Investing in Unique Jewelry

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If you love one-of-a-kind jewelry, an antique or vintage piece can add unique style to your accessory collection. It can also be a good investment that will increase in value and may even become an heirloom that’s handed down to future generations. While it may seem difficult to spot real treasures at an antique store, auction or estate sale, experts offer several helpful tips.

It helps to do some research before you start shopping. Understanding terminology is the first place to start. According to Russell Fogarty, former appraiser with Christie’s auction house who now sells estate jewelry online, the term “estate jewelry” refers to pre-owned pieces. Estate jewelry is frequently part of the collection of someone who is deceased. Pieces that are referred to as “antique” must be at least 100 years old, while “vintage” jewelry is typically from a certain era, such as Victorian, Edwardian, Art Deco or Mid-Century.

You can learn more about different types of antique and vintage jewelry by reading books and auction catalogs, visiting museums and shops and browsing online. Most well-known jewelry makers have a certain way of signing their work that sets it apart. Although beautiful pieces can be found from unknown jewelers, when you buy a piece that was created by a famous maker you can expect to find a high level of quality and craftsmanship. However, the value of a piece of jewelry does not always depend on its having a well-known maker. Many beautiful and valuable pieces come from unknown creators.

Know Your Seller
The best way to make sure the estate pieces you buy are authentic is to work with a trusted dealer. In a retail setting or at an auction, whoever you buy from should provide details about a piece of antique or vintage as well as vouching for its authenticity and value. When it comes to an estate sale, the seller may not be a jewelry expert. This is when you can avoid risk by doing as much research as possible on a piece before you buy it.

Exercise caution when shopping for antique and vintage jewelry on eBay or Craigslist. You can check a seller’s reputation online by looking at ratings and feedback from previous customers. Ask about an item’s history before you buy, such as how and when the seller acquired it. Find out whether it’s a family heirloom or if it was purchased at an auction or estate sale.

What to Look For
Most antique and vintage jewelry is not restored, so even well-cared-for pieces will show signs of age and wear. This is especially true for metals like gold, silver and copper that take on a certain sheen over time known as patina. Authentic pieces may also exhibit traces of tarnish as well as dents or other sign of use. A dealer or auction house will clean antique and vintage jewelry before selling it, but they should disclose any significant restoration work. If a piece looks too new and hasn’t been restored, then it could be a fake.

The price you pay for a piece of antique or vintage jewelry may be based on a number of factors. Fine jewelry generally is made from higher quality material and may have a more delicate or refined design than costume jewelry, so it generally has a higher price tag. The quality of workmanship in a piece will also affect its price, along with whether it has sustained any significant damage over the years. The rarity and desirability of a piece can also have a major impact on its price.

Ask for Documentation
Whether you’re at a store, auction, estate sale or shopping online, you should ask to see certification for any gemstone or jewelry that is being sold as genuine. You may be able to negotiate a lower price if no documentation is available since there’s a certain amount of risk involved in the purchase.

Trust Your Heart
Instead of looking at a jewelry purchase as solely an investment, you should also consider how you feel about it. An authentic piece of antique or vintage jewelry that you love will continue to give you pleasure even if it doesn’t grow in value. According to Russell Fogarty, the prices of gems and gold fluctuate and different types of vintage jewelry go in and out of style, so it’s important to spend your money on pieces that speak to your heart and that you can wear forever.

Antique and vintage jewelry should be stored with care to prevent scratching or other damage. Safeguard pieces with routine cleanings by a jeweler who checks for loose stones and clasps. With proper care, estate jewelry can be enjoyed for many years. ■

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