Considering antique, vintage or estate jewelry for your wedding or engagement? Check out these helpful tips before you buy.
Adam Levine. Scarlett Johansson. Penélope Cruz.
Those are just a few of the many celebrities who have opted to slip vintage sparklers onto their own, or a loved one’s, finger, according to Elisa Pennimpede, estate and pre-owned jewelry sales manager for Long’s Jewelers.
“People who buy vintage rings want something unique,” Pennimpede says. “Something with romance, that has a story and history, but that can last 100 years and still be a beautiful ring.”
It’s the timelessness and quality of vintage jewelry that makes it so appealing — and so hard to come by. But that’s not a new problem, according to Hillary Peatfield of Market Square Jewelers in Newburyport.
“In 20 years, I haven’t seen the interest in vintage jewelry budge one way or another — people are always interested in it,” Peatfield says. “What changes is what era is popular.”
Some of that is driven by popular culture, she says. For example, when the movie “Titanic” came out, Edwardian jewelry was all the rage. The musical “Chicago” drove up interest in art deco, and the television show “Sex and the City” made it difficult to keep rhinestone brooches in stock. More recently, “Mad Men” has fueled an interest in pearl chokers.
Whether your tastes run to art deco, Edwardian, Victorian or something else, here are some tips for purchasing and wearing antique jewelry.
Know your vocabulary.
People sometimes use “estate” and “antique” interchangeably, but they are completely different terms, Pennimpede says. Estate means any jewelry that’s been previously owned — it doesn’t have to be old. Vintage, at Long’s Jewelers, means a minimum age of 30 years. Antique is about 100 years old, so the art deco period is right on the edge of being antique, according to Pennimpede.
Consider the cut.
Rings from the beginning of the 20th century and earlier aren’t cut with the precision of today’s jewels, Pennimpede says. “A stone may have actually been cut by the person who mined it. Jewels like that are called ‘mine’ or ‘candlelight’ cuts and are designed to look beautiful under low light.” Later period diamonds are often known as “European” cuts, she says. “They have a more round, more modern cut. They look good under low light, but have a little more modern sparkle.”
Check the prongs.
“You want to make sure the stone isn’t going to fall out,” Peatfield says. Exceptions to this are items with seed pearls or diamond chips, such as Victorian pieces. Expect to replace them as they fall out. Examine the shank (the part that wraps around the finger). Make sure it’s not too thin, as it can become worn over the years from rubbing against a wedding ring. Likewise, check the size. “Lots of these antique rings are really tiny. Whether it can be made larger depends on the details on the side of the ring. If the details are primarily on the top, we can often add an additional piece to improve the fit,” Pennimpede says. Remember that most rings were not sold as a matching set until after the 1940s. If you purchase an antique engagement ring, it most likely will not have a matching wedding band.
Take lifestyle into account.
The Edwardian period is known for its lacy filigree jewelry, which may be beautiful but not necessarily durable, particularly if done in 14- or 18-carat gold, which is a softer metal that may show wear, Pennimpede says. Platinum, on the other hand, is a very durable metal that can last for generations.
If you’ve inherited jewelry, nothing says that you have to wear it ‘as is,’ Peatfield says. One customer she remembers had inherited five family wedding bands. All were meaningful to her, and all had sentiments engraved inside that she didn’t want to lose. She had each ring turned into a heart and linked them, attaching a chain at either end to create a necklace.
Use a reliable jeweler.
A good jeweler should be able to tell you about the make and period of the piece you are considering, as well as offer an assessment of value and any needed work on inherited pieces. (If you are purchasing, don’t forget to inquire about the return policy.) If you are buying estate, vintage or antique jewelry, the bottom line is that you shouldn’t be doing it as an investment or for the value, Peatfield says. “Just buy what you love and make it yours.”
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