Between heavy competition, questionable sellers and a strict no return policy, there's no doubt about it that the world of vintage is overwhelming. My dad has been antiquing for over thirty years and has taught me how to navigate around a flea market. In return, I've taught him how to Spark Hunt, which means buying the most modern vintage costume jewelry from the 1950's-1990's. My only rule is that he's not allow to try anything on!
On a typical day, he can be found antiquing around the East coast, building a nice little pile of jewelry for me to sort through, while I'm on the other side of the country cleaning and marketing the jewels from my San Francisco home studio (check out our tour here
). Every few weeks or so we meet up and go on a Sparkhuntin'
adventure. Scouring flea markets, estate sales, antique malls and yard sales in small towns around the country. Be sure to follow us on Instagram
to get first dibs on our favorite finds!
1. The most important thing my dad has taught me about Sparkhuntin' is to be first. No flea market is created equal, some are weekly or monthly and others are only a few times per year so make sure you do your homework ahead of time and take advantage of early bird admission. The extra cost will always be worth it for the treasures you find.
2. Since you never know what you're going to find, it's hard to stick to a shopping list. I'm usually buying for about 6 months out, so I stick to a general themes; either focusing on Spring/Summer or Fall/Winter. I've officially been Sparkhuntin' for over three years now and have seen thousands of pieces of jewelry. I find it fascinating that we still rarely see the same piece twice! That is especially true for rhinestone designs as they tend to be older and even more rare than gold plated finds.
3. Don't let shopping from jewelry cases intimidate you. While a vendor that focuses on a certain category is often more knowledgable about what they are selling and therefore, usually charges a higher price, the quality is also usually better.
4. Don't hesitate to make a pile before you negotiate, a vendor will be willing to come down in price with quantity. A good rule of thumb is to offer 20-30% less than the asking price.
5. It's a good idea to bring a loupe
with you to search the piece for both the designer name and any signs of damage. Being able to identify the designer can help you identify it's age and value.
Most of our collection is signed (see our full range of designers here
Make sure stones are not cracked, discolored or missing as they are hard to replace. Also, make sure the piece is symmetrical as it's easy to miss designs that have been altered. Although we tighten clasps and hand clean all pieces before re-selling them, we never alter any of the original designs.
6. Since you're up at the crack of dawn, Sparkhuntin' days can be long! It's important to wear light layers, comfortable shoes (these are my go-tos
) and stay fueled with snacks.
7. Stay focused. I rarely shop for anything else because it's too distracting. But if you are in the market for home decor and furniture, I recommend bringing a tape measure and knowing the dimensions of space you have to work with. All sales at flea markets are considered final.
That is unless I pass a booth with vintage bags, then I always stop to peek! I have a soft spot in my heart for vintage Coach and Dooney & Bourke leather bags.
8. Since I'm typically buying hundreds of pieces at a time when I'm out Sparkhuntin', it's impossible to try everything on. But, it's a good practice to make sure the piece is in good working order, especially for clip-on earring backs which can become loose over time.
I think quality vintage rings are hard to come by because they get worn out more than other types of jewelry and therefore become extinct sooner. Either than or vintage rings are just really popular, we can't seem to keep them in stock either! The cool thing about vintage cocktail rings is that most of them are adjustable.
9. Unless you are buying a signed piece, you have to be careful that you're not just buying a used piece of current fashion jewelry that you think is vintage. A lot of vendors mix in cheap current jewelry with vintage so it can get very confusing. I use vintage jewelry books as reference tools for figuring out what decade an unsigned piece is from so that I can be sure it's authentic vintage.
Not all vintage jewelry is created equal either. Our prices all take into account the style, decade, material and original designer.
10. While flea markets usually have ATM's available, the lines are long and the transaction fees are high. Always have cash or checks on hand.
The great thing about vintage jewelry is that it's easy to carry. At the end of each hunt, my dad always asks me to pick out a favorite piece from the day and it's always so hard! I literally love everything we find. Make sure you're following us on Instagram to shop some our finds in the moment, including a few of the pieces I'm wearing in this post!
Photography by Ashley Batz, taken at the Alameda Point Antiques Faire.