Things to Consider When Buying Vintage Costume Jewelry

For almost three decades I have collected and sold vintage costume jewelry. By far, one of the most common questions I’m asked pertains to the condition of a piece. The answer to that question is subjective because what may be good condition to one person is perceived as fair condition to another.

It’s important to keep in mind that almost all vintage costume jewelry is used jewelry. In some instances, never worn inventory pops up but, for the most part, all vintage costume jewelry has been worn at one time or another.

A lot of factors must be considered when assessing a piece of older, used jewelry including:

are all parts and components of the piece original
are all parts and components intact and functional
has the finish become marred or worn
have obvious alterations been made or two pieces “married” together
have obvious (read: sloppy) repairs been made

In truth, none of us were present when most of these beauties were manufactured and, because a lot of the work used to be performed by hand, it’s not unusual to see slight variations on otherwise identical pieces. A stone may have been set a bit crooked. The enamel may be a slightly different tint. The metal casting may be smooth on one piece but a bit rough on another. These are normal and acceptable differences.

Costume jewelry, like most commodities, has a high and a low end. More elaborate pieces may have only been sold at luxurious department stores such as Neiman Marcus; high end pieces may have been available at stores like Macy’s while lower end pieces were sold at Woolworth’s or the local five and dime. A rags to riches story is Bakelite jewelry. Bakelite jewelry began to gain popularity in the 1920s because it was colorful, plentiful and affordable. Today, well made, artful pieces of Bakelite sell for considerable sums which is ironic because it was originally considered jewelry for the masses.

Many of the higher end pieces utilized better components that have lasted for decades. Some lower end pieces – for instance those with stones that were set with glue – have not fared as well.

All of these factors must be taken into consideration when assessing vintage jewelry. A bracelet sold at the five and dime was, for all intents and purposes, never meant to last all that long and, with the change of seasons and trends in fashion, manufacturers hoped that new pieces would take the place of pieces purchased last year or even last season.

Aurora Bijoux utilizes the follow adjectives to describe condition:

Excellent: As close to perfect as you’re going to get
Very Good: Next to no wear, all stones intact, all components functional and believed to be original
Good: Some visible wear from being lovingly worn, all stones intact, all components functional and believed to be original
Fair: Wear is apparent, all stones intact, all components functional and believed to be original

Our Wounded Soldiers section of the website has some great bargains however, these are not pieces that will ever be classified as “very good” or “excellent.” Almost all of the pieces in the Wounded Soldiers section are good… some, in fact, may not be wounded at all and are simply lower end items that are extremely affordable and completely wearable. Whenever possible, any flaws are pointed out because items from the Wounded Soldiers section of the website are not returnable.

If, after reading the above, you still have a question about the condition of a piece let us know. We’re always happy to help.