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Know What To Look For In Vintage Costume Jewelry

Feb 7, 2008
One of the biggest challenges for the new collector is determining which pieces of vintage costume jewelry are most profitable to target and which to avoid. While fine jewelry was often hand-made using precious materials like diamonds and rubies, costume pieces were made in mass batches using semi-precious materials like quartz and topaz. However, you should never mistake vintage costume jewelry with the cheap glittery garbage you see in most department stores today.

American soldiers were the first to purchase costume jewelry in French boutiques during WWI, making the jewelry widely popular after they returned home. In fact, by the end of the 1920's, the once-European industry was dominated by American companies like Coventry, Eisenberg, and Coro creating many of the most prized collectible pieces.

Profitable collecting definitely boils down to identifying the valuable pieces while avoiding the pretty but worthless ones. Ultimately, the value of any piece is determined by:


If other pricing factors are held constant, then the rarity of the piece will greatly determine value. With so many producers of costume jewelry, no uniform batch size was established, causing supply to vary dramatically according to manufacturer. Production runs tended to be relatively large for big companies like Coro and Brooks, producing a larger market supply, and thus less demand.

As with any product or service, greater demand will always translate into a higher price. Eisenberg jewelry will likely always be a hot item in the collectibles market, but be on the lookout for Miriam Haskell pieces as they are popular at the moment. Some designs are collectible while others are not. Learning to tell the difference between the two will ultimately determine whether collecting is profitable or just a hobby. Remember, the most popular designs are not necessarily the prettiest or most unique, but they will be more profitable to collect. However, demand for a particular piece is stimulated most often by the actual design of the jewelry.

Collecting vintage costume jewelry for profit is complicated by the fact that most of the pieces are actually unsigned. Seasoned collectors will not hesitate to shun a signed piece in favor of an unsigned one featuring a unique and impressive design, as unsigned jewelry tends to be undervalued and the most profitable to collect. One sure way to identify a particular manufacturer is by design. Some manufacturers consistently produced pieces of exceptional design and are highly coveted by collectors like those made by Bogoff and Hollycraft.

Although the design is critical to the overall demand of any particular piece, the materials and construction techniques used to make the jewelry ultimately validates or repudiates the legitimacy of the design. Pay particular attention to the type and quality of gemstones on any given piece since the stones will greatly affect value. Gemstones of exceptional quality were consistently used by a few of the major manufacturers such as:


As is the case with any vintage costume piece, final antique value assessment will ultimately be based upon condition of the piece. But remember, even vintage pieces showing considerable signs of wear can still command $100 or more. By knowing what to look for, seasoned vintage costume or fashion jewelry collectors can still make great profits even off of slightly damaged or worn pieces.
About the Author
Jon Kreps is a vintage costume jewelry collector specializing in period sets.
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