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Vintage Jewelry Buying Guide

Vintage Jewelry Buying Guide

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Shopping for fine vintage jewelry, vintage costume jewelry, and antique jewelry on eBay is like exploring your grandmother's extremely large jewelry box. You'll find nearly every type of jewelry imaginable, from cameos and brooches to hat pins, necklaces, and earrings, representing every stylistic era, including Georgian,Victorian, Edwardian, Art Deco, Art Nouveau, and Retro.

Get Jewelry-Smart

Shopping for vintage jewelry requires a good eye and a sharp mind. eBay sellers offer antique items, vintage items, and a diverse selection of vintage and antiquereproduction jewelry to meet your budget. Before you shop, learn how to spot each type of jewelry.

  • Antique jewelry: Antique jewelry can mean different things to many different people. For example, you might automatically think of your grandma's diamond ring, while someone else might think of an amber-colored bakelite bangle. Antique jewelry is typically described as jewelry 100 years old or older.    

  • Vintage jewelry: Vintage jewelry is often defined as older pieces made after the Retro Modern period of the 1940s and through the 1980s.    

  • Vintage reproductions: Vintage reproductions are newly manufactured, vintage-style, or vintage-inspired jewelry pieces. Vintage reproductions have the look of vintage or antique pieces, without the higher price tags older pieces often demand.

Know the big names in vintage designer costume jewelry

Often made with plastics, base metals, gold plating, imitation pearls, and glass gems, vintage designer costume jewelry has a unique look and doesn’t appear mass-produced. From big rhinestone brooches of the ‘50s, to mod chandelier-like earrings of the ‘60s, to slinky gold chains of the ‘70s, and the big-time baublesof the ‘80s, vintage costume jewelry pieces have taken to the runways. If you’re in the market for vintage designer costume jewelry, keep brands like Weiss,Haskell, Eisenberg, Coro, Trifari, Boucher, Carnegie, Sarah Coventry, Juliana, Kramer, Bogoff, and Lisner in mind.

Look at condition

The condition of a particular vintage or antique item affects the jewelry piece’s overall price. Older jewelry, more elaborate pieces, and jewelry in excellent condition tend to fetch a higher price than other items. If the seller has authentication papers or an original box, price tag, or jewelry pouch with the designer’s logo, the jewelry’s price can instantly double.

If purchasing a true vintage or antique item, carefully evaluate the photos in item listings. Look for chips and cracks in the stone or enamel and other flaws, such as corrosion, verdigris discoloration, bumps, holes, and cracks in the surface of gold and silver pieces. Unlike scratches, these flaws cannot be repaired.

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Choose Your Favorite Vintage Jewelry Era

Vintage jewelry spans decades of different stylistic eras. Each era offers a vast range of designs. Take a closer look at the various jewelry design eras so you can narrow your focus:

  • Georgian Jewelry (1714-1837): Georgian jewelry is handmade, and each unique piece varies in quality. Georgian jewelry often features leaf shapes, birds, flowers, and other nature-inspired designs. Georgian jewelry can also include stones such as garnets, rose diamonds, coral, and precious topaz. Georgian jewelry is very rare.    

  • Early Victorian, Romantic Jewelry (1837-1850): Vintage jewelry of the Romantic period, like Georgian, reflected nature through flora- and fauna-based designs often etched in intricate gold filigree handiwork. Sentimental jewelry such as lockets and brooches were popular pieces during this time, as were colored gemstones and diamonds for evening wear.     

  • Mid-Victorian, Grand Jewelry (1860-1880): The Grand period coincided with the death of Queen Victoria’s husband, Albert, which thrust her into a period of mourning. Certain jewelry pieces from the Grand period have a subdued, austere, and somber design. Known as mourning jewelry, these pieces feature heavy, dark stones, particularly jet, as well as onyx, amethyst, and deep red garnets. The Grand period also ushered in new ways to use gems and metals in jewelry, which inspired bolder and more colorful jewelry designs featuring classical motifs made of mosaics, sea shells, jasper, and amethyst. Japanese themes are also common to this period.    

  • Late Victorian, Aesthetic Jewelry (1885-1900): Jewelry designers of the aesthetic period used diamonds and gemstones with feminine colors, such assapphires, peridot, and spinel. Hat pins were popular at this time as hats themselves were a fashionable accessory. Star and crescent motifs, as seen in lace pins and brooches, were common to the aesthetic period as well.    

  • Arts and Crafts Jewelry (1894-1923): The mass technology of the Industrial Revolution inspired a backlash among designers of the Arts and Crafts era and a return to the intricate craftsmanship of previous days. The jewelry of this period was often handcrafted of colorful, uncut stones in clean, simple patterns.    

  • Art Nouveau Jewelry (1895-1915): Led by Rene Jules Lalique in France and others in America, the graceful Art Nouveau style favored flowers such as irises and insects such as dragonflies.   

  • Edwardian Jewelry (1901-1910): After Queen Victoria died her son Edward took the throne, ushering in the Edwardian era. This lavish period was reflected in diamond and pearls jewelry embellished with emeralds, rubies, and other brilliant gemstones, and set into elaborately decorative designs.     

  • Art Deco Jewelry (1920-1935): Art Deco jewelry features geometric shapes, strong lines, and bright color contrasts. This era was influenced by Egyptian, African, and Japanese themes, as well as Cubism and speed motifs (such as air travel and automobiles). Bakelite, celluloid, and enamel were used frequently during this period, as were doublets. Bracelets were a big hit during this era with women wearing a variety at one time. Necklaces were extremely long and featured amber and Venetian beads, as well as imitation pearls and glass beads. Chokers were commonly worn, too.    

  • Retro Jewelry (1940s): Colorful, elaborate retro-period jewelry features unusual shades of gold and dazzling gemstones like citrine and aquamarine. Inspired by Hollywood glamour, Retro jewelry was “larger than life,” featuring big cocktail rings, bracelets, watches, and necklaces. Earrings were made to sit close to the lobe, and doublets were also very popular at this time. Charm bracelets became a popular form of self-expression as well.

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Find Vintage & Antique Jewelry on eBay

Once you know what piece of jewelry you want or what stylistic era you want to explore, go to the Jewelry & Watches portal, click Vintage, Antique, and start searching for items on eBay.

  • Categories: The Categories list on the left side of each page will help you narrow down your listings by item type. You'll find links for Costume, Fine, andVintage Reproductions. As you dig deeper into the site you'll also be able to narrow down your choice by subcategory.    

  • Keyword search: Search eBay listing titles for specific words. For example, if you want to find vintage designer costume jewelry by Weiss, type "weiss" (without quotation marks) into the Search box. Click "Search title and description" to expand your results. Visit eBay's Search Tips page for more tips on searching with keywords.

If you can't find exactly what you want, try shopping eBay Stores, tell the eBay Community what you want by creating a post on Want It Now, or save a searchon My eBay and eBay will email you when a match becomes available.

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Buy Vintage & Antique Jewelry With Confidence

Before making your purchase, make sure you know exactly what you're buying, research your seller, and understand how eBay and PayPal protect you.

Know your purchase

Carefully read the details in item listings.

  • Figure delivery costs into your final price. If you spend a lot of money, make sure the seller will insure the item when it ships.

  • If you want more information, ask by clicking the "Ask seller a question" link under the seller's profile.

  • Always make sure to complete your transaction on eBay (with a bid, Buy It Now, or Best Offer). Transactions conducted outside of eBay are not covered by eBay protection programs.

  • Never pay for your eBay item using instant cash wire transfer services through Western Union or MoneyGram. These payment methods are unsafe when paying someone you do not know.

Know your seller

Research your seller so you feel positive and secure about every transaction.

  • What is the seller's Feedback rating? How many transactions have they completed? What percentage of positive responses do they have?

  • What do buyers say in their Feedback? Did the seller receive praise?

  • Most top eBay sellers operate like retail stores and have return policies. Do they offer a money-back guarantee? What are the terms and conditions?

Buyer protection

In the unlikely event that you don't receive your item or it is not as described, eBay Buyer Protection will cover your purchase price plus original shipping. Learn more.

Tags: buyer's guide, costume jewelry, diamonds, ebay guides, gemstone, gold, jewelry, pearls, silver
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