How to Determine the Value and Condition of Antique and Vintage Jewelry
Determining the value and quality of jewelry, whether the item is antique jewelry, vintage jewelry, or costume jewelry, is a comprehensive task that involves several key factors. Determining such from pictures on the internet can be very challenging for buyers as in many cases, the majority of sellers do not provide detailed information or clear photos, or enough angled photos for jewelry items.
When purchasing antique or vintage jewelry on the internet, the most important factor in relation to a purchase is the knowledge of the seller. Comprehensive descriptions that don’t leave anything out are a true measure to the dealers care and knowledge. If the seller only partially describes something, asking them questions will usually not result in a knowledgeable answer. If the seller does not know how to properly describe something in the first place, it is usually for one of two reasons. Either the seller does not know how to write a complete description because their knowledge is very limited, or the seller is attempting to overlook certain problems.
The first and foremost factor that determines the value of a jewelry item is rarity. Items that are very rare can be in only fair condition and still retain a very high value.
The second most important factor is condition. Condition is rated by evaluating:
- No missing or damaged stones or cabs or ones that have been replaced. Jewelry items that are not completely in their original state has a great loss of value in most, but not all cases.
- The wear of the piece in relation to age. Vintage jewelry and Costume jewelry with moderate to heavy wear is greatly devalued in value and should not be purchased unless the item is extremely rare.
- The cleanness of the piece in relation to dirt or damage from glues, resins, or foreign matter that may or may not be able to be removed without leaving evidence.
- Jewelry should be inspected for damage from water or bright light including greening on brass and copper; faded coloration to enamels, discoloration to plastics, shells and fabrics; pitting to plated surfaces and copper that has damage from moisture; loose or missing stones from poor quality glue or glue that has been subjected to moisture damage. Crazing in enamels can be caused by age or exposure to severe hot and cold temperatures.
Original Quality : If a piece of jewelry has been modified from the original state the value will be severely affected in most cases. Look at jewelry to make sure it retains the original clasps, chains and mechanisms. Brooches that have has their original safety clasps replaced can be greatly impacted in value if the repair is not professional.
Necklaces that do not have their original chains or clasps are also valued less. Look closely at photos to see if the chain is in good condition, matches from one side to the other, and looks original to the piece. Sometimes spring clasps and box clasps on necklaces and bracelets do not hold tight but in most cases can be repaired or replaced.
Clip back earrings that have lost their tight snap may or may not be able to be repaired. Always look for the seller to tell you the clip backs are tight and strong and what degree of wear they have.
Rings that have been sized can be greatly decreased in value if the alteration was not done by a professional, in which case the alteration should be almost invisible.
In determining condition, buyers should look for details in regards to loss of gold or silver finishes, original working mechanisms and original chains or clasps, original stones that have been re-glued and stones that have clarity and are free of scratches and chips. The same should be sought after in jewelry that is thermoset plastic, Bakelite, Celluloid, Lucite or enameled. Scratch free original gloss finishes are very important in evaluating the value and should be described by the seller.
When placing a value on an item that is sterling silver, copper or brass, the jewelry should be scratch free and clean, but still retain some or all of the original patina from age. Copper, brass and sterling jewelry should NEVER be cleaned with liquid silver cleaner or Tarn-X or any other harsh chemicals. Most paste cleaners such as copper and silver cleaners should not be used either as the compounds are to harsh and can leave residuals in crevices that can only be removed by a professional jewelry cleaner. Copper and silver can be polished with soft liquid and paste compounds such as MAAS jewelry cleaner very sparingly for light cleaning with a soft cotton rag, but buffing restoration of a pieces should be left to a professional.
The words “scratch free” : generally means the surface is not deeply marred by any gouges. It does not include light scratches on the surface or within a clear top coat or faint circle patterns from polishing. Most sellers do not go into detail when describing scratches so it is important to look closely at the pictures and ask what type of scratches the item has if the seller does not describe.