June 8, 2015

Collecting Vintage Jewelry: Tips on Getting Started

 I must admit, I have a rather large collection of vintage jewelry at this point. I have never bothered to count the sets or pieces, but collecting vintage jewelry has become a genuine hobby of mine. I credit the obsession to an early fascination with my grandmother's jewelry cabinet, wishing that some day when I too was grown up, I would have my own amazing treasure cabinet stocked with sparkling brooches and lengths of beads. Well, I hardly count as a grown up yet, but I definitely have amassed a cabinets worth of jewelry!

All this said, I am no Rockefeller, so how did I amass my collection? Usually, I never pay more than $20 dollars for a piece of jewelry, unless it is particularly special and I know I will never see something like it again! Most often I have picked things up for under $10 bucks, even scoring some amazing pieces for under $5! Whether I am shopping in person at an antique mall or vintage fair, or online on my beloved Etsy, I always keep a few things in mind to make sure I don't go crazy! Firstly, I know my budget. I can't go buying $50 dollar pieces willy-nilly, as at this point in my life $50 is an investment!

When shopping, I try and keep in mind what I feel is missing from my collection. What color brooch do I not have? If I am admiring a clear rhinestone piece, I remind myself that I already have something else similar and usually can't justify buying another. In some ways I treat collecting vintage jewelry like any other collectors hobby, filling slots in my baseball card bind--I mean jewelry box. I already have a blue rhinestone set, so that metaphorical box is checked and I don't allow myself to buy another blue rhinestone set unless it is magical level amazing and also an incredibly good deal.

I collect vintage jewelry with the intention of wearing it, which leads to different strategies. For example, I don't buy expensive or particularly collectible earrings. Why? Because I am a savage and I snip off the clip backs and glue on posts to wear them with my pierced ears! Is this sacrilege to virtually ruin vintage clip-ons? Perhaps? but I want to wear them comfortably! I have one pair of what I consider "too-nice-to-switch" clip on earrings, and I never wear them because they hurt! I never buy any jewelry I don't intend to wear, so things like this are always on my mind when hunting for a new piece.

Another part of my collecting is completing sets. I had the blue brooch above for years before I decided I had to find earring to match. The brooch is Monet, the earrings are unmarked. I searched etsy for blue rhinestone earrings and came up with these, of similar shape, color of stones, and metal finish. I couldn't find an exact match, but these definitely do the job, and were around $10 dollars. Sometimes I find a near match, and sometimes I find an exact one. Searching by the metal color (lets say gold), motif (leaves), and if possible the maker (perhaps coro), will usually lend a match if the set isn't too rare. Vintage jewelry, especially 50's and 60's jewelry, was most often sold/available in sets and was worn as such, so for these eras I like to find other parts of the sets to make my own complete. It can be expensive to buy sets sold together by vintage dealers, so being able to pick up each piece on its own for less makes sets much more accessible.

These ivory colored celluloid pieces were all bought separately, and don't all match in specific style, but being of the same material, they "go" well with one another.

Unlike the ivory celluloid above, I picked up this red celluloid necklace and earrings as a set from an etsy seller. If I can find a matching set for a good deal (and it fills an empty slot in my collection) I snap it up. It can be harder to find sets for a steal, so it is good to remember you can always try and find the pieces individually for less.

Whether you are building a vintage wardrobe, want to get started collecting vintage jewelry, or both, here is a little list of vintage jewelry basics. This is similar to the list I have in my mind when I am ticking boxes for my collection.

- Gold necklace and earrings set
- Silver necklace and earrings set
- Gold brooch
- Silver brooch
- A thermoset set (in any color really, but black, red, or white will be the most useful/match the most outfits)
- Clear rhinestone necklace and earrings (glamorous as can be for cocktail or evening)
- Celluloid or plastic beaded necklace (great for summer)

I would say those are the bare bones basics of a vintage jewelry wardrobe, once you get going you will want a thermoset set in every color, a rainbow of colored rhinestone sets, novelty brooches of both the Bakelite/celluloid and rhinestone variety, I could go on and on! Eventually you will find eras or styles that you gravitate towards most. I personally love Egyptian revival jewelry (from either the 20's or the 60's), atomic/space age looking mid-century modern pieces, and pieces in a Renaissance revival style. Perhaps you will fall for Bakelite, as many vintage gals do. Sadly I cannot really participate in Bakelite mania, as bangle bracelets don't fit me (large hands I guess?) and the brooches tend to be way above my price range. Sifting through etsy and other vintage markets, you can find great deals if you are willing to "dig". Sometimes on etsy I will find the same pieces from multiple sellers, so shop around to find the best deal.

I hope I have given a good introduction to the way I collect, and a few tips on how to get started collecting yourself. Most importantly have fun. Vintage jewelry is fun to collect and even more fun to wear!


  1. Loving this glimpse into your jewellery box! I've only started collecting vintage jewellery in the last year and still have a lot to learn, but I pick up some nice pieces in the charity shops and car boot sales. I think half of it is knowing what you're looking for, so thank you for sharing some pictures. xx

    1. Thanks Porcelina! I have a suspicion that car boot sales in the UK are much better than garage sales are here in the US! People on Antiques Roadshow (my favorite show ha ha) are always saying they found their amazing random item at a car boot!

  2. Stellar post and collection! I was especially struck by how you described collecting vintage jewelry as being akin to collecting baseball cards and looking to fill slots with different players that you don't yet have. That is such an apt, excellent way to describe such things and really mirrors my own take on building my wardrobe, clothes and jewelry alike, too.

    Digging, patience, and always keeping your eyes peeled are so important, I'm with you there big time. There are many items I've waited years to buy either because they were rare or beyond my modest budget usually, but when you finally hit on them, the wait always proves to me more than worth it.

    Again, really wonderful post, Bianca, thank you very much for putting it together for us.

    ♥ Jessica

    1. Thank you so much Jessica! That means a lot coming from such a vintage blogging maven like yourself! I definitely have imaginary slots in my mind that "need" to be filled, currently I am lamenting my lack of dress clips for example!

  3. A super post ~ so detailed and helpful! Thank you for sharing all your tips with us. I currently don't collect much vintage jewellry aside from brooches as I just don't seem to wear it much, but have a peek at all your pretty sparklies and those sets! Oh my! I think I may have just had my head turned in a totally bad-I-realllly-don't-need-more-vintage-things-to-collect-but-here-we-go-anyway way. ; ) ❤

    bonita of Lavender & Twill

    1. Thanks Bonita, sorry if I've set you off on another collecting adventure! I too love brooches, I can't get enough of them!


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