You don't have to be an antique collector to be interested in buying one or a few pieces of antique jewelry. Even if you're not normally into older jewelry, adding a few carefully chosen antique pieces can add depth and character to your jewelry collection and give you a new accessorizing option. However, if you're not familiar with antique shopping, you may quickly feel out of your depth when you start searching for antique pieces that might be right for you. Take a look at some beginner's tips for buying antique jewelry.
Understand Jewelry Markings
One of the easiest ways to identify a piece of jewelry as a legitimate antique is to check for markings on the piece. For example, a piece of jewelry might contain purity marks, which tell you about the precious metal content of the piece, or a maker's mark, which tells you which artist or design firm made the piece. You can also find markings that specify when and where the piece was made.
The problem for a novice antique jewelry buyer is that you may not know what all of the markings mean. For example, did you know that the marking STG indicates a piece of sterling silver jewelry made before the 1940s? Or that 585 is the European marking for 14k gold?
A reference book of different jewelry markings or an online database of jewelry markings can be an invaluable help while you shop. Keep your book handy or your online database bookmarked so that you can research the different markings that you come across.
Don't Pass Up the Patina
To the untrained eye, antique jewelry can often look discolored or tarnished. If you aren't familiar with the valuation of antique jewelry, you might be tempted to bypass this worn-looking jewelry for something a little more pristine. However, that's often a mistake.
Patina is the name for the tarnish-like sheen that precious metals take on after years of use. This change in coloring can actually help establish the jewelry's authenticity, as can other imperfections such as dents or scratches. It's uncommon to try to restore antique jewelry to a "like new" appearance because the chances of damaging the piece during the restoration process and decreasing its value are too high.
It is possible to find antique pieces that have been restored, or that were simply so well stored and cared-for that they appear new, but in general, you should consider patina or other flaws to be part of the history of the piece. Be skeptical of items sold as antiques that appear too new-looking.
Beware of Unbelievable Deals
You've probably heard that if something seems too good to be true, it probably is. That's especially true when it comes to antique shopping. Everyone has heard a story about finding a valuable antique for a few dollars at a garage sale or online, sold by somebody who didn't realize the value of what they were selling. While some of these stories are probably true, they're also rare.
The truth is, if you find someone selling apparently antique pieces of jewelry for what seems like a fantastically low price, you should be cautious. Research what else the seller has for sale — if they seem to have a lot of similar pieces, for example, there's a good chance they aren't real antiques. Ask if the seller has documentation to verify the piece's authenticity. You should also ask the seller how they obtained the pieces to begin with – antiques often have a story attached.
Shopping for antiques at estate sales and from professional galleries can help you avoid a lot of pitfalls. The jewelry at estate sales usually comes from someone's personal collection, so it's easier to verify the origin of the pieces. However, because the sellers are motivated, you can often get a better deal on the pieces than you would elsewhere. Plus, browsing an estate sale is a fun way to spend the day!