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  • Writer's pictureLillian

Tips for new antique jewelry collectors

Updated: Feb 17, 2023

How to Collect Antique and Vintage Jewelry

WHY Collect Antique Jewelry?

There are so many reasons to collect Antique and Vintage jewelry! Some people are sentimental collectors and become attracted to antique jewelry for its romantic symbolism and rich cultural connections. Some collectors take a more academic approach, magnetized by the antiquated days of yore and the tactical allure of being able to hold a piece of history. Some people like the luxurious old-world sparkle of rose-cut gems set in warm, buttery gold. And then, there are those very serious collectors who collect museum and heirloom quality pieces. There is really no wrong way to collect jewelry. It all depends on your personal preferences and gosure; there is for certain, there are many surprises waiting for you in antique jewelry. Whether you are collecting fine jewelry or novelty jewelry, the attention to detail, craftisnship, and culture are unparalleled. Whatever yotivastay be, there is a is huge world of jewelry out there ready to be collected. There is something for everyone.

What kind of collector are YOU?

It's ok if you don't know what kind of jewelry collector you are yet. It takes time to develop a curatorial eye, but you may have noticed that you are drawn to certain types of jewelry. Ask yourself WHY you like what you like. Are there certain styles, time periods, or characteristics that pull you in? Identifying the traits you enjoy in antique pieces will help you find moreat suitFor example, doour personal taste. Do you covet the airy designs of delicate Edwardian pendants, or are you more into the Chunky Victorian chains, or maybe its Middle Eastern silver? Over time, you'll probably find patterns in your collection as it evolves.


One of the best ways to learn about antique jewelry is to handle it in person. The interneand books are greatic, but nothing beats seeing something in person. Antique stores, fairs, and jewelry stores are all great places where you can try on the jewelry and flip pieces over to look at the fronts and backs, the clasps, the settings, and the stone cuts. Most dealers will be happy and excited to show you their stock. The first time I touched Victorian Jet, I thought it was plastic because it felt so unexpectedly lightweight. The hands-on experiences will get you to the point where you can circa date and identify jewelry styles and materials by sight. We learn through our senses, and we learn new things every day!

A Micromosaic Brooch, 1800s, V&A Museum

FAMILIARIZE Yourself with the time periods

Knowledge is going to be your best friend. So get ready to fall down the antique jewelry history wormhole. To truly understand historical jewelry, you'll want, at least, a basic understanding of different stylistic time periods. This will help you identify different pieces by sight. For example, an art deco brooch will look very different than an art Nouveau brooch. It may seem overwhelming at first, but once you get into it, it becomes an addiction! Eventually, you will start to develop a taste for which types of items and periods you love! If you aren't the bookish type, you can rely on jewelry consultants, online resources, and reputable dealers for information on time periods. Fashion never exists in a silo, and the same goes for jewelry. Antique jewelry is connected to politics, geography, and cultural nuances, and many of these secrets can be revealed in the aesthetics and craftsmanship of old pieces.

Buy the jewelry that speaks to you.

When I see something I love, I can legit feel my heart beating faster. I call it the "Gold Sweats." Anywho, you'll know when you see something that gives you feelings - it's probably the jewelry trying hard to be part of your collection. Jokes aside, you'll hear other collectors and sellers say "this is a jewelry collection staple" or "no collection is complete without..." just ignore it and buy what YOU like. Whether it's costume jewelry or fine, it doesn't matter as long as you like it. Antique jewelry, like all fashion, has trend cycles, don't feel like you need to follow a trend.

a gold and garnet antique ring in box and on hand
A piece we sold in 2020

Don't be afraid to wear your jewelry!

Unless you're collecting museum or investment pieces, make sure to buy some jewelry you will wear. You don't have to wear all of it but have a few pieces that make you feel great when you wear them. Part of the fun of antique jewelry is combining it with a contemporary wardrobe and having a unique piece that no one else will be wearing. Antique lockets, bracelets, and rings are very easy to style - or, just wear them with your sweatpants if it makes you feel good. Life is too short for everything to be precious. Just be careful to keep your jewelry clean, and regularly check your gem settings for any loose bits or needed repairs. If you are buying jewelry to display in a curio or box, think about how it will look in your collection with your other pieces. In complete honesty, I only wear a tiny bit of my collection because I don't leave the house much - BUT, I do have some rings that I won't leave the house without.

British Museum, Garnet Aigrette, 1726-1775

If something seems too good to be true, double-check!

There are many revival periods where contemporary or vintage jewelry may appear to be an authentic antique. Clasps, hallmarks, materials, and other signifiers can give us clues on the date and authenticity of specific pieces. For example, you are not going to find a Georgian Platinum piece because Platinum wasn't widely used in European jewelry until the late 1800s,and didn't gain popularity until the early 1900s. Gem cuts can also be a dead giveaway on a falsely described piece. If you learn about different types of gem cuts by era, you will be able to spot misleading jewelry listings. Some items can be poorly and inaccurately described. Pro Tip: Always ask questions, and always double-check. My rule of thumb is: if you find a unicorn (an excellent authentic antique piece at a ridiculously low price), try to find a few other similar examples online. If you are shopping online, you can see how the piece you found compares to others by checking out images and descriptions of similar items. Look at how the gems are set, look at the front and back, view the hallmarks if they are present, check for consistency with other jewelry from the time period, and learn as much as you can about a unicorn piece before taking the plunge. I've taken some risks that were absolutely worth it and a few that weren't- it's part of learning.

Join the community!

Talk to people and get to know them. There are tons of amazing antique jewelry sellers and collectors. When you first start collecting, You'll find different shops with different price ranges and styles. Eventually, you'll find a few shops and sellers that you like! There is a huge online antique and vintage jewelry community. You can make friends on Instagram, Facebook groups, TikTok, Reddit, and local antique fairs. Collecting alone is fine, but collecting with friends is always better. I have learned so much invaluable information from the online community. It's fun to have jewelry friends.

The Gold Standard

Some people only collect solid gold jewelry. One important thing to remember is that gold and other precious metal pieces retain their value differently than other novelty types, gold-filled or costume pieces. If you want pieces that are high in value and easier to sell and trade, think gold. Some popular antique gold items that always fly off our shelves are gold chains, gold earrings, gold rings (bands and gem set), and gold lockets. Before buying antique gold, make sure the seller has an understanding of whether the item is gold or gold-filled. Most solid gold pieces will be hallmarked. For example, many "gold-cased" fobs are sold as solid gold but are often plated. Look for those hallmarks! Some antique gold chains have a hallmark on each link! That being said, not every gold piece will have a hallmark.

Antique jewelry doesn't need to break the bank.

Here at Accidental Antiquarian, we stock jewelry in all price ranges. We really want to help onboard new collectors by offering affordable antique pieces at lower price points, but we also offer fine high-end jewelry as well. You'll notice it's all mixed together! Your collection can be like this, too! Affordable types of antique jewelry can include brooches, gold-filled pieces, stick pins, charms, and pendants. During the Victorian period, tons of pieces were created in varying quality, which means there is plenty to choose from.

If you're on a budget, think Versatility!

Some jewelry is wildly versatile, and you can wear it in multiple ways. A brooch, for example, can be worn as a pendant, on a ribbon as a choker, or as a conversion into a ring or charm - the possibilities are endless. Many people collect stick pins to convert them to rings or tiny pendants. A gold or silver watch chain can be a necklace, doubled around the wrist as a bracelet, or you can go old school and wear it as an actual watch chain. If an antique ring is too small, but you're in love, you can wear it on a chain! Bracelets and brooches can stylishly be added to necklaces to extend the length. I've seen some fantastic necklaces strung with tiny rings. There are no rules for styling antique jewelry. Anything goes!

If you are on a budget, trade up.

If you have a beginner budget for gold and silver, you can start small and grow your collection. For example, my collection started with a couple pairs of antique earrings I purchased in high school. I sold two pairs and bought a gold Victorian padlock charm, then I sold that padlock and got my first antique gold chain. Start small and trade up. If you collect desirable pieces, you can sell them or trade them if your curatorial taste evolves. It does take a trained eye and a knowledge of antique jewelry to spot a deal - so start learning and keep your eyes peeled! I have found some very affordable pieces at garage sales, on eBay, and at antique fairs. Layaway is also a great way to buy your first gold pieces. Many shops will offer flexible layaway plans. I have purchased several of my favorite pieces on layaway.

Dont beat yourself up.

If you buy something that doesn't meet your expectations, don't sweat it Return it and move on (Always check return policies when buying fine antique jewelry) Many new collectors will sometimes gamble and make a mistake Just keep learning One time I purchased a pair of "Georgian" earrings that looked VERY convincing on camera from a trusted and reputable Instagram seller When the earrings arrived, I knew immediately by the cut of the stones that they were (poorly done) imitations It was an honest mistake on their part, but I learned to be more discerning and always ask questions upfront. Also, having antique "style" or reproduction revival items in your collections is totally ok if you love the piece. It's your collection, you do you! Don't let anyone bully you into thinking that contemporary, revival, or reproduction jewelry is bad. t's all about you and what you like. owever, it is essential to ask any burning questions before making the purchase. ome sellers will slap the word "antique" on just about anything.

Contemporary Rings

Here are a few buying tips:

  • If you aren't sure, Ask.

  • If not disclosed, you can ask the seller if the jewelry ha had any repairs. Many antique pieces have had repairs and restorations. Some pieces are sold needing repairs and restorations, all scenarios are acceptable as long as the seller is upfront and honest. Also, remember that antique jewelry is over 100 years old - it is common for these old gals to need a tune-up e ery now and then. Sometimes restorations and repairs keep these pieces going.

  • Does the pie e have hallmarks? Not all pieces have hallmarks, but they are an excellent way to figure out where/when the ewelry came from. When buying fine jewelry, ask about hallmarks.

  • Ask if there is a return policy.

  • Ask if layaway is available (layaway is a great way to get your first gold pieces).

  • You can ask for additional images (always look at the back, too!).

  • Ask if the gems are secure in their settings.

  • Ask for provenance or paperwork on gems if you are purchasing name-brand fine jewelry or museum-quality pieces. (paperwork and provenance aren't always available, but still, ask!)

  • If an item is poorly described or seems off, ask for a condition report

  • Educate yourself as much as you can on different styles and characteristics of jewelry

  • Follow other jewelry people on social media, make friends, and have fun!



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