Vintage jewellery is a step away from antique pieces — relatively affordable and stylish — making them a popular staple in the collector’s accessory box

Still, ‘vintage’ is another fancy word to mark-up second-hand goods. A side of caution and a vigilant eye will be necessary when checking out the array of gems laid out at the flea market or vintage boutiqueKeep in mind that these pieces once belonged to someone, so signs of wear and tear are inevitable.

Shop with an open-mind and consider what ‘flaws’ you are willing to live with. After all, little nicks give unique character to jewellery and can be more comfortable to wear. Think of it as a pair of shoes that’s already been broken into.

So before you whip out your wallet, take a moment to consider these few tips. You might just save yourself from the agony of buyer’s regret.

1
Narrow in on the prongs

Vintage pieces often have thin, flat prongs instead of rounded ones found in modern pieces, which means they can break off easily.  It’s much harder to fix a broken prong especially if the piece is not made of gold or silver. You may also run the risk destroying the stone if it’s a natural gem.

Ensure that prongs clasp on tightly to the stone. Stray prongs may snag onto your clothing. Never attempt to push the prongs in yourself as you may break them. Instead, get a professional jeweller to secure it.

2
Check for missing gems

Diminutive stones, commonly marcasite, are set in vintage pieces to add accent and flair – just like on the leaves of this brooch here. Unfortunately, they do fall off quite easily. Thankfully, these are usually small enough to gloss over if you’re not too particular.

3
Cabochons may be glued on

Cabochons, flat and rounded gems, often take centre stage in vintage pieces. These stones are usually set in a tight bezel cup. But, the jeweller might just do quick work with hot glue — an obvious sign is if there are gaps between cabochon and bezel.

Push the gem gently to check. If it wobbles, simply pop it out and stick it back on with hot glue or jeweller’s cement.

4
Take note of design cues

It’s not enough to just look out for oxidised metal or scratches to determine if a piece is really vintage.

Familiarise yourself with art deco and art nouveau styles, which are the two most common periods you’ll find in vintage jewellery. For starters, art nouveau tends towards imagery from nature, curves and enamel work while art deco sees more geometric and angular works.

5
Spot hallmarks

Search for hallmarks in the jewellery as well, which points out to the type of precious metal used. These brandings can be found in the lower or mid shank of a ring and at the back of earrings, brooches and pendants. The two most common numbers you’ll find are 750 for 18K gold and 925 for sterling silver. If you’re lucky, you may also chance upon the jeweller’s logo which will help with dating a piece.

Jasmine Tay
Senior Writer
Jasmine Tay is the dining, culture and jewellery writer. She makes fine silver jewellery and causes mini-explosions in the kitchen when she can't afford fancy dinners. Sometimes she tells people what she thinks about art, and binges on the music of Danzig when they don’t agree.