5 tips to investing in vintage or antique jewellery

Romanticising the past is always fascinating, irrespective of factual history. It’s almost convenient to look back and reminisce about its grace, elegance, and beauty. These are values that tend to draw us towards vintage jewellery, which is why we often hear people say, “they don’t make them like this anymore” at viewings of vintage jewellery collections. My passion for the Art Deco period and collecting incredible jewellery from that time led me to research the differences between estate, vintage and antique jewellery; terms typically used synonymously, though each represents a unique category. 

Estate jewellery is usually considered pre-owned. It could be 30, 50 or more than 100 years old, but may not be investment grade. The quality of gemstones used might be commercial-grade or synthetic or the artistry is of average quality. However, jewellery older than 100 years and of good quality is labelled as antique. Anything less than that (of investment grade quality) and better curated is considered vintage jewellery. The next point to bear in mind is, whether the piece is signed or unsigned. A signed piece will carry the symbol or markings of its maker/brand, like Cartier, Boucheron, Van Cleef & Arpels. Other identification marks could be hallmarks or assay marks that help identify where the jewel was created. For example, jewellery made in France has very typical markings vs a piece made in the United Kingdom. Needless to say, a signed piece will always carry a premium.

5 points to keep in mind when investing in vintage or antique jewellery

1) Most ‘old jewellery’ sold is not antique or vintage. They are new pieces, which have been treated to look ‘old or aged’ because the demand for such articles exceeds the supply. Like any investment, you need to do your research and understand the market. So, unless you’re a connoisseur who’s aware of the distinctive styles or work of different periods, don’t invest in vintage jewellery primarily for its historical value. It would be effortless for any unscrupulous dealer/jeweller to fool an amateur.

A Dia Plat S Shape Dress Clips Brooch Rene Boivin

Diamond and platincum S shaped dress clips brooch by Rene Boivin

2) Signed pieces vs. unsigned pieces: When considering a purchase of an unsigned piece of jewellery, always look at intrinsic value, artisanship, and design. Unsigned articles tend to offer fantastic value because at the time of appraisal, craft hours and its associated costs are not counted. Whereas, with a piece created today (in addition to the value of gold, gemstones, and diamonds), the labour costs would also factor in the total price. However, the focus changes when considering a signed piece. Brands like Cartier, Van Cleef & Arpels, and Bulgari are all known for superb artisanship and designs. But, even within this elite group, each brand is known for their work in particular eras. For example, the Art Deco was a fantastic period for Cartier with the invention of the double clip brooch and the iconic ‘tutti frutti’ collection. Van Cleef & Arpels was stronger in the ’50s and ’60s. Another great icon from that time is Bulgari’s Serpenti watches. These days, they sell for hundreds of thousands of dollars whereas, the intrinsic value of the pieces may only be 10 percent of that sum. So focus on buying jewellery that is the best example of that period and category.

An Art Deco Emerald and Diamond Jabot Brooch by Cartier

Art Deco emerald and diamond brooch by Cartier 

3) Buy the best your budget can afford. Focus on design, quality of craftsmanship, wearability and price. You may come across a beautiful pattern ruined by poor artisanship or vice versa. Design and quality workmanship must go hand-in-hand. Having a signed piece is always nice, but they tend to come at a premium. Do your homework, look at auction prices for similar things that have been sold in the past. Both Christie’s and Sotheby’s websites are not only informative, but allow you to search through past lots sold. They provide an excellent benchmark to evaluate not only the price offered but also assess its future value trajectory.

A Pair of Diamond Scroll Earclips c1950s 2

Diamond scroll ear clips circa 1950s

4) The market for Indian vintage and antique jewellery is limited to India. Depending on what you buy, the value may appreciate, but the percentage of appreciation may not be high, unless it is a historically significant piece or a rare design aesthetic. To increase the probability of value appreciation, invest in more internationally appealing jewellery that transcends borders and enables you to tap into a global marketplace. If you are going to buy an old polki piece, then make sure the flat-cut ‘diamond slice’ is a single piece and not small fragments held together with resin treatment, which is also known as “Khilwas.”

Taj Mahal Ear Pendants by Cartier

Taj Mahal ear pendants by Cartier

5) From an investment perspective always have a long-term view (which should be more than 15-20 years). If you buy something of quality and beauty, then over a period, its value will appreciate. Lastly, always buy something because you are interested in that style or design aesthetic. You will love it, wear it, enjoy it and cherish it for generations to come. 

Photos: Revival Jewels, Singapore

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