Cindy Chaplin of Turner and Tatler shares her expert advice on hunting for antique and vintage jewelry. Whether you're looking to start a collection or discover a few heirloom treasures, here are ten steps to finding pieces that will last lifetimes.
I’ve always admired how antique and vintage pieces add a sense of nostalgia and individuality to a modern look. I love the notion that the special pieces that you love and collect now could become an heirloom gem to pass down to the next generation of loved ones. If you’re looking to start your own collection of antique jewelry, here are some of my top tips to keep in mind while you’re shopping:1
Invest in pieces of fine jewelry, as opposed to costume. I love collecting beautiful fine jewelry and have found that it stands the test of time no matter what era your vintage pieces are from.2
Consider your budget: I recommend figuring out the category that interests you the most, and then buying the best that you can afford in that category. You will not regret investing in what works for you.3
Purchase from a reputable source — don’t forget to do your homework! Look at who is selling the type of jewelry you like. Ask questions about the piece and what makes it special. I like to get in touch with the dealer or seller because antique or vintage dealers usually are knowledgeable about what they are selling. Let them explain more… There’s usually good information to share, and I’ve found that any good dealer is passionate about their pieces. It’s always worth asking a question!
Start with what you like and see if there’s a common thread that runs through a variety of pieces. By starting in one time period, you’ll be able to hone in on the details and discover where to start collecting. Is it the cut of the stones, a certain type of gemstone, a style or motif that’s reminiscent of a period that resonates most with you? Or maybe a specific shade of gold or precious metal?5
Consider whether you want to wear the piece daily. How will you wear it? Casual or more formal? Will it work for both casual and more formal use? How versatile is it? Some pieces can be quite delicate, and may not be suited for everyday or 24/7 wear.6
Do you want to start a collection in one time period or do many periods of time interest you? Maybe you want to build a set of go-to pieces from one era, or you’d like to play around with a variety of styles. Figure out what you are looking for and then work from there.
“Invest in pieces of fine jewelry, as opposed to costume. I love collecting beautiful fine jewelry and have found that it stands the test of time no matter what era your vintage pieces are from.”
Starting with core pieces or classic jewelry staples is the best way to approach your search if you find the shopping to be intimidating; think a solid ring, earring, bracelet or multi-wear chain. The selection can be overwhelming so know that you can always build out from your starting point.8
Don’t forget about relationships, build one with a dealer or vendor. Dealers are great resources, and if they don’t have what you are looking for, they may be able to source it for you. Remember that PATIENCE is key here. Many of these pieces get scarcer as time goes on. Let them know what it is you love and let them use their contacts to source it for you. You’d be surprised how much easier the search becomes.9
Buy value with the understanding that quality is not cheap. Buying the least expensive piece in a category is not necessarily the best value, keep this in mind when setting a budget. Uniqueness and craftsmanship are two key factors in determining value and longevity so it will help to shift your mindset from seeking out quantity to investing in quality.
Buy what you love! When you are passionate about a piece, you will be more inclined to do your research and find out as much as you can about it. Compare and contrast with other pieces that are available. That’s a good way to educate yourself.
So there you have it — a top ten list of the building blocks to start collecting fine antique or vintage jewelry. Here are three helpful (and beautiful) books to take a look at for historical information and inspiration:
- Antique & Twentieth Century Jewelry by Vivienne Becker
- Understanding Jewellery by David Bennett & Daniela Mascetti
- Jewels & Jewellery by Claire Phillips
Another great resource are museums, which I love visiting. Many are currently closed to in-person visits, but some archives and collections are available to view virtually so take a look at these:
- The Victoria and Albert Museum / London
- Museum of Fine Arts/ Boston
- The Wallace Collection/ London