Evaluating Estate and Exceptional Vintage Jewelry: A How-To Guide 

If you’re considering buying and selling estate or vintage jewelry, you first need to learn how to identify it. That way, you’ll know which pieces are worth purchasing and which are not. You’ll also have a better idea of how to price the items you plan on selling. By learning how to evaluate each piece and determine its age and worth, you will be able to tell when you need to negotiate the price and invest wisely. Knowing who buys vintage costume jewelry, who buys real vintage jewelry, and where you can connect to these people is vital to your success..

The Findings and Fittings Are Key

When looking at any piece of jewelry, it’s important to examine the findings and the fittings. This will help you determine the age of the piece, which is needed to determine its value. Earrings, for example, have changed a lot since the 1800s. While any of the backings or fittings may be used today, by knowing when these fittings were introduced, you can determine how old the piece is. Spring clips, for example, are relatively new, while kidney wire fittings were introduced in 1882.


Picture of a kidney wire fitting

Estate jewelry buyers who are looking at brooches can use the same logic. If they find a brooch that uses a trombone clasp, they know it wasn’t made prior to 1940. If it featured a basic C clasp, it’s harder to tell the age. The fittings will help you narrow down the age of the piece, but you’ll often need additional information to determine the true value of the piece.

Consider the Material

To figure out the value of a piece at an estate vintage jewelry sale, you need to look at the material. If the jewelry is lightweight, has a mold line, and makes a fairly dull clicking sound, you’re looking at plastic. It’s cheap, often doesn’t look that great, and really has little value to a collector. Costume jewelry is often made out of plastic and other cheap materials that look more realistic but isn’t the real deal.

Glass feels heavier and is usually warm to the touch if you hold it for a few seconds. Stone, on the other hand, will remain cool when held. There are many other materials used in jewelry, including jet, gutta-percha, crepe stone, bog oak, and many types of precious metals and materials. It’s not always easy to identify each type of material, which is why many carry jeweler’s loupes. These small magnifying lenses can help you get a closer look at the material so you can determine what it is.

Look for Hallmarks

Picture of a famous Hallmark

The best way to sell expensive jewelry is to know who made it. That helps you really lock down its worth, especially if you can also determine the year it was made. You’ll need to carefully examine the piece for its hallmark. This is often a small logo or a couple of letters that tell you who the manufacturer or designer of the piece was. If you’re lucky, there will also be a year mark near the hallmark. If not, you’ll need to do some research on the designer to determine when it was made.

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