THE S&S GUIDE TO VINTAGE COSTUME JEWELRY
We’re experts in vintage jewelry identification, and love passing that knowledge on to our customers.
And, in order to curate your own vintage jewelry collection, there are a few things you need to know. Ready to experience the magic of vintage?
Vintage vs. Antique vs. Costume
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. Many of the styles you've probably heard about -- Victorian, Edwardian, Art Deco, Art Nouveau and Retro -- originated during the early 1900s and are considered antique. In turn, these early eras inspired the design of vintage costume jewelry from the 1950s-1990s.
As you become more familiar with vintage jewelry, you’ll notice a lot of recurring themes originating in antique designs that are still prominent today. Keep your eyes out for flora, fauna, enamel, kitschy motifs, figurals, and rhinestones.
Often, you may hear vintage jewelry referred to as “costume jewelry.” This usually refers to pieces that make a big style statement, and are not made of real gold and/or precious stones.
With vintage jewelry, you can expect quality and craftsmanship that’s far superior to today’s costume jewelry. Primarily American made, most of the pieces were 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. The result? Even pieces that are decades old won’t easily tarnish. And, because the base metal is farther away from the skin, people with skin sensitivities are often able to wear vintage jewelry (Note: 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). Conversely, modern costume jewelry manufacturers only plate costume jewelry one time, so it is more likely to tarnish quickly and cause irritation to sensitive skin.
Other popular materials frequently used in vintage jewelry include glass, shell, wood, Lucite, celluloid, enamel, Bakelite, imitation pearls and stones, tiger’s eye, and opals. Most of the rhinestones and other stones used in the designs are glass and semi-precious, versus in modern costume jewelry, which typically uses acrylic rhinestones.
All of these high quality standards are good news for you: Your spark will last forever if you care for it properly! Speaking of...
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 it is by using an epoxy glue. Our favorite is called GS Hypo Cement.
If you're looking for additional jewelry cleaning supplies and aren't sure where to start, you're already in the right place! We're pleased to offer a number of cleaning tools in our jewelry extras shop. We also sell earring backs and pads for extra comfort, necklace extenders, along with fun and functional jewelry storage solutions that keep your spark safe. You can check out all our jewelry extras here.
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. However, signed pieces do not necessarily indicate higher quality than unsigned pieces -- vintage jewelry is often high quality, regardless of who made it!
Some of the most popular designers you’ll find in our collection include Monet, Trifari, Weiss, Coro, Art and Eisenberg. Jillian, our head stylist, has personal favorites including Hobé, Krementz, Napier, and Anne Klein.
Value & Condition
The value of vintage costume jewelry varies based on the style, designer, how rare it is, and when it was originally manufactured. We take all of these characteristics 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 is very small, and consider the rarity of each piece when pricing it, too.
We source vintage jewelry that features the original design, with conditions that are consistent with vintage style and age. While you may find vintage costume jewelry from other sources, we find it’s oftentimes damaged, or the original design has been modified. In our experience, many vendors re-purpose lots of jewelry, meaning they mix up the designs by mixing and matching different elements from multiple pieces into new, franken-jewelry. At Sweet & Spark, we prefer to let the individual charm and beauty of a piece speak for itself.
Now, About Clip-ons...
Piercing ears wasn’t popular until the late 70s, so much of our earring collection is clip-on. Contrary to popular belief, a clipped backing makes this statement earring look better when worn, and prevent drooping! There are three different styles of clip-on backs, and some are more comfortable than others.
The oldest and most comfortable style is the screw back, which can be adjusted for comfort. Designer signed clip-on backs tended to use the latest technology of the time, 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 backs 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 journey. Whether you're celebrating a birthday, wedding, or just life in general, we have something for every occasion! We hope your collection grows to 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 for you and your family.