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6 Tips for Buying Antique & Estate Jewelry


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My mother recently gifted me a locket that once belonged to my grandmother, and it is one of my prized possessions. It is an heirloom I plan to someday pass along to my own daughter, and in addition to holding great sentimental value, the quality and durability of the item is great. Plus, it’s gorgeous to boot.

There are many reasons to love antique jewelry. However, what often looks like antique jewelry is actually a clever reproduction of the real thing. So if you love older pieces, it’s important to know what to look for so you don’t end up paying top dollar for something manufactured on an assembly line last year.

How to Shop for Antique Jewelry

1. Investigate the Seller
When I search for antique jewelry online using websites like Craigslist or eBay, the first thing I do is investigate the seller and check for other items for sale. If a seller has 10 of the same antique ring, I’m going to assume that it’s not the real thing. Most antique and estate pieces are one-of-a-kind, so ordering in bulk is not an option.

I also look through the feedback of a seller, if available, and see what other buyers have said about the wares. If a seller has sold antiques in the past, you can get an idea of how satisfied a buyer was with a certain piece.

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2. Ask the Right Questions
Get in touch with the seller – you need to ask a few questions about the piece to decide whether or not it’s the real deal. One thing I always like to ask is how the seller came across a piece. I look for a viable story that would explain how the item came into the seller’s possession, such as that it was bought from an estate sale, is a family heirloom, or was found in the process of antique hunting.

A good, honest seller can provide some type of information as to where the piece came from, along with some general information on the date and location the piece was acquired and its overall condition.

3. Check for a Mark
Antique jewelers almost always left a maker’s mark somewhere on the piece. Therefore, if the piece is said to have been made prior to the 1950s, definitely check for some type of mark, such as a small icon of the initials of the maker.

Next, do some research online. There are many websites that post pictures of various well-known antique jewelers’ marks with explanations of the origins and craftsmen behind the different pieces. That’s how I found out that a garnet bracelet (also left to me by my bauble-loving grandmother) was made in the 1920s. It’s one of the fun parts of shopping for antique jewelry.

Ask Right Questions First

4. Look for Patina
“Patina” is the word that dealers use for the sheen that occurs after years of use. While dealers can have pieces restored, most antique jewelry is sold in as-is condition so as not to damage the gold, silver, or other metal.

In short, your piece should show signs of wear. Tarnish, dents, and a lack of shine are all common earmarks of the real deal. If a piece looks like it’s brand new, ask the dealer if it’s been restored. Otherwise, simply assume that it’s a really clever fake.

5. Consider the Price
One thing I always tell prospective buyers is that if the price is too good to be true, tread with caution. True estate and antique pieces are made to last and have serious heritage, so they aren’t going to go for a couple of bucks on eBay. Instead, compare the price to the stones, metal, and quality of the piece. If you think you’re snagging an antique, marked watch for under $20, you should be pretty suspicious.

6. Try an Estate Sale
If you’re worried about buying antique jewelry from a dealer or online, be your own dealer and hit an estate sale in your area. You can find estate sales by combing your local classifieds or by checking out for local events.

Peruse the goods and look for the signs of a true antique piece. If a piece of jewelry is being presented as genuine, ask to see the jewelry certification. If there isn’t any documentation, negotiate a better price before purchasing, then head to an appraiser to make sure you bought the real thing. Estate sales are perfect because you know that the pieces came from a personal collection, which usually gives you a better chance of netting a gem of a deal.

Final Word

Whether you’re in it to resell or just because you’re sentimental like me, you can find amazing antique and estate pieces pretty much anywhere. Online dealers, garage sales, estate sales, and craft fairs all showcase jewelry that looks old. By checking the pieces thoroughly, you can separate the real from the fake to make sure you get a great deal on jewelry that means something.

Do you enjoy antique jewelry? Have you ever had a bad experience shopping for them?

Jacqueline Curtis writes about edtech, finance, marketing, and small business strategy. With over 14 years of copywriting experience, she's created content and scripting for organizations such as GE, Walgreens, Overstock, and MasterCard. She lives in Utah with her husband, three kids, and an overzealous springer spaniel named Penelope.