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!