How Do I Know If My Vintage Jewelry is Valuable?
When millennials wear their mother's jewelry from the nineties, they often get compliments on their "vintage look." This can be a wake-up call for parents: any of your jewelry made before the 2000s is considered vintage now. This might make you think, is my vintage jewelry worth something? How can I sell my vintage jewelry?
When determining if your vintage jewelry is valuable, you'll need to take a few steps to research and identify your jewelry. Afterward, you want to choose the right store to sell your jewelry in order to make the most money. Where you choose to sell and advertise your jewelry, as well as whether or not to get it appraised, will depend on the age and value of your vintage jewelry.
Vintage, Antique and Estate Jewelry: What's the Difference?
Is my vintage jewelry antique? Is my old jewelry vintage? How old is estate jewelry?
To determine vintage jewelry value, you'll need to find out how old it is to make sure you're categorizing it correctly. If it's a jewelry piece you remember buying in the 80s, you already know that it's truly vintage.
If you've inherited jewelry or bought it at a thrift store or estate sale, you might not know its age. It could be too modern to call vintage, or it could be old enough that you can sell it as an antique.
Sometimes people sell antique jewelry as "vintage" without knowing the higher value of antique jewelry. Other times, people sell their 90s jewelry without realizing that they could have sold it as "vintage." In either case, the seller could have potentially made more money if they had included the correct category labels.
The confusion comes in when people use the terms vintage, antique, estate incorrectly or interchangeably. This causes miscommunications between buyers and sellers. Here's a guide to help you know what these terms actually mean:
Jewelry must be at least 20 to 30 years old to be considered vintage. Jewelry from the 90s, 80s, 70s and older is vintage. Vintage is the most common term you'll encounter with old jewelry because it encompasses a large span of time, including when jewelry was mass-produced.
Even if the piece is 50-100 years old, it's still vintage. Technically, a piece of jewelry from the 1800s or earlier is also vintage, but usually, it will be called antique if it's older than 100 years.
People who buy vintage jewelry often like to wear and display it. This is far less common than with antique jewelry. Vintage jewelry is usually not as breakable or sensitive to care for.
You can wear vintage jewelry with modern clothing to give it depth and intrigue. Many people also wear it with vintage clothing from thrift stores for a total throwback look. Incorporating vintage jewelry into outfits is very popular with college students (even brooches).
A piece of jewelry is considered "antique" if it is over 100 years old. In general, production methods for jewelry 100 years ago or older were higher-quality than more modern pieces. The age of antique jewelry makes it more scarce on the market today.
People may occasionally wear antique jewelry for special events. Antique-themed weddings are popular occasions for which people may wear antique jewelry. Most of the time, people prefer to keep antique jewelry safe or in a protective display due to its rarity.
When jewelry is called "antique" by a reliable dealer, you know that it's at least 100 years old. Be wary of the term "antique style" or "antiquated look": it often refers to the appearance/style rather than the age of the jewelry. It could be a modern reproduction.
Because antique jewelry is rare, people often buy modern jewelry that's modeled after antique styles. People like buying sterling silver for this reason; its natural tarnish can give even new rings an antiquated appearance. This look goes well with bohemian chic outfits or casually elegant styles.
Jewelry is called "estate" if it came from a previous owner. While a large percentage of estate jewelry comes from owners who have passed away, this is not a requirement. It's not rare for the former owners of estate jewelry to still be alive.
The term "estate" does not describe the age of an item. Many estate jewelry pieces on the market may be 50, 100, or even near 200 years old, but age is not the designating factor for the classification. Someone born in the 1930s could buy jewelry in the 2000s and leave it in their estate.
It's helpful to still use terms like "antique" or "vintage" to describe estate jewelry, especially when you're reselling it.
Vintage vs. Retro
Occasionally, sellers may market jewelry as "retro." Retro jewelry can be vintage, but it's not a reliable indicator of age. Retro simply refers to its appearance: it looks old or no longer in style.
For example, jewelry from the 2000s isn't in fashion anymore, but it makes people nostalgic. You could refer to it as "retro" because it's not quite old enough to be vintage, but it's no longer the style today. Sometimes, new reproductions of older styles are sold under the label "retro."
An example of a popular retro piece of jewelry is the mood ring. Mood rings from the 70s are technically vintage. Mood rings had a resurgence in popularity in the 2000s and 2020s; you would call these "retro."
Sometimes, "retro" jewelry refers to the retro or retro-modern era of jewelry from the WWII era. True retro-modern jewelry was made in the 1940s or 1950s.
How to Determine if Your Vintage Jewelry Is Valuable
It's a common mistake to think that if something is old must be valuable. You can actually buy some ancient Roman coins for less than $5.
How can that be? Well, the value of antiques and vintage items often depends on a few factors:
- Age and condition – the newer the jewelry, the more it's expected to be in good condition. An antique watch from 1850 that needs repairs can still fetch a high price, whereas you might struggle to sell a broken watch from the 1980s. Antique jewelry in good shape can command high prices.
- Rarity – A silver necklace that was hand-made by a specific jeweler or from a local shop may have more value than a mass-produced gold necklace. Ruby jewelry often has a higher resale value than diamonds of similar quality because gem-quality rubies are rarer.
- Historical context – Historical context can give antique jewelry an intriguing backstory. People fond of the 1920s Art Deco movement may pay more from jewelry from this time than they would for other antique jewelry. In other cases, a bracelet that belonged to a celebrity or author may fetch for more than it would without that connection.
- Materials – Both a modern or vintage ring made of silver or gold will fetch at least the market value of its precious metals. With antique and vintage jewelry, the value is also affected by the quality of the artistry, the status of the materials within the historical context, and the location source of the materials.
- Supply and demand – Market values can change depending on how popular an item is with buyers. For example, vintage cereal boxes were inexpensive and mass-produced; for years, no one really thought to resell them. Now, some vintage cereal boxes can sell for more than $100 because people want to own them for nostalgia.
Now you can see why some Roman coins might not sell for much. They're rare, very old, and historically significant—yet many of them are in poor condition and made of inexpensive metals (like bronze). There's not a huge supply of them, but there's also not a huge demand for them (since coin collectors prefer coins in better condition).
When trying to figure out if your jewelry is valuable or not, you may have to do research or make approximations. You might find antique jewelry forums helpful.
Here are the things to look out for to determine if your antique or vintage jewelry is valuable:
Check the Hallmarks on Your Jewelry
If your jewelry is under 100 years old and contains precious metals or gemstones, you will notice some hallmarks on it. You may find the hallmarks on the inside of the band if it's a ring or a bracelet, on the clasp if it's a necklace or clasping bracelet, and on the post for earrings.
What can't I find any hallmarks?
If it's older than 100 years or had significant wear, the hallmark may have worn off. It also won't have any hallmarks if it doesn't contain precious metals or gems. If you don’t see any hallmarks on your antique jewelry pieces, they could be very old and valuable, or they might not be worth much.
What do the hallmarks mean?
A hallmark will tell you the type of precious metal and the karats, and there could be a separate one to tell you the country of origin, manufacturer, or designer.
Gold hallmarks: 10k, 14k, 18k, 22k or 750, 585, 375, 417
Platinum hallmarks: 950, PLAT, or PLATINUM
Silver hallmarks: 925, 800, Silver or Sterling. Silver-plated jewelry won't contain a hallmark.
Examine the Physical Characteristics and Research Them
Note the weight; is it heavy?
Heavy gold and platinum jewelry can be a sign that it's worth more. Sterling silver jewelry can still be valuable, but it's going to be lighter than gold. Weight is not always an indicator of value, but it can help you assess the materials.
Inspect the prongs: are the stones set in the metal, or are they glued on?
Most high-quality jewelry will use prongs to keep gemstones in place. Fine jewelry is well-crafted; gemstones may be placed in intricate bezel or prong settings (pearls and opals are often exceptions).
If the gemstones are glued on, it's most likely costume jewelry. By looking at the setting, you can distinguish diamond accents from diamond imitations, such as zircon and glass. Diamonds should never be attached with glue.
Inspect the craftsmanship: What stylistic elements stand out?
Take note of the shapes, engravings, colors, gems, and materials of your jewelry. You might be able to discern symbolism or special meaning. Write a list of the traits you notice.
Does your jewelry look formal, flashy, elegant, ornate, simple, or crafty? You might be able to determine if your ring is a class ring, a wedding band, a religious gift, an engagement ring, or a promise ring. Discovering the context in which someone would wear it can help you identify your jewelry more accurately.
To help determine the date of your vintage jewelry, inspect the style. Familiarize yourself with historical jewelry styles in different eras. For example, mid-century jewelry may have highly textured pieces with vines and flowers. It's much more organic and feminine than Art Deco jewelry.
Art Deco Jewelry is more geometric, symmetrical, and glamorous. Emeralds were especially popular during this movement. The WWII era jewelry that followed is more sparsely decorated and more playful.
Seek an Appraiser and Find a Buyer
If you believe your jewelry is antique or vintage or could potentially be worth a lot, you'll want to get it appraised.
In order to get an accurate antique jewelry appraisal, you need to go to an independent appraiser who specializes in appraising the value of vintage jewelry. Getting an appraisal can help you sell your jewelry faster. Make sure you know how to find a qualified jewelry appraiser.
Some appraisers may be able to help you sell your jewelry or help you find a jewelry shop to sell it to. Here are some other tips for selling:
- If you have unique, highly valuable jewelry, you may want to auction it online. Provide the documentation from your appraiser to get the most money.
- If your jewelry isn't very old, if it's mass-produced or not very finely crafted, you can sell it for parts.
- If your jewelry is vintage and unique but doesn't have much value from precious metal or precious gemstones, look at special websites. A lot of younger people will pay more for vintage jewelry. Try selling on popular second-hand clothing/jewelry apps or social media to reach these buyers.
If you have multiple jewelry items to sell, try using a website/app where you can create your own "shop."
More Opportunities than Ever
Now is a great time to sell vintage jewelry. People of all generations are getting into vintage jewelry appreciation. You can access a wealth of information online, making it easier to research, identify and determine the value of your jewelry.
If you like learning about jewelry history, precious gemstones, and what to look for when buying jewelry, check out our blog.