I just bought a house! Now for the fun part…


Luckily, this move should be it for a while. Thank goodness — I’ve lived in so many rentals I can’t keep them all straight. It will be nice to set up my space with a greater feeling of permanence and ownership.

But before I can unpack and organize, I have to pack — and purge.

See, another symptom of renting is that I’ve accumulated a ton of stuff over the years.

Every apartment I’ve lived in has had its quirks, which means I’ve had to purchase a bunch of temporary solutions. A dehumidifier for the summer months in that one swampy studio… extra-long curtains for the high ceilings in my first solo space… lots of lamps for the unit that had no light fixtures…

And, of course, the requisite share of books, movies, knickknacks, clothes — and jewelry.

I’ve got a lot of jewelry.

A few pieces are heirlooms — a string of my grandmother’s pearls… some cameos… a diamond and garnet pendant that was a birth gift from my great-grandparents…

Most are junk — made from metal that will turn your skin green and cheap foil-backed plastic.

But I also have a fair amount of vintage costume jewelry from trolling flea markets, estate sales and thrift stores on the weekends. I’ve found some truly stunning pieces at bargain-basement prices. Which is great for my bottom line if any of them turns out to hold any real value.

And as it turns out, they might. Let me explain…

Shine Bright Like a Diamond

Unlike fine jewelry, vintage costume jewelry (also called fashion jewelry) is usually made from more inexpensive metals like brass, pewter, nickel or brass.

However, during World War II, many of these materials were needed for the war effort, so costume jewelry from that period often uses sterling silver.

Costume jewelry also substitutes the precious gemstones you’ll find in fine jewelry with simulated gemstones, made from things like acrylic, crystal or glass.

Keep in mind, a piece has to be at least 20 years old before it’s considered vintage. (At least 100 years old and it’s an antique — and possibly even more valuable.) Which means vintage jewelry falls into a number of styles by era, including Art Deco, retro, Midcentury, ’70s and ’80s.

If the period and style aren’t immediately obvious, there are a few things you can look for…

    • Clasps/fasteners — Certain types of clasps and fasteners were used in different periods. Trombone clasps, for instance, were used on pins up until the mid-1900s. Safety-pin clasps, on the other hand, were used only until the early 1900s, so if you have a brooch with a safety-pin clasp, it could be quite old. This blog has a great write-up (with pictures!) on how to date your vintage jewelry based on the hardware
    • Gemstone cut — Just as trends come and go, certain gemstone cuts became popular for a while before falling out of fashion. The baguette cut, which is long and rectangular, was a hallmark of the Art Deco period. The oval cut wasn’t created until the late 1950s. The princess design, meanwhile, was first cut in 1979, so only the most recent examples of vintage costume jewelry could have this sparkler
    • Designer marks — Knowing who made a piece of jewelry could also tell you when it was made. Scan each item carefully to see if there are any stamps or engravings that identify the designer. It might be a symbol, logo or signature. Not only will this help you date your vintage jewelry, but a piece that still bears the designer’s mark will also usually be more valuable.

Another important factor to note on your costume jewelry is how the stones are set. Costume jewelry that has gemstones set with prongs — prongs only, no glue — will likely be much more valuable than piece that uses prongs and glue or just glue.

But the two most important factors in determining the value of costume jewelry are — as with most sorts of collectibles — condition and rarity.

Items in mint or near-mint condition will fetch the highest prices. Avoid pieces that show green rust, worn plating or cloudy stones.

Other deal breakers include missing stones or parts, broken clasps and chipped or scratched enamel. Shoddy repairs will also lower value, even if the piece is made whole.

As for rarity, a large part of it depends on the designer. Eisenberg pieces, for example, can be worth hundreds. But earlier pieces marked “Eisenberg Original” can be worth even more…

Other expensive vintage jewelry brands to keep an eye out for include:

    • Weiss — especially their enamel work, dark Maltese crosses and figures of birds and animals
    • Hobe — look for their floral pins from the 1930s and ’40s, as well as filigreed bracelets and pins, plus reproductions of European fine jewels from the 16th and 17th centuries
    • Coro — most sought-after items include “jelly belly” pieces (animals with gemstones in their abdomen), pieces from the “Coro Duette” line and sterling silver pieces marked MEXICO
    • Miriam Haskell — clearly signed pieces will be worth more, but keep a special eye out for ones with the horseshoe stamp, as well as pieces from the 1940s and ’50s

Carnegie… Trifari… Lisner… Sarah Coventry… the list goes on.

So if you are ready to cull your jewelry collection, I suggest taking the time to go through the steps above and research your pieces, so you can assign them a proper value when you go to sell.

And if you decide to purchase some costume jewelry — and want to be sure you’re getting at least your money’s worth, if not a steal — you’ll also want to keep these things in mind.

As for me — I better start packing.


Lucille St. John

Lucille St. John
Managing editor, Unconventional Wealth

P.S. You’ll notice Lucille didn’t even mention purchasing fine jewelry as an investment… even high-karat gold pieces. That’s because the markup is often so insane that — unless you’re getting a significant discount on a secondhand piece in good condition — it’s not worth your while. Luckily, there’s a better way to own precious metals…

Our partners at Hard Assets Alliance make it easy for anyone to buy, sell and store real physical precious metals. Sign up for a free account with HAA today and as a special bonus they’ll send UCW readers six free precious metals reports… detailing all you need to know about how to buy gold and silver with confidence.

Lucille St. John

Lucille St. John is the managing editor of Unconventional Wealth. A gentlewoman and a scholar, Lucille never received much in the way of a financial education. But what she lacks in fiscal knowledge she makes up for in taste.

She’s going to take you with her on her unconventional wealth journey — starting from...

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