Posted on August 11, 2016 by Mary Hood | 1 Comment
The ladies of Downton Abbey surely have the best jewelry on television!
Antique jewelry draws us in for many reasons. Often, there’s an interesting story accompanying an older piece (and it’s not very difficult to imagine a fascinating back story, either!). Moreover, some antique jewelry may be of better value and quality than similar jewelry made or reproduced in the current retail market. And then there are those of us who simply like the look of older pieces (especially after a few episodes of Downton Abbey). From wherever your love of antique jewelry comes, with the right resources, you can start your own special collection.
Shopping for and collecting antique jewelry can be more complicated than it may initially seem. Peter Shemonksy, an appraiser for Antiques Roadshow recommends jewelry collection amateurs begin with “a passion for learning, an inquisitive mind, knowing how to ask the right questions, a good visual memory, patience, and some money.” If you’ve got that thirst for knowledge, the first step is to consult the best resources.
Know Your Stuff
Shemonsky recommends familiarizing yourself with Understanding Jewelry by David Bennett and Danielle Mascetti and Warman’s Jewelry: Identification and Price Guide by Christie Romero. Full of beautiful illustrations, both books will help you learn about important style eras and jewelry designers. Warman’s Jewelry includes a price guide, which likely will not perfectly match current market prices, but it may give you a general pricing guideline. After learning about trends in jewelry, you may find that there’s a particular time period you’d like to focus on in your jewelry collection.
The next thing to look for is a professional-quality 10x triplet magnifying loupe. This small tool that fits in your pocket will help you see detail like you’ve never seen it before. A magnifying loupe can help you decipher tiny engraved text and possibly even distinguish a counterfeit from the real thing.
Triplet Magnifying Loupe
Once you’re ready to put your knowledge to use, get some hands-on experience with actual jewelry. Shemonsky recommends “getting friendly with one of the jewelry specialists and inquir[ing] about the pieces you are interested in, even if you may not be at the point where you’re ready to buy.” Both jewelry specialists and antique vendors are seeking to build relationships with possible clients, he explains. If anyone doesn’t seem interested in answering your questions (within reason, of course!), move on to a vendor who’s eager to talk about their offerings. Local jewelers, especially those who specialize in antiques or estate items, are another good resource. If you do find a piece that you’d like to purchase, Shemonsky advises to always ask this question: “Is it authentic and is it in original condition?”
Inspect Pieces Carefully
Before buying, handle a piece yourself and closely inspect the back (magnifying glass in hand!). Is there a jeweler’s signature? A stamp indicating the karat of metal? Pay special attention to the craftsmanship or any repair work. Does the quality of work on the back match the quality of that on the front? Shemonsky explains that there are several lower-quality reproductions of antiques on the market, so be wary: “it is easy to copy style, but copying craftsmanship is very expensive and not cost-effective in today’s market. So think with your eyes and compare with your brain.”
Antique Pearl Bracelet, Dated 1862, Natural Saltwater Pearl
Stay True to the Reason You Started the Collection
In any artistic realm (music, visual art, fashion, jewelry), there is an endless amount of pieces in the world coupled with all of the information about those pieces. It’s enough to overwhelm anyone. Collecting antique jewelry will remain a fun hobby, however, if you keep your original goals in mind. Along the way, a vendor may attempt to persuade you to purchase something that simply doesn’t suit your aesthetic, or a blog may put down your favorite era of jewelry—but just remember that this is your collection, and your taste reigns supreme.
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Photos: Downton Abbey, Perfect Jewels via Flickr, Amazon, Justin Celticfinds via Flickr