Tips for buying vintage and estate jewelry

Estate brooch

Estate brooch

Do you love vintage and estate jewelry? Here are some pointers to help you get what you’re paying for.

The value of estate jewelry

According to Diamond Estate Jewelry Buyers, “estate jewelry … refers to any piece of jewelry that has been previously owned, regardless of age. Generally speaking, there are three types of estate jewelry: antique, vintage, and contemporary. Antique is older than 100 years; vintage is older than 40 years; and contemporary is 1980s till the present.”

To get a sense of what different vintage jewelry pieces are selling for, look at Ebay. Don’t necessarily buy there, but start reading descriptions and see how sellers are positioning their jewelry.

Identifying marks

Look for the obvious marks: 925 indicates silver (although before the 1940s, it was sometimes indicated as Sterling, Ster, or STG). 18K indicates gold (British jewelry may have 750). There may also be “maker’s marks,” sort of a designer’s signature. If there’s a patent number, you can look up the maker on the United States Patent and Trademark Office website.

It’s worth investing in a loupe (you can get one for around $25 or so) so you can see marks that may be worn down.

Jewelers loupe

Jewelers loupe

Claim or fact

If the owner (or their heirs) are selling the piece, ask  how they got it, or any history that they know about it.

If the seller claims that the piece is genuine, ask if there are  certification papers available. If not, negotiate a price based on that lack. Then head over to a qualified appraiser to see if you really got what you think you did.

Where to look for estate jewelry

Estate sales can be a good source of unusual, elegant jewelry. You can certainly follow signs on lampposts for local sales, either personal sales or held by professional estate sales companies. You can find local listings on sites like

Stores and antique shows are another source. Feel free to ask questions…don’t fire a barrage but do ask. Dealers who are knowledgeable and love their work (and want to make a sale) will take the time to answer. But be respectful…they’re there to sell. If there are other customers, either step aside or come back later.

Wherever you find an interesting piece of vintage jewelry, examine it carefully. Scratches can often be repaired but chips and obvious flaws can’t. Neither can mismatched stones.

Estate jewelry

Estate jewelry

Is it real?

Get documentation when you can. An appraisal is best but an original receipt or a photo of an ancestor wearing the piece are valuable, too. If there are gems, the best documentation is a GIA certificate, which comes with every precious stone.

Research, research, research

Finding a piece of genuine estate jewelry takes a little work, and that means hitting the internet. If there’s a particular period that you love, do some research on what to look for. What kinds of stones and designs were used? What are some typical maker’s marks to look for? There are lots of reproductions out there. You may not be able to totally vouch for a piece, but you can identify imposters.

Do you love it?

There’s a difference between investing in estate jewelry because it will appreciate in price and buying something that you love. If it’s the latter, look for a piece that “speaks” to you and that you will love for its craftsmanship and beauty. But don’t let your heart overrule your head. Get a beautiful estate piece for a reasonable price and you’ll have an heirloom to love and pass down to future generations.

Wondering if your vintage jewelry is genuine? Get it appraised! Call me and get a full report on your jewelry, silver, or other precious items.

Brilliantly yours,





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