchase?

"Always check the clause and certificates to avoid buying counterfeits or a product with a lower value. Also check the state of the setting of the stones, as well as the good closing of possible clasps. And have the jewellery cleaned to restore its shine, of course."