I’m ALWAYS looking for antique jewelry. It’s surprisingly easy to find. So many people tell me that they can never seem to find it, so here’s a list of some places to check.
If you’re following me on Instagram, you know how many shows I go to. Antique Shows are a great place to find antique jewelry. Some shows are high-end and some shows are more casual, but all shows are going to be a great place to find selective and highly curated antique jewelry. There will be rare, expensive and hard to find pieces in some shows like the Miami Beach Show, The Las Vegas show or the Summer Antique Show. There will also be more affordable pieces at other shows like the DC/NY Big Flea. Besides that, there are often antique fairs/shows in your local area. Type in Antique shows and your local area into Google and you will find all sorts of options you didn’t know where there! The many dealers at shows are usually very knowledgeable and very personable. In my experience, they are happy to give you information and be a guide to help you learn. Shows are a very safe place to buy. Here are just a FEW of the pieces I’ve found at shows this year.
Local Jewelry Stores
A brief word about jewelry stores: not all jewelry stores are created equally. Do not think that just because you are in a jewelry store, you are dealing with knowledgeable people. That is not always the case. When I use the term jewelry store in this blog, I’m talking about something very specific. I want to see a stand-alone store with a gemologist and qualified appraiser on staff who can guarantee what you’re buying and a store that will stand behind the quality once you do. I’m a huge jewelry store snob, but that’s because I’ve been in enough to know to that the vast majority of them merely have sales people working in them, not professional jewelers, gemologists, appraisers, jewelry historians, etc. I’ll write an entire blog one day about what makes a good jewelry store, but for now know this: if the place needs to sell you a separate warranty, leave and don’t look back.
That being said, there are many jewelry stores in your local area that have wonderful and educated people. These places are a huge resource for anyone interested in building or starting a collection of antique jewelry. You will want to build a relationship with a local jewelry store anyway, so find one that sells quality antique jewelry and make yourself known. Let them know what you are looking for and go in often to check the inventory. Be friendly, ask questions and get to know the people there. It will become obvious with a few simple questions who knows something and who doesn’t. Make friends with the people who know what they’re talking about. When something comes in that you’re looking for, your new friend will call you before it hits the case. Trust me, I owned and managed my own store for 10 years and I’ve worked in other stores for the last 7. When I see a new piece come in that I know Ms. So-and-So will like, I get on the phone and call Ms. So-and-So immediately. I won’t even put that piece in the case until Ms. So-and-So sees it! Your local store will do this for you too, but you have to build a relationship with them. If they don’t know you exist, they don’t know to call you about your dream ring. I’m in jewelry stores all the time. They are the safest place to buy quality antique jewelry. Here are just SOME of the many amazing pieces I’ve seen in my local jewelry stores in the past year. I just found the Seaman Schepps turquoise pin and the Colored Sapphire Oscar Heyman pin. They are still for sale from Bijoux Jewels.
The On-Line Community
There are so many places to buy antique jewelry on-line these days. Etsy, Ruby Lane, Tracadero, Ebay, Etc. The possibilities are practically endless. I only buy pieces that I Know are 100% antique and authentic. If I can’t verify it by the pictures, I leave it for someone else. I highly recommend that you read reviews of the seller, all the store policies and go through the description with a fine toothed comb. I also recommend that you deal with someone you know and trust and someone who has a good reputation. That being said, I have seldom bought things on line. Unless I know that I can trust the seller completely, I don’t buy it. In the past two years, I’ve only bought one piece on line. Now that I’ve spent more time getting to know the other dealers through Instagram, I feel more comfortable and will probably start buying more on-line. Build a relationship with a reputable dealer first. Reputable dealers in the on-line arena are also a safe place to buy antique jewelry. The Neoclassical sepia pin below I bought from C J Antiques.
Most antique stores will have antique jewelry. It’s either a single owner store or a larger multi-dealer antique mall where each dealer rents space in a larger building. I’ve found and bought all manner of antique jewelry in antique stores. Plus, you get too see all kinds of other crazy things as you walk around so it’s usually an amusing trip. Where else can you see a Victorian buggy being pulled by a horse skeleton for Halloween?
My friend in Vermont has an antique mall that I recommend called Windham Antique Center. The proprietor is a GIA Graduate Gemologist and very knowledgeable, especially about Georgian jewelry. Whenever I go there, I usually return with amazing finds. Here are some pieces I’ve seen there in the last year.
I go to local antique stores regularly because the inventory changes quickly and you never know what you’ll find. Some places will have knowledgeable people there and some places won’t. I’ve found that just because someone knows antiques, doesn’t mean that they know antique jewelry. There are too many areas of the antique world to be an expert in everything. That’s why I only focus on jewelry. I don’t have enough time to learn how to identify an authentic Stuart Crystal slide AND a Chippendale chair. If you are knowledgeable yourself, you can often find good deals that the dealers and other shoppers missed because they were too busy looking at the Chippendale chair. Antique stores are good places to buy antique jewelry if you are relatively knowledgeable yourself or are buying from a knowledgeable person. I buy antique jewelry in antique stores all the time. I recently bought this Mid- to Late 18th Century gold and paste stomacher in a local antique mall.
I go to consignment stores pretty regularly. Most of the larger ones where I live have a few cases of revolving jewelry. Most of the time, it’s usually Tiffany Silver stuff or 80’s jewelry, but I’ve often found antique pieces. Again, you have to go to these places regularly because the inventory changes quickly. And again, it’s important that you know your stuff because often times, the people in consignment stores are NOT jewelry specialists. Most places are only relying on the information from the consigner to state what the jewelry is. I’ve brought gold testing acid kits to these places (with the owners’ permission) to test items that were not stamped as gold. Many of these places have a “no return” policy, so I want to make sure I can verify what the piece is before I take it home. Granted, I’m an expert and can do this. If you can’t, consignment stores may not be the right place for you to shop. These are a few of the pieces in the last couple of months in consignment stores.
I’ve had a lot of luck with auctions over the years. You need to go to the preview and inspect the piece yourself. You can bring anything you want to most auctions (check before just doing so though). I bring a jewelers loupe; a gold testing acid kit; a gold scale; a regular light plus a black light for testing diamonds and other natural materials; a chelsea filter for gemstones plus a little cheat sheet I’ve made to gem ID gemstones with the Chelsea Filter. I’m not playing around when I go to an auction. I’m there to buy and I want to know what I’m buying when I bid. Most people aren’t packing that much heat. Most dealers have loupe and a scale, if they have that. Auctions are risky places to buy if you are not well equipped with the knowledge and tools to implement your knowledge. All auction purchases employ the clause Caveat Emptor or Buyer Beware. The auction makes no guarantee as to gemstone or authenticity. You also can’t return anything.
Having said the above, I have bought things from auctions outside of my local area. These things I have been able to identify and authenticate with the pictures. I have also asked the auction company to send me more pictures on occasion and have asked for a condition report on other pieces. All these things are available before the day of the auction and you should avail yourself of them. Most auction companies are happy to provide you with anything you request within reason and are easy to work with. I have found Fellows Auction to be particularly helpful. The French Amatory Pin below came from a past Fellows Auction. You can obtain everything from modern diamonds to Medieval jewelry in auctions. These are just some of the pieces I’ve gotten at auction lately: they range from an 18th Century Croix a la Jeanne, a French Amatory pin from the late 1700’s, and many, MANY Victorian pieces like the seed pearl pins and the stick pin of a hand holding a diamond.
I know, I Know…. You’re intimidated to go into pawn shops. I used to be too. If you are, you don’t have to go in. This is just another option. It’s an option you don’t have to use unless you feel good about it. If a pawn shop is not in a good area or not welcoming from the outside, I don’t go in.
I’m going to tell you a secret: Pawn shops have people that are really good at knowing how to grade the color and clarity of diamonds, (not so much the cut of the diamond). However, most of the ones I’ve gone into seem to not know much about colored stones. That means you can often get really good deals on colored gemstone jewelry. Obviously, this is another one of those places that you need have as much knowledge as possible. If you can’t identify diamonds and gemstones on your own, don’t buy it. If you find an antique piece and can’t identify it and authenticate it, leave it there. Here’s another secret: most pawn shops will readily scrap a piece (sell it to a refinery for the weight of the gold). If they are going to scrap it, they will often significantly lower the price so they can sell it to you instead of scrap it. You can get really good deals in a pawn shop sometimes, but you have do more work in a pawn shop than in a jewelry store or at an antique show. Do what you’re comfortable with and don’t do anything you’re not comfortable with.
My friend and I headed into a pawn shop one day last year and found this Renaissance Revival pendant!
I’ve found consignment stores, auctions and pawn shops a good source, but I have perhaps more knowledge and experience than you do. As you gain knowledge and experience, you will be able to find more antique jewelry in off-the-beaten-path places. Until then, stick with reliable sources as you build your collection. This is not a comprehensive list. You probably have other sources that I don’t use. If you’ve had success with something not listed here, I’d like to hear from you. Contact me on Facebook or Instagram and let me know where you find antique jewelry!