EVERYTHING YOU NEED TO KNOW ABOUT VINTAGE COSTUME JEWELRY
Hello fellow vintage lover,
Welcome to the vintage jewelry mecca. In my San Francisco home office, I’ve built a vintage jewelry library filled with books featuring the different designers and fashion trends throughout the 1950's-90's. Combined with my dad’s 30+ years of knowledge in the vintage industry, we are able to identify the original decade that each piece in our collection was manufactured in. Since we span so many decades, we promise there’s something for everyone’s style.
In order to be a proper vintage jewelry lover and curate your own collection, there are a few things you need to know.
Vintage vs. Antique
Let’s start with the term vintage, which typically refers to jewelry that is at least 20 years old. We do not sell antique jewelry, which is defined as at least 100 years old. The following styles you've probably heard about- Victorian, Edwardian, Art Deco, Art Nouveau and Retro originated during the early 1900’s and are considered antique. These early era’s inspired the design of vintage costume jewelry from the 1950’s-90’s.
As you become more familiar, you’ll notice a lot of reoccurring themes that originated in antique designs are still prominent today. Keep your eyes out for flora, fauna, enamel, kitschy motifs, figurals, rhinestones, etc. The reason vintage jewelry is also spoken using the word, costume is that it tends to be statement in style and is not made of real gold and precious stones.
The quality and craftsmanship is better than today’s costume jewelry. Most of it was originally produced in the Northeastern United States. Vintage costume jewelry was made using a mixed base metal and then triple plated with either gold or silver so that, even today, it won’t easily tarnish. Today they usually only plate costume jewelry one time so it is more likely to tarnish quickly. Because the base metal is farther away from the skin, people with skin sensitivities are often able to wear vintage jewelry.
You’ll notice other popular materials often used were glass, shell, wood, Lucite, celluloid, enamel, Bakelite, imitation pearls and stones, tiger’s eye, opals, etc. Most of the rhinestones and other stones used in the designs are glass and semi precious, which in today’s jewelry they are often acrylic. Your Spark will last forever if you care for it properly.
Cleaning, Repair & Care
When it comes to cleaning vintage costume jewelry, the number one rule is not to get rhinestones, pearls, enamel or other delicate designs and details wet. The best way to clean these types of jewelry is to dust with a dry, soft toothbrush or aerosol keyboard spray can. An equal mixture of windex and water is great for pieces that are gold or silver plated. For sterling silver we love using sunshine cloths to polish. Learn more about caring for your vintage jewelry on our blog here.
Should a stone or pearl come loose the best way to repair is by using an epoxy glue, the one we love is called GS Hypo Cement. Sterling silver and gold filled pieces are higher quality than plain gold and silver plated pieces, we always note if a piece falls into one of these categories in the product descriptions.
Our collection features a mix of signed and unsigned pieces. If a piece is signed, it means that somewhere on the actual design the original designer has signed their name, much like a logo. This usually doesn’t happen on today’s costume jewelry. Signed pieces do not necessarily indicate a better quality than unsigned pieces. Some of the most popular designers you’ll notice in our collection are Monet, Trifari, Weiss, Coro, Art and Eisenberg. My personal favorites are Hobé, Krementz, Laurel Burch and Anne Klein. Not all designers were created equal...
Value & Condition
The value of vintage costume varies based on the style, designer, how rare it is and when it was originally manufactured. We take all of these into account when pricing our collection. Since we are on the hunt 365 days a year, we know the likelihood of ever finding the same piece again.
Sure you can get vintage costume jewelry from other sources, but often times it’s damaged or not in the original design. A lot of vendors re-purpose which means that they change the designs by piecing different elements from multiple pieces together. They also often swap around chains on pendant necklaces, sell pieces that are knockoffs and/or are vintage inspired from the 2000’s. In order to get the best stuff, we often buy in bulk from estate sales, antique fairs and private sellers. Vintage costume jewelry is an extremely competitive category in the vintage industry. In this business, if you’re not first at a sale, you’re last.
We’ve noticed that the jewelry aesthetic changes a lot depending on what part of the country it is sourced from. We tend to find more tribal pieces in Southern Florida, rhinestones from the estates in Texas and statement pieces from the early thriving East Coast cities (Detroit, Buffalo, Boston, Philadelphia, etc).
Piercing ears wasn’t popular until the late 70’s so most of our earring collection is clip-on. Contrary to popular belief, this type of backing makes this prominent statement style earrings look better on and prevent drooping! There are three different styles of clip-on backs and some are more comfortable than others. The oldest style and most comfortable is the screw back which can be adjusted for comfort. Designer signed clip-on backs tended to use more modern technology and are more comfortable than the standard fold over backs that most tend to think of when they hear clip-on. It is difficult to properly convert clip-on earrings to pierced with soldering because in order to attach a post, the metal needs to be heated and it can damage stones and details on the earrings. Learn more about clip-on earrings on our blog here.
Building a Collection
Curating your own vintage jewelry collection is a fun hobby. It should come to reflect your personality and highlight the milestones and celebrations along your path. Whether you're celebrating a birthday, wedding or just life in general, we have something for every occasion. If you’re a real collector, your collection should feature a mix of statement earrings, pearls, tassels and brooches galore. The best part about owning a vintage jewelry collection is that it will forever hold its value.
If you ever have vintage questions or want to know more, email email@example.com I’m always happy to connect over a love for vintage. And, I promise, the jewels are even better in person!
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