How to buy estate jewelry

180px-Christie_Romero-cropChristie Romero was a respected jewelry historian, gemologist, collector, and author of Warman’s Jewelry, a guide to 18th-20th century jewelry. She was also an appraiser for PBS’s “Antiques Road Show.” She died in September.

I interviewed Christie last year for a story in Town & Country. In this unpublished part of that interview, Christie shares her tips for getting the most for your money when buying estate jewelry – and how to avoid rip-offs.

What are the most important things to consider when buying estate jewelry?

I call it the seven criteria: condition, craftsmanship, color, design, demand, scarcity and size. Condition is huge and affects value a great deal. That’s why using a loupe is so important. The first thing I teach people in my workshops is how to use a loupe. Sometimes you can overlook things without magnification. Look for damage and to see if parts are original or if they need repair. Lead solder on precious metal is a bad thing. You have to train your eye to notice these things and anyone can do that. You don’t need special training, it’s just matter of training your eye.

How do you use a loupe? It seems straight forward until you look through one for the first time.

It’s a focus issue. It’s little awkward. You should keep both eyes open – most people tend to close the other eye – and bring the loupe to your eye. People often make the mistake of trying to use it like a magnifying glass. Bring the loupe to the eye, then the piece to the loupe. There’s a certain focal length where it snaps into focus and you can see what you’re looking at very clearly.

How can I tell if a piece of jewelry is authentic?

Authenticity is a huge issue now because of all the reproductions and knockoffs out there. Synthetics have been around a long time but jewelry being made to look old – there’s more of that because of the popularity of antique and period jewelry. With so much money involved, there are going to be knockoff artists. Over the past 10 years, this problem has become rampant and increasingly difficult to deal with.

Does that mean I should always get an expert appraisal?

An appraisal, in general, is important but I don’t think people should rely entirely on that. You need to develop a relationship with a seller and arm yourself with knowledge. Knowledge is what makes a discerning collector and it’s the best defense against rip-offs. It also allows you to create a collection where the whole is worth more than the sum of its parts.

What’s the best way to get that kind of knowledge?

Go to museum shows and auction previews, ask questions, gain experience that will make you a more discerning buyer. Talk to people who have been involved in antique and period jewelry for a long time. Go to workshops like the ones offered at Jewelry Camp.

How important is a stamp or signature?

Very important. A name on a piece makes a sizeable difference. All other things being equal, a signed piece will have more value than an unsigned piece. How much that will affect the price depends on the name.

The market for antique jewelry is no different from the stock market or real estate. It’s a supply-and-demand driven market. So something that is signed is incredibly wonderful and rare. If it’s not signed, there is less guarantee that it’s not a knockoff. Signatures can be knocked off too but in my experience, it’s not that common to knock off a signature. It’s easier to knock off of an unsigned piece.

Next week: more tips from Christine Romero on buying antique jewelry at auction and how to spot swapped-out gemstones.

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7 comments for “How to buy estate jewelry

  1. November 21, 2009 at 2:37 pm

    Thanks so much for this information! I often go to estate sales here on Cape Cod and hesitate to buy jewelry for the reasons stated above. Now I know to get a loupe!

  2. Jennifer Haupt
    November 23, 2009 at 12:10 am

    I’ve always been afraid to buy jewelry at Estate Sales b/c I don’t know what I’m doing. This is great info! Glad I discovered you through FLX.

  3. February 18, 2010 at 5:46 pm

    Thank you for your help!

  4. January 3, 2015 at 6:09 pm

    How can I tell if it is authentic?

    Not sure about the answer above. This topic can be quite extensive and an entire website could be dedicated just to it. Another tip regarding authenticity from someone in the business is that You should definitely look not only for an appraisal but also for a certification of a center stone from a gemological laboratory.

  5. July 17, 2015 at 4:23 pm

    I absolutely love estate jewelry, and I own quite a lot about it. I agree with what you said about the used jewelry coming with a story. I really enjoy the thought that someone else wore my jewelry at one time, because I think it’s a unique way of connecting people. “Used” jewelry doesn’t mean that it is trashy or not valuable anymore.

  6. November 10, 2016 at 12:35 am

    I appreciate that you included more specifics in your interview about how to use a loupe when inspecting estate jewelry for sell. I remember my friend attended an estate auction and she bought some jewelry that ended up being over priced. If she had known how to properly inspect the jewelry I’m sure she would have been able to negotiate for a better price.

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