How to Determine the Value of Your Vintage Jewelry

How to Determine the Value of Your Vintage Jewelry

by Mary Grace Tacderas

Watching the popular TV show showing antique stuff valued thousands of dollars has made us reflect and check on our own properties' worth. You may have some heirloom jewelry passed down to you by your mom hiding deep down your jewelry box, or you love shopping at your local antique shop, not knowing that what you just have purchased are worth more or less than you thought because not all vintage jewelry has value.

How to determine the value of your vintage jewelry is the question that most of us are itching to find out. First, we need to recognize what is considered vintage jewelry. Old pieces of jewelry are divided into three—vintage, antique, and estate jewelry.

Jewelry Classification Based on Period

Antique Jewelry

The oldest of the entire jewelry category that must be one hundred years and older. The jewelry era encompasses from the Georgian, Victorian, and Art Nouveau From 1714 to 1915.

Vintage jewelry

The jewelry should be from twenty to thirty years to classify as a piece of vintage jewelry. These comprise periods from 1920, the art deco era, retro up to the 90s.

Estate Jewelry

These are technically preowned pieces of jewelry. It does not matter it belongs to a costume or fine jewelry as long as it is preowned with the age of recent to 10 years of ownership. However, some dubbed as estate jewelry are sourced from an estate sale, which can also be in the category of antique and vintage or any jewelry with value.

Note: In purchasing jewelry, always note the period and classification. There is a difference when a dealer offers an estate cameo versus an antique cameo. Estate cameo replicates antique cameo to give the impression old style jewelry.

Things to consider when purchasing vintage jewelry:

 

The place of origin and source

The first thing to consider is the place of purchase. Credible vintage shops are selling authentic vintage pieces, appraised by professional jewelers. There are also estate sales. An estate sale is auctioning a sizeable amount of personal of deceased or living individuals. Licensed professional companies facilitate these in exchange for a set percentage of profits.

The era of the design

The second thing to give attention to is the jewelry piece itself. Researching the design and artistry belonging to the era it was made. The set of gems, construction, and even the jeweler who created the jewelry for some designers has mass followers seeking to complete or have their jewelry line.

Artistry

Handmade jewelry was one of the indicating factors if a piece of jewelry is handmade. However, the mass production of jewelry started in the 1940s and up so technically, vintage jewelry is now a mix of handmade and mass-produced jewelry. Valuable vintage jewelry is well made from top to bottom, meaning you need to check the jewelry's backside if it has a beautiful finish.

Material

The material used is primarily the most significant part of appraising the worth of vintage jewelry. Treasured metals such as gold and platinum are priced higher than jewelry made from silver. The usual suspects like diamonds, sapphires, and other valuable gemstones also add to the jewelry's value.

Mark

The mark and or stamp on the jewelry also add to the price for this confirms the source and authenticity of the jewelry. Given two identical jewelry being one stamped and the other is not, the stamped jewelry will fetch a higher price than the unmarked.

Knowledge of vintage jewelry marks can help you identify and date your vintage jewelry. The two types of markings you will see on vintage jewelry are signatures or hallmarks.

Jewelry Hallmarks

 
Rodolph at the English language Wikipedia, CC BY-SA 3.0

Hallmark encompasses that date, place, purity, and artists.

Purity stamps specify the content of the precious metals used. These are commonly made of gold and silver.

Maker's stamp/designer mark tells the jeweler and the jewelry company that manufactured the accessory. They are responsible for ensuring that the purity stated is authentic.

Retailer stamp specifies the exact store applicable to large jewelry brands with various outlets.

Date letters stamp is the mark indicating the date the vintage jewelry was manufactured.

Town stamps indicate the place the jewelry was created.

Sterling silver jewelry has various hallmarks depending on the country of origin. Some countries are easy to identify, while others have a more complex set of marks. The most common type of purity mark we see are 925, Sterling, or STG, which is a hallmark from America. Sterling and 925-purity marks are likewise used by Mexico. This plus the word Mexico or Mexico silver can be found in older jewelry pieces. Other countries use sterling and 925 as well, plus the country of origin. This makes it simple to identify the purity stamp.

British jewelry stamps, on the other hand, have a more complex set of marking for standardization. These include symbols and letters. British jewelry's purity stamp is represented by the region it was made. Sterling silver from England will have a different mark from a piece of sterling silver jewelry made from Dublin or London. To make the stamps more complex and standardized, date letters uses various schemes or font stating the year it was created. This may seem too much, but this actually makes it easier to track the jewelry's origin. It's a testament to how precise the Brits were in controlling the quality of the jewelry they made.

Signature

Most vintage jewelry will have signatures in place of hallmarks. Signature stamps only indicate the maker's signature and do not specify the purity of the metal used. Some vintage jewelry has patent numbers or inventory marks.

Patent number or inventory marks are used by the company or government n tracking jewelry designs.

It is not easy to identify these marks as each country has different stamps for purity and others. You can visit various online free resources if you are doing research on purity marks and signatures. Take note that some companies have multiple signature marks, so make sure to have thorough research if you happen to own a stamped vintage jewelry.

Stone cut

 

Shipguy, CC BY-SA 3.0

Old mine cut and European cut diamonds are the two most aged diamond cuts popular in the 17th to late 18th century.

Old mine cut

Old mine cut is an antique style diamond cutting manually contoured by hand,  also called the miners cut popular in the 18th to 19th century. The term originates from its source, as these diamonds were mined in India and Brazil.

It exhibits a cushion-cut diamond with a smaller table and a larger visible cutlet limiting the stones' brilliance. As these wear handmade, it has asymmetric cuts unlike diamonds cut by modern machines. What is most desirable with an old-mine cut is its soft glow, especially under candlelight, which it was originally designed for.

When compared to European cut diamonds, the old-mine cut is valued 10 to 15 percent less. It was also priced less than modern-cut diamonds. However, as people are now shifting their interest to antique and vintage jewelry, and the old-mine cut is now parallel in price.

European cut

The precursor to the round brilliants, European cut diamonds were famous from the 1890s to the 1930s. It displays a round shape with a large culet and a small table. Likewise handmade with 58 facets.

There are five main differences between old-mine cut and European cut.

  1. Age, old-mine cut predates European cut making old-mine cut diamonds easily belonging to the antique category.
  2. Shape, old-mine cut replicates a cushion-cut diamond, while a European-cut is similar to a brilliant round.
  3. Culet, both do have a larger and visible culet compared to modern-cut diamonds. However, the old-mine cut has a larger culet between the two.
  4. Fire, the old-mine cut has more fire than the European cut due to its larger facets.

Stone Setting

 

Another thing to consider in determining the value of your vintage jewelry is the stone setting.

Gypsy

Famous during the 1900s, a gypsy set gemstone displays a flushed setting, where the crown of the gem remains exposed. In the past, a gypsy setting was incorporated with the use of a graver tool. It had a star-shaped surrounding the gem, unlike modern gypsy set stones where the metal completely surrounds the stone.

Invisible

Popular in the early 1900s where stones are arranged tightly together like a mosaic. Van Cleef and Arpels patented the setting in 1933. 

Milgrain

Popular during the romantic Victorian era, inspired by Etruscan jewelry.  It displays a beaded edge surrounding a large gem or a cluster adding a vintage and romantic flair.

Pave

Popular in the 1940s using gemstone or rhinestone covering the entire surface of the jewelry. Small diamonds are set in metal beads, and these beads are soldered on to the base where it remains invisible to the eyes.

Tiffany

The most popular diamond ring setting patented by the company Tiffany and co. The stone setting includes four to six prongs securing a solitaire gemstone. This setting secures the gem by keeping it above the shank, enabling light to pass. This setting maximizes the gemstone cut increasing its brilliance. The company used a platinum base to create a floating diamond illusion.

Pearls

 

Aside from gemstones, pearls were also commonly used on vintage jewelry.

Natural

Naturally formed pearl takes more than ten years to grow. Any shelled mollusk can form a pearl, but it needs a catalyst, an irritant, before it starts coating it with nacre. Pearls result from the continuous layering of nacre as it is a natural defense of mollusk to contain an irritant entering its shell. Saltwater pearls were a highly-priced and still are for gathering them was a death-defying stunt.

Saltwater Pearls

The most famous and highly valued saltwater pearl is called the Tahitian pearl, with an iconic black color. Another popular natural saltwater is called the Australian south sea pearl displaying a gold or silver-tone iridescent.

Quahog

A rare from a saltwater clam called quahog native to Eastern shore of North America. A type of clam commercially harvested for food, which makes it more as machines do all the preparation destroying any pearl that may have formed inside the clam. The pearl color ranges from white, beige, lilac to purple.

Cultured

Mass use of cultured pearls on jewelry started in the 1920s. However, the first-ever cultured pearl was developed in 1893 by Kokichi Mikimoto. Considered as a real pearl as the pearl composition is the same as saltwater and freshwater pearls. The only dissimilarity is that cultured pearls are grown with human interventions. The oysters are kept in an optimal condition and manually implanted with a piece of mother of pearl, initiating the formation of nacre and, ultimately, pearl. Note that cultured pearls are not the same as plastic or glass pearls made from synthetic materials.

Baroque

Baroque pearls are a unique kind of pearls due to their asymmetric shape. Dubbed by from the French word Barocco translating to imperfect pearls. These were popular in the Baroque and Renaissance period. It regained its popularity in the 15th and 16th century, and again in the 19th century.

Freshwater

Pearls naturally occur in both fresh and saltwater. Prior to the discovery of cultured pearls, natural freshwater pearls were harvested from freshwater oysters. These were elongated and not as smooth as saltwater pearls but exhibited a unique charm like baroque pearls.

Blister

This is a kind of pearl formed on the side of the shell. These are not fully developed and are irregularly shaped. These are cut out from or together with a part of the cover and used as a beautiful centerpiece for pendants and brooches.

Mabe

A type of pearl that has a hollow core. Formed when a nucleus is attached to the inside of the shell. These are remarkably delicate because of their hollow body. A filler is used on Mabe pearls to support their shape when used on jewelry.

Vintage Jewelry Hardware

 

Ernesto Moreira, CC BY 2.0

The clasp, pins, and other jewelry hardware used in designing a piece of jewelry can identify vintage jewelry. Learning the type of closure used in a specific era will give you a timeline to determine the value of your vintage jewelry.

Vintage Bracelet Clasps

Box clasp was used on bracelets with wide straps such as bangles thick link chains ornamented with gemstones. Characterized by a rectangular-shaped 2 piece of metal wherein the is slide into the other, locked by a lever. It is opened by pressing on the lever to unlock the wedge.

Ring clasps are suitable and utilized on link chain bracelets. Characterized by a circular shaped grip assembled with a spring mechanism. The small lever is pulled to retract a slim metal opening the clip that automatically shut upon releasing the pin. The most delicate and fragile among the bracelet clasp is the small metal closure is flimsy in nature, easily bent, and broken with pressure. Most jewelry made from starting the 20th century was made with a spring-ring clasp.

Sister hook clasp is a reliable type of clasp perfect for everyday bracelets popular in the 1930- the 1940s. Due to its secure fitting, it is difficult to open,especially when taking it off. The sister hook clasp is characterized by a pair of hooks connected at the base. The pair of hooks is manually pushed together, securing the bracelet ends with two hooks.

Pat snap is patented in the 1940s characterized by circular ends, where the nub is inserted in a circular hollow.

Pin clasp was a type of fastener that is medieval in nature. Characterized by a manually pulled security pin inserted through the bracelet hinge, utilized on wide bangles.

Vintage Necklace Clasps

Like vintage bracelets, box clasps, ring clasps were used on vintage necklaces. Another closure is called hook clasps. The shepherd's hook, prevalent from the 1950s to 1960s, was used on thick and multi-strand chains.

Barrel Clasp

A barrel clasp is a timeless necklace closure that is still utilized today. Characterized by screw-type closure. Modern barrel clasp is equipped with a spring mechanism opened and locked by twisting the peg into a notch.

Vintage Earring Clasps

Most types of earring clasps used in vintage jewelry are still being used today. These are the shepherd hook, the kidney wire, lever backs, and screw backing.

Shepherd hook

Characterized by a candy cane-shaped post that has a long and unsecured end leaving the hooked end dangling at the back. A type of earring post popular in the 50s and '60s that is very easy to wear on and take off.  Its primary disadvantage is as there is no backing securing the earring, a heavily decorated earring built with a shepherd hook post tends to loop forward. The long hanging wire is also not pleasing to the eyes as it somewhat looks unfinished.

Kidney wires

A type of earring post looking similar to a shepherd hook popular in 1898s. Its main difference is the additional hook securing the back post. These are made from light metal wires, a standard in handmade jewelry.

Hinged to lever back

Utilized since the 1880s, a type of earring backing securing the end back post. Likewise, shapes like a kidney bean shape, made from sturdy materials. This is preferred for dangling earrings for their security, comfort, and style. Its kidney-shaped forms create a chic vibe. Plus, its rounded and fit features add convenience even while sleeping.

Screw backing

Started in 1894, screw backing was is one of the most secured backings for stud earrings. Characterized by an earring post built with threaded end, secured by a screw cap. At present, these are perfect for children to cover the usually protruding post, a typical feature of stud earrings. Its screw feature makes it difficult to remove by children, as they are incredibly active and inquisitive at this young age.

Vintage Brooch Clasps

Safety pin clasps were the OG pins for brooches dating from the 1800s and are presently used on some clips today.

The trombone, a type of brooch clasp from Europe patented in the 1850s. It was named after a musical instrument in which the clip was inspired. Characterized by a tube-shaped grip with a rounded top, pulled to release the pin. Utilized in the early 19th century by European jewelers.

Spring ring clasp was patented in 1921 utilized until the 20th century.

C-clasps, a type of closure used on decorative brooches characterized by a letter C-hook, utilized in the 1930s.

Vintage Jewelry Styles

The style differs depending on the era the jewelry was made. Let us start with the earrings.

Earrings

Button Earring

Just as the term indicates, this is a type of earring that appears like buttons used on clothes. Popular in the 1930s exhibiting a flat or domed circular-shaped initially fashion with screw backing and later to clip and pierced were utilized. These are decorated with cabochon gemstones, enamels, pearls, and Bakelite.

Chandelier Earring

Inspired by a type of luxurious light fixing, chandelier earrings likewise long and displays a tiered design with a dangling set of gemstones

Drop Earring

A more general term for dangle earrings characterized by a long pendant connection to the earring post. Some decorative elements used on drop earrings are glass, plastics, and wood. Ancient drop earrings are decorated with jet and fine gems.

Stud Earrings

A type of earring popular from the late 1800s to the present. Encrusted with gemstones, built with a screw backing.

Clip Earrings

Popular in1930s serving as the precursor of pierced stud earrings of today.

Girandole Earrings

A Georgian earring, replicating a candleholder / Candelaria with an iconic three drop dangle. A highly elaborated design usually decorated with gemstones. Its extravagant design resulted in a heavy weighting earring and was uncomfortable to wear. It was later transformed into smaller earrings and other accessories, replaced by pendeloque earrings, which were lighter and more comfortable to wear.

Pendeloque Earrings

Another 18th century earring jewelry style also known as pear-shaped dangle. The style rose together with the girandole earrings. A common feature is a drop earring with a ribbon accent surmounting a pear-shaped dangle.

Necklace

 

Pendant Necklace, A type of necklace with a detachable element called a pendant. A kind of necklace from our ancestors as they used teeth, bones, and others as protective pendants. The pendant and the clasp need to be considered with this type of necklace, as this is still the most popular type of necklace today.

Bib necklace is a type of necklace simulating a toddler's bib. Large, grand, and dramatic exhibiting a web-like metal necklace frame. Lavishly decorated with massive gemstones in various shapes with an overlying fringe chain creating a cascading flair.

Choker Necklace, a type of fitted necklace snuggly worn around the base of the throat. It was initially thin and evolved into more comprehensive with intricate designs. An ancient design from a Samaria, rising in popularity from the 18 t 19th century featuring a velvet base.

Collier Necklace, an elaborate type of jewelry designed to hang around the collarbone area.  A kind of necklace adorned with different elements that separate it from being a fine or costume jewelry.

Collar Necklace, a popular type of necklace during the 1840s to 1920s made famous by the late Queen Alexandria of Denmark. The design sits between a choker and a collier necklace that is presently an accessory of choice for punk style fashion.

Festoon Necklace, a type of decorative necklace designed to drape across the chest area. Popular from the 17th to 19th century, typically styled with a wreath of flowers and leaves.

Bayadere necklace of the 18th century that had returned in the 1900s. It displays looped strands of beads or pearls replicating a rope cord appearance, usually adorned with a tassel pendant.

Rings

When it comes to ring, we only need to look back on the four popular eras that had major influence on our jewelry styles today.

Victorian Period

It is either yellow gold or rose gold for this era. Diamonds with clusters, halo, or rows of diamonds were the standard designs during this period. Blue and white-colored gems like turquoise, pearls, moonstones, and opals with some blue enamel as the blue color represent Queen Victoria's favorite color. Diamonds cuts were round brilliants, rose cuts, step cuts, and solitaires following Victorian-style motifs of ribbons, hearts, and animals.

Edwardian Period

The era for filigree and lacy designs. Platinum was preferred in this time, designed with scrolling filigree, bows, and florals. The time of old-mine and European-cut gemstones using the same colored gems like turquoise, opal, and of course, diamonds.

Art – Deco

The period of costume jewelry with large and chunky jewelry pieces but light in weight using simulated glass embellishments instead of precious gems. For fine jewelry, emerald and Asscher-cuts were popular, using colored gems like emeralds, rubies, and sapphires.

Retro Period

The rise for more simple jewelry designs using baguette-cut gems set on a yellow or rose-gold base. Platinum was exclusively used for military purposes after World war II, so, understandably, there were no newly created platinum-based jewelery.

Costume jewelry

Asarelah, CC BY-SA 4.0 

We have always thought that costume jewelry has no resale value; however, we were corrected by the material Bakelite used on costume jewelry proved us wrong. Various reputable jewelry brand offers costume jewelry worth collecting. Some have been sold at an unimaginable amount for a piece of costume jewelry.

Some costume jewelry brands to look put out for are:

Napier

Napier is a costume jewelry brand that has a high number of followings. The brand started in the 1800s as a watch chain maker. It was later established in the 1920s as a jewelry brand creating bold and unique pieces of jewelry worn by famous A-listers and even a member of the British royal family. Napier is known for its geometric and floral designs using simulated pearls and gemstones, sterling silver, enamel, and glass. Chunky and grand, following an art deco jewelry style. The brand was one of the original who introduces affordable, high-quality costume jewelry to the masses.

Elsa Schiaparelli

Popular in the 1930s with her signature color, shocking pink. Famous in using faux tourmaline stones, AB rhinestones by Swarovski, watermelon glass stones, lava rocks, rhodoid and acrylic glass. Her most popular pieces are the bug necklace, kite brooch, pink bracelets with pink lava rocks, and glass stones. She follows a surrealist jewelry style, quirky and ornate. 

De Rosa

One of the pioneers of high-quality costume jewelry creating innovative designs as early as the 1930s, during the art deco era. Popular in using 3D complex designs and translucent enamels. His most famous pieces are sterling floral collar necklace and a Floral brooch with pink rhinestones, to name a few. Most of his designs are floral and nature-themed. As most of his pieces are not marked, be careful in purchasing one of his artworks.

Stones used on Costume Vintage Jewelry

Bakelite  

The material was established in 1910 used on various everyday items such as knives, buttons, and jewelry. It was sold at a low price, specifically in centavos. The use and creation of Bakelite were discontinued in the 1950s. It was said to be brittle and posed as a health risk during its manufacture.

AB Rhinestones

Swarovski's AB rhinestones are widely used on high-end costume jewelry. Developed in 1955, AB crystals creates an iridescent effect.

Cabochon

 
Masa, CC BY-SA 3.0

Cabochons refer to a dome or oval-shaped top with a flat bottom. It may be made of gemstone or glass, commonly used chunky jewelry.

Cat's eye

 
Mmmmkobayashi, CC BY-SA 3.0

Cymophane (cat's eye) is a yellow crystal often cut into cabochons creating a cat's eye effect. A high-quality cat's eye exhibits a honey color shade. Widespread during the late 19th century, it was used on an engagement token given by the Duke of Connaught. 

Dragon's Breathe Opal

A glass crystal made from Czechoslovakian glass. The glass crystal displays different colors depending on the angle. From red, blue, to purple. These colors mimic a dragon's breath, hence the name. Developed in the 20th century, what is unique about the dragon's breath crystals is the incorporation of molten metal instead of a foil base.

Rivoli stones

A multi-faceted Swarovski crystal developed in the 1950s. Characterized by a pointed top. It appears like an inverted crystal, often designed with a prong setting.

Saphiret / Sappharine

Another type of glass crystals with warm brown color combined with a hint of blue sheen. Popularly used on Victorian-style jewelry in the 50s.

Watermelon

 
Rob Lavinsky, iRocks.com – CC-BY-SA-3.0, CC BY-SA 3.0

A multi-colored foiled rhinestone, displaying multiple colors of green, yellow, and red. A synthetic stone, mimicking the color of a natural gemstone called watermelon tourmaline. The color is officially named as Vitrail II medium, available in round and oval form.

Certificates and boxes.

Every high-quality jewelry comes with a case. Vintage jewelry sourced from an estate sale usually has authentication papers that help identify your jewelry's actual value. The jewelry box can give you the makers, so it is easier to track the year it was made.

The only way to determine and prove the value of your vintage jewelry is to have it appraised by a professional. Choose an appraiser who had continuous gemological trainings and recognized by associations of appraisers. Verify his credential and read on the reviews of his past clients. Of course, this comes with a fee but if you truly believe that your jewelry is worth a lot, a professional fee in exchange of a tangible proof of the authenticity of your jewelry is worth the cost.

Your appraisal report must include your contact information, the date of the appraisal, the purpose, a detailed description of your jewelry, gemstones, stone setting, photo, appraiser's statement and the appraised value.

Also, be sure to know the purpose in why you are getting your jewelry appraised, as there are three typed of appraisals.

  1. Replacement value – a type of appraisal for insurance purposes. The value that will be given to you is the money you will receive in case the jewelry went missing.
  2. Fair market value – an estimated price if you are going to sell your jewelry. The appraisal will consider the current state of your jewelry.
  3. Liquidation value – you will receive an estimate lower than the initial two for this means a quick sell is needed.

Jewelry is a form of investment from ancient times. It did not start as a luxurious accessory but more of a transferable form of currency. Many people who understand the jewelry industry's monopoly have made money by investing and reselling vintage jewelry to collectors. What is new today may be worth thousands or millions more in the future but determining which pieces are worth collecting is crucial if you plan to make money out of your jewelry collection

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