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Baubles, Bangles & Beads: Collecting Antique Jewelry

by Sonal Panse (03/31/09).

Editor’s Note: There are antiques and collectibles that are utilitarian. There are some that are for beauty’s sake alone. Or of historical note. Then there is antique jewelry—to be admired, worn and kept as an investment. Let Sonal Panse introduce you to the fine art of antique-jewelry collecting.

800px-bracelet_denfantJewelry that is more than 100 years old is classified as antique. Such jewelry is collected for its beauty, its uniqueness and its investment potential. Market fluctuations do not usually affect the value of antique jewelry. With the demand for it being higher than its availability, prices go up. Of course, in the present depressed economy, almost everything has been negatively impacted with the exception of high-end items.

Types of antique jewelry

Antique jewelry is grouped, generally, by historical periods. Each type is characterized by the prevalent styles and fashions of the period in which it was made and the country in which it was made.

As antique jewelry is handmade to a large extent—it was around 1830 that the mass-manufacturing mania caught on in the jewelry industry—we also have the variety presented by each individual jeweler’s unique skills and design sense.

So, how do you know what to collect?

Go by your personal preferences and the jewelry you find interesting. Let your jewelry collection reflect your unique style. Start small, and then expand your scope as you learn more about jewelry and collecting.

You can collect by—

Period— Georgian, Victorian, Art Nouveau, Edwardian, the Louis style, the Belle Epoque style, the Empire style, etc.

Edwardian bangle

Edwardian bangle

Art Nouveau pin

Art Nouveau pin

To learn more about this bangle, click here and here for the pin.

Theme—Flowers, birds, butterflies, dragonflies, dragons, geometric shapes, cameos, etc.

Type—rings, bangles, necklaces, stickpins, brooches, lavalieres, pendants, charms, earrings, cuff links, watches, etc.

Designer—Girolami Venturi, Thomas Flach, Albini, Christian Taute, Lalique, Tiffany, Cartier, etc.

Metals—yellow gold, red gold, white gold, silver, platinum, etc.

Gems—diamonds, sapphires, opals, emeralds, paste stones, pearls, coral, turquoise, moonstone, etc.

Lalique glass pendant

Lalique glass pendant

This beautiful pendant is being offered on GoAntiques.

Okay, now what should you do before you start collecting antique jewelry?

Get informed. That really should be the first step for collectors in every field. It will save you from being gulled, and it will garner you respect from the professionals. Antique dealers and jewelers are more likely to give you tips about upcoming antique jewelry for sale if they know you are a connoisseur worth your salt.

So build up a good reference library on antique jewelry. See the book list at the end of the story. Learn about—

The different historical periods of antique jewelry and the different jewelry styles that were prevalent in each;

The special characteristics of specific period jewelry—the design motifs used, the design elements, the metals and gems used, how hinges, clasps and settings were fashioned;

The distinguishing differences between real antique jewelry and new reproductions;

Hallmarks, maker’s marks and caratage rules;

Different diamond cuts. Specific cuts—rose cuts, cushion cuts, brilliant cuts—were fashionable in specific periods. Knowing them can help you identify the period of the jewelry.

Tiffany yellow-gold ring

Tiffany yellow-gold ring

tiffany-yellow-gold-ring-closeup

Click here for more information this gorgeous ring.

Visit online auction sites like GoAntiques to see what is currently available and at what rates. Know what is most sought after.

Here are some places where you can buy antique jewelry.

Online—Check online stores, auction sites like GoAntiques, jewelry collectors’ Web sites.

Antique and jewelry shops—Some shops specialize in antique jewelry.

Estate sales—Heirloom treasures may crop up here.

Antique auctions—Auctions organized by auction houses like Sotheby’s and Christie’s are probably your best bet for getting extraordinary and rare antique jewelry. At, of course, appropriately exorbitant prices. You may also find outstanding pieces at jewelers who specialize in only the finest pieces.

Antique dealers—Establish contacts with reputed antique dealers, and ask them to look out for antique jewelry for you.

Carved Elizabethan lady cameo

Carved Elizabethan lady cameo

Find more information about this beautiful cameo by going to GoAntiques.

Here’s what you ought to do before buying antique jewelry.

Set a definite budget.

Visit different outlets and compare prices for similar types of jewelry.

Examine the jewelry. Check for maker’s marks, metal color inconsistencies at solder joins and seams, indications of repairs or breakage. Ask online sellers for closeup photos.

Ask if the jewelry has ever been repaired or the gemstones replaced. Repairs and replacements detract from value. Inquire about metals used and about provenance.

Check if hinges, catches and settings are in good condition. Some amount of wear is expected in antique jewelry, but it shouldn’t be too worn.

Check if the design elements and forming techniques correspond to the period in which it was made.

Bakelite cameo pin

Bakelite cameo pin

This unusual pin is being offered on GoAntiques.

Ask the jeweler for a “return within a week for a full refund” buying option while you have the jewelry appraised. Get this buying option and the jewelry description detailed on the receipt, and have it appraised by an independent, certified jeweler.

Caring for your antique jewelry

Keep it safe and insured.

Know how to store. Diamonds, for example, scratch other diamonds if heaped together. Opals, corals and turquoise are easily damaged. Necklace strands get entangled. Pearls spoil if not aired from time to time, and pearl silk strands weaken if hung up. Store in separate trays and not in an airless safe.

Avoid daily use. Household and garden chemicals adversely affect the jewelry. Also, antiques may not stand up to regular wear, and repairs are hard, expensive and value reducing.

A well-cared, lovingly assembled jewelry collection is an aesthetic pleasure, and it may also prove to be financially rewarding.

Cartier engagement ring, circa 1905

Cartier engagement ring, circa 1905

cartier-engagement-ring-circa-1905-side-view

The Cartier ring is without question a beauty. Click here if you would like to find out more.

Recommended reading

“Antique Jewelry: A Practical & Passionate Guide” by Rose Leiman Goldemberg

“The Official Identification and Price Guide to Antique Jewelry (Official Price Guide to Antique Jewelry)” by Arthur Guy Kaplan

“Antique Trader Jewelry Price Guide” by Kyle Husfloen

“A Connoisseur’s Guide to Antique Jewelry” by Ronald Pearsall

“Jeweled Garden: A Colorful History of Gems, Jewelry, and Nature” by Suzanne Tennenbaum

“Masterpieces of French Jewelry” by Judith Price

“Illustrated Guide to Jewelry Appraising, 3rd Edition: Antique, Period, and Modern” by Anna M. Miller

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