Buy Less, Love More. How To Buy Vintage Jewellery

4 mins

This coming new year purchasing habits are all about low impact consumerism, and what better way to shop for jewels than for those that  are rare, desirable and tradable. But how and what should we be buying? Rae Ritchie explores the world of vintage and antique jewellery

The world of antiques may once have been the preserve of dusty vases, dark furniture and silver that you weren’t supposed to clean for fear of destroying its value, but its image is changing.  Dealers are now reporting that affluent younger women are becoming customers in greater numbers – and they are particularly interested in vintage and antique jewellery.

Lynn Lindsay of Wimpole Antiques, a London based period jewellers that exhibits around the world, has noticed this shift.  ‘I’m seeing more and more professional women, doctors and lawyers, buying jewellery for themselves.  They want to make a statement and not wait to be bought jewellery as a gift’.

But what lies behind the trend for antique jewellery?  Why are people opting for older pieces rather than contemporary ones?

Antique and vintage jewellery encompasses a wide range of periods and styles, thus catering for varied tastes.  It is also about individuality, with the unique nature of older jewellery resonating with the current desire for personalisation over mass consumption.

antique jewellery

Vintage jewellery such as this lizard brooch from Wimpole Antiques make more of an ethical and style statement. Image: supplied

Another factor is ethics.  Despite changes in the fine jewellery industry, such as the introduction of the Kimberley Process in an effort to halt the trade in illicit diamonds, there remain significant environmental and humanitarian concerns around the mining and production of gemstones and precious metals.  A simple way to avoid supporting harmful practices to people and planet is to buy older jewellery rather than new.

How to buy vintage and antique jewellery

A good place to start looking is fairs, where you are able to browse different exhibitors in one location and there’s a vetting procedure in place to ensure every item for sale is genuine and labelled correctly.  Three major events are the Winter Art & Antiques Fair Olympia in London, the New York Antique Jewelry and Watch Show (27th and 29th July 2018) and the Dubai International Jewellery Week (14th to 17th November 2018).

Although this kind of jewellery can represent a financial investment, that shouldn’t be your primary consideration when making a purchase. As every dealer will tell you, falling in love with an item is the most important factor.

Fall in love with a piece such as this handmade Gold Bracelet Handmade by Annie and Bent Knudsen Denmark c1960

That said, there are practical considerations to take into account.  Here are five simple guidelines to help you feel more confident when buying that covetable piece.

  • To reduce the likelihood of buying from a rogue trader, look out for dealers who are members of recognised trade associations.
  • Do some research about eras and styles that interest you to get an idea about current market values and what to look out for.
  • Choose an item from a well-known designer or company. David Horton of Horton London explains that although there are many excellent unsigned pieces out there, a stamp from a particular maker or house is reassuring, especially if you’re new to this field.  Anthea Gesua from Anthea A. G. Antiques recommends going for one of the major names in jewellery, such as Boucheron, Bvlgari, Cartier and Tiffany.
  • When examining an item, check it over to ensure that there are no sharp bits that might indicate damage. At the same time, inspect the rear for obvious signs of repair as this can affect the value.
  • Consider wearability. Do you have much opportunity to don a tiara?  Would stud earrings be better than droppers if you have small children?  Choose a piece that you love and that you can wear.

What to buy right now

The classic buy:

The 1890s to 1930s, decades covering the Art Nouveau and Art Deco eras, are widely regarded as the high point of jewellery making both in terms of how it was made and the designs.  A. Raykan, a seventh generation antique jewellery dealer whose global business is based in Delhi, told me that ‘the quality that you can get in older pieces is, generally speaking, not found in newer pieces’.

The up-and-coming trend:

Another good choice at the moment is humorous brooches.  Generally brooches have been having a revival in recent years but the more quirky ones are now beginning to become particularly popular, says Lynn Lindsay.  Good choices include bejewelled owls and lizards.

antique jewellery

Brooches such as this owl by Van Cleef and Arpels are on trend. Image: supplied

The modern look:

Several of the dealers I spoke to talked about mid-twentieth-century (1940s to 1970s) bracelets and cuffs, mentioning how well they work alongside contemporary styles.  Jackie Gray, whose firm Grasilver specialise in Scandinavian design, observes that with these items, ‘the effect is timeless and looks as modern today as it did back in the 1960s’.  Her top tip is Bjorn Weckstrom Lapponia pieces, as worn by Princess Leia in the first Star Wars movie.

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