Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Guide to Buying Vintage Jewelry

This is me as a blonde (!) in November 2008. My husband and I were guests at professional banquet in Chevy Chase, Maryland. I am wearing one of my vintage hats and the earrings and necklace were from my husband's bubbe's collection. This matching set is from the late 40s or early 50s. It also included a hinge bracelet adorned with green and clear rhinestones. The pristine condition of this set is just amazing. All of the rhinestones are clear, none of the prongs are loose, no stones are missing, and the metal has not tarnished! My mother-in-law has given me several items from her mother's collection and I am impressed everything looks brand new. Most pieces even have their original boxes!

When it comes to my vintage style, I accent my look with vintage and reproduction jewelry. Sweet Romance, El Dorado Club, Classic Hardware, Lucky Loo Loo, and 1928 are reproduction companies making earrings, bracelets, necklaces, and rings. I know there is more! I have a pair of cherry earrings from Sweet Romance that I bought in 2006 from Baby Girl Boutique. They are made of green glass leaves, red rhinestones, and soft-toned gold metal. Even though these earrings are "new," people ask me if they are vintage. I prefer vintage over reproduction but if see something cute that 'looks' vintage, I will buy it.

However, when buying the 'real thing' at yard sales, estate sales, or vintage shops; here are some tips:

When it comes to vintage jewelry made with rhinestones, look for items in good condition. Make sure all stones are present and look for oxidized stones and/or ones that are chipped.

If there is tarnish and it is sterling, it more than likely can be cleaned with polish or even toothpaste (more on that later). If any metal is not sterling (or real gold) and you see flaking, tarnishing, or even rust, judge for yourself. We all know that vintage by its very nature is not perfect. An item that shows a little age can be charming but if something looks ravaged, then it will not be a good investment.

Speaking of sterling silver, if an item claims to be silver, look for the .925 stamp. This will more than likely be found inside of a ring or on the clasp of a chain and/or necklace.

Make sure earrings' screw backs are in good working order. If the screw back cannot tighten and untighten, then it will not properly stay on. If the earrings are clip, ensure the clip can grip the ear lobe. Also, if the clip is too tight, it can actually pinch the ear which can cause skin damage.

If an item (necklace, brooch, bracelet, or ring) has prong-set stones, make sure the prongs are tight and also check to see if any are broken. If you are crafty, you can buy a pair of prong tightening pliers from jeweler websites like Fire Mountain Gems. If you are nervous about doing this yourself, you can take your jewelry to any reputable jeweler that has a repair shop on its premises.

When buying brooches or earrings with in-set or glue-set stones, make sure all stones are present and/or not loose. Should a stone fall out, you can glue it back in. Jeweler's glue (available at Fire Mountain and most craft stores) and even basic Krazy Glue can be used to re-adhere stones into their 'sockets.' Simply apply a tiny dot of glue inside the socket and using a pair of tweezers, place the stone onto the glued area. Let dry overnight or per package directions! Be sure not to get any adhesive on your fingers! If this happens, soak fingers in an acetone-based nail polish remover. NEVER try to pry your fingers apart! You can rip the skin!!

When buying vintage chains, make sure the clasp closes and opens. Test the clasp to ensure it closes completely. Also, scan the chain for any weak or stretched links.

When buying vintage lockets, make sure the locket snaps tight after being opened.

When buying vintage plastic ala lucite or bakelite, check for any cracks or chips. I once bought a red 50s plastic bangle that snapped on me after a month due to a hairline crack.

If an item is made with genuine pearl, turquoise, or opal, DO NOT submerge these items in water and DO NOT EVER use jewelry and/or metal cleaner! You WILL damage the stones! Simply clean jewelry with a soft cloth. If the metal is tarnished (especially if it is made with sterling or gold), take it to a professional jeweler.

When cleaning vintage sterling, you can use silver polish. If you do not have any on hand or you feel nervous about using chemicals, you can use toothpaste! Simply get a soft, clean, dry washcloth and some q-tips (if needed). Squeeze out a small amount (a pea-size) onto the washcloth and rub onto the tarnished areas. The toothpaste will more than likely turn black. This is okay. When the sterling looks clean and silvery again, clean under warm water with an old toothbrush. Blot jewelry with a clean paper towel, lay flat, and allow it to dry on a clean towel.

When it comes to dressing vintage, not only is investing in a vintage (even repro) jewelry collection is a must for any retro gal, it is fun!

Here's to finding all things sparkly and bright!


  1. You are welcome! I love collecting vintage jewelry, especially lucite! It is so addicting!