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6 Tips on How to Start a (Vintage) Jewelry Collection

I make jewelry.  But I also collect jewelry.  It is a modest collection but one which gives me pleasure as I am able to admire other designers both far away and from the past.  Some were gifts, others have been handed down to me or were bought in different places. Some are vintage and some are not. The most important tip for starting a vintage (or not) jewelry collection of your own is to collect only what you love. 

Treasure any jewelry you might be lucky enough to inherit.  Try and find out any family story or history about the jewelry while you can. Shown above is a wonderful 19th century ring my much loved grandmother passed down to me.  It once belonged to her grandmother.  It is a Peranakan intan (diamond) and gold ring - read about my heritage here.

My grandmother once explained that the stone is a "diamond skin" - the unwanted leftover after the faceting of a raw diamond which was itself faceted and made into a ring.  The cloudiness and obvious dark flecks were the reasons why I have the ring today. It was the only piece of jewelry my grandmother had from the past which survived the Japanese occupation of Malaya during World War II. Everything else of value was sold to feed the family during this terrible time. This ring remained because no one wanted to buy something so flawed. Needless to say, the ring is priceless as far as I am concerned.

Collect with a theme in mind.  Besides heirloom pieces, try collecting jewelry from a certain period or by a designer, or pieces made from a particular material like Bakerlite. The possibilities are endless.

Just as you might buy a travel souvenir, I now collect jewelry from different places - but not necessarily having visited some of the places myself! I bought this Turkish handmade sterling silver and lapis lazuli earrings  from a Turkish trader in the French market of New Orleans of all places many years ago!  (see past post : Lapis Lazuli - The Twice Precious Gemstone)

These Peruvian stud earrings were a gift from a Peruvian colleague.  The decorative gold element is a tumi - a sacrificial knife used by the Incas and pre-Incan cultures. Spot the llamas!

Scour charity shops, secondhand stores, flea markets, garage sales for jewelry to collect. Most of what you will see will be ho-hum but you might get lucky sometimes.  I came across these two handmade leather earrings for $2 a piece while my friend Debbie and I were browsing in a local antique mall. The molded leather beetles were amazing!

This copper and brass bangle went for a song in a local charity shop. It looks better on Debbie than on me so she got to keep it!  I loved how the metals had aged with time - I didn't think it was chemically treated for the patina.

Remember to examine jewelry items carefully.  While some wear and tear is expected of vintage collectible pieces, too much damage like missing crystals etc might be a deal breaker.

My sister-in-law collected many jewelry pieces from British charity shops over the years.  She passed away from cancer and her collection was given to our family.  She had a fantastic eye for great pieces.  See this post where I made 3 of her collected brooches into convertible pendants.   One of the more spectacular bracelets from this collection is this mother of pearl one shown below.

You never know what you can find. My friend Aims (of Big Blue Barn Designs) was very lucky when she stumbled upon and bought this fabulous 1950's vintage rhinestone beauty from a Value Village (secondhand store chain) in Red Deer, Alberta for just $7!  She did some research and found a similar piece but without the drops from an antique store in the US. The going price there was $300!  It's now up for sale  (for less than $300!) at her store  which is located in the craft display section of her brother's shop, Otter Rafting Adventures in Sundre, Alberta.

It also pays to invest in some good reference books if you are interested in collecting vintage or period pieces. Educating yourself on styles, materials, prices, designer hallmarks and so on is a good thing.

The secondhand sources are also great if you are looking for materials to revamp into unique jewelry. More about that some other time!

All photographs except the last one were taken with my iPhone 5 using the camera+ app and a Modahaus tabletop photo studio. Quick in-app editing and cropping only. Tip - natural light photography is the easiest to do.

The last photograph was taken by Aims' brother with an iPad using a white paper background. I edited it in Adobe Photoshop Elements (the cheaper and perfectly adequate version the full one).

Find out more about my How to Photograph Jewelry Webinar here.

Before You Go:
Original Post by THE BEADING GEM
Jewelry Making Tips - Jewelry Business Tips 


  1. Hi Pearl. I have a bunch of my Grandma's costume jewelry and her original wedding band. My cousin got her other ring but she gave me her band when I got engaged and it meant so much to me because that was the ring she cherished the most even if it is not expensive. I chose to wear it for my wedding band too. I have a lot of vintage jewelry which I collected since I was a teen.

    1. What a lovely story! I agree sentimental jewelry means so much more than the dollar value.

  2. Such a fantastic post, I'm a lover of pretty jewelry and also collect it. Thanks for the tips.

    1. I wonder if all of us jewelry makers collect as you and I do!

  3. Great tips Pearl, another thing would be to let people know that you are collecting pieces, and you might get some as gifts; I usually do

    1. Now that is a great tip, Divya! One problem further down the line might be where to store it all!

  4. It's absolutely amazing what you can find in the second hand shops. People who are cleaning up their relative's estates often have no idea what they are holding and they donate it all just to get rid of the problem of having to deal with it.

    I was so lucky to find that one piece - and I've found others that are certainly of value - just not as much. Will send you a pic of another piece I have...

    I can certainly see why you love that ring! It's quite unique! And that MOP bracelet - oh my!!

    People need to see the value in vintage. Especially if they buy a piece with the idea of changing it into something else. That's always a great possibility but a bit of research needs to be done before you start taking it apart. You might have a treasure in your hands that you aren't aware of.

    1. Now that is a good tip - be sure before dismantling anything that might be a potential treasure!

  5. Thank you for this wonderful article. As a bookmark maker and collector I am sure I will find this valuable information.

  6. Those Lapis Lazuli earrings are so cute. I will admit that have been favoring older pieces lately. I'll have to keep my eyes open at second hand stores and stuff like that. Hopefully, I will find some great jewelry like this.!about/aboutPage


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