Buying Antique, Vintage & Estate Jewelry

Buying Antique Jewelry

Buying antique jewelry can be fun and rewarding, but it's good to know what to look for so that you aren't hoodwinked into buying a worthless trinket. Buying estate and antique jewelry can sometimes even prove to be the least expensive way to get an excellent piece of valuable jewelry for a good price; antique engagement rings, for example, are one-of-a-kind and usually less expensive than a modern counterpart.

Before diving into the history of jewelry, let's take a minute to distiguish between antique and estate jewelry. Antique jewelry is generally anything from before the 1920s. This includes Georgian, Romantic, Early, Middle and Late Victorian, and Belle Epoque/Arte Nouveau. Estate jewelry has no connotation about age; it is simply jewelry that has been previously owned, and may be antique, retro, vintage, or nearly new. Vintage Jewelry usually refers to jewelry from the 1920s to the 1950s, while retro is usually 1960-1985.

Art periods and time periods are not synonymous, either. Some art periods overlap, while obviously time periods can't overlap. For example, a brooch from 1909 might be art nouveau, arts and crafts, or Edwardian in design.

Care for Your Vintage & Antique Jewelry

Once youve purchased your vintage and antique jewelry pieces, you will want to preserve their beauty and value. A few simple steps can help you maintain your vintage costume jewelry.

Wear vintage jewelry with care: Vintage jewelry is difficult to repair, so wear it with care. Remove your jewelry when using household cleaners and when doing physical activities.

Store vintage jewelry separately: Store jewelry separately in soft, zipped-up pouches to protect your pieces from the elements and from dust, which is abrasive.

Use a jewelry polishing cloth: Keep it simple. Use a special jewelry polishing cloth to keep jewelry dust-free.

Remove grime from vintage jewelry: Use a baby wipe or glass cleaner and a soft cloth to remove grime from stones.

Keep vintage jewelry dry: Never place vintage jewelry and antique jewelry directly under running water.

Victorian Jewelry

Victorian era jewelry spans nearly a century, from the early Victorian (romantic period) of 1837-1861 to the mid Victorian era (grand period) of 1861-1880. The late Victorian era dates from 1880 to 1900.

The Victorian era produced spectacular jewelry with the tone set by Queen Victoria in the early part of the century. Many women of the Victorian era were incurable romantics and simply adored jewelry. Snake jewelry, a symbol of everlasting love, was a motif that recured throughout the 19th century. Flowers, flora and fauna were also prominent in jewelry design. Brooches, pins, necklaces and rings, rendered with colorful gemstones, took on a three dimensional small yet realistic look.

Scottish jewelry gained in popularity when Queen Victoria purchased Balmoral in 1848. Agate was incorporated into Scottish motifs such as thistles, knives and swords.

Other popular jewelry and gemstones included hairwork jewelry, coral, mogul jewelry (such as tigers claws and teeth), revivalist jewelry and gold rush jewelry (gold quartz). Archelogical discoveries prompted jewelry styles from ancient and medieval cultures. Celtic, Egyptian, Etruscan, Mogul (India), Roman and Renaissance all became popular. Micro mosaic jewelry, tiny bits of glass or tesserae, are pieced together to form a picture.

Art Nouveau Jewelry

The Art Nouveau style shone brightly and generated passion for a short while at the turn of the century from 1895 to 1910. The Art Nouveau era was distilled by the French, yet the foundation for its distinct look of line and form was influnced by the British Arts & Crafts movement.

There were many practitioners of the Nouveau style in France, yet the work of one man, Rene Lalique defined the era.

The use of gemstones and other materials, enamaling and motifs from nature were all popular during the era. Art Nouveau jewelry is more three dimensional and asymmetrical. The female face and body, both naked and clothed, were predominant figures for interpretation in rings, pendants and broochs. Other favourites from the era included butterflies and dragonflies, slithering snakes that represented unending love and mythical creatures. The botanical influence includes the use of irises, pansies, poppies, waterlilies and trailing vines.

Like a rich dessert that is difficult to digest, the stylistic excess and commercialization of Art Nouveau jewelry contributed to its demise by 1915.

Edwardian Jewelry

The Edwardian period lasted only a few years from 1901 to 1910 with the reign of King Edward the VII. Edwardian jewelry contrasts to the more fluid and romatic styles of the Art Nouveau era. Edwardian jewelry clung to tradition with emphasis on diamonds, pearls and platinum, skillfully worked into intricate designs.

One of the most distinct aspects of Edwardian jewelry is the use of lacy, delicate filigree work rendered in platinum, a very strong metal.

Art Deco Jewelry

The Art Deco era of the 1920s and 1930s burst forth with a great amount of exuberance. Piling on the jewels was the way to go. Pearls remained popular and endless variations of the diamond platinum bracelet were prominent. Waistless dresses were embellished with plaque brooches, bar pins and jeweled ornaments.

Rings in geometric forms with hexagonal and octagonal shapes were adorned with diamonds and colorful gemstones. Domed and step mounts allowed all the beauty of the gemstones to sparkle through. Enameled work in colorful configurations draw the eye.

Designer Jewelry

Our designer selection highlights pieces from such esteemed houses as Tiffany & Co, Cartier, Van Cleef & Arpels, Bulgari, Bucheron, Ruser, Chanel, Oscar Heyman & Bros, Mikimoto, Buccelati, Georg Jensen, Henry Dunay and Shreve & Co. to contemporary designers such as David Yurman, John Hardy, Stephen Dweck, James Avery, Kabana, Gucci, Laura Ramsey, Tacori and Lagos.

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