I love sparkles and crystals and all things glamorous, but often I just want to wear cute things too. In my shop, there’s a growing range of adorable animal, insect and bird costume jewellery and I’ve got a real soft spot for it! 🙂
I love shopping for vintage costume jewellery, but looking back I remember being really intimidated by it all when I first started out back in the 1990s. Over the years I’ve found some bargains, made some awful mistakes, and had the chance to discover towns and cities I’d never consider going to if I weren’t for my treasure hunting passion!
So here are my top tips for vintage costume jewellery shopping ..
1. Vintage jewellery is uncommon to find in ‘real life’ shops, unless it’s a specific vintage shop. Charity and thrift shops do sell it occasionally (I absolutely LOVE charity shopping for vintage and make a day of it), but you have to search them out to find the best places, and even then they’re not consistent; a town bursting with unbelievable retro treasures in January may not produce anything else vintage jewellery-wise for the rest of the year. I actually keep a little calendar log of the towns I’ve visited, and don’t visit the charity shops there more than four times a year – yes, I’m that dedicated about it!
2. Not everyone like treasure hunting, so if you want to buy a vintage jewellery without the hours of rummaging through crappy stuff, then a good bet is to head for areas in cities which have a cluster of dedicated vintage shops in one road (often in student areas). A concentration of shops means competition, which often equals better quality goods at lower prices. A single vintage shop in a town or district can sometimes mean higher prices for a more limited range of items.
3. Have some background knowledge to what you want to buy if possible, especially when it comes to dating vintage stuff, or looking out for fakes. Ask your seller questions about an item, and trust your instincts. I’ve written some guides to dating vintage jewellery which can be found on this blog, or ask away here!
4. Quick vintage jewellery dating tips: Any necklace that has a lobster clasp is generally modern. T-bar hinges on brooches mean very old antique jewellery (yay!). Gloopy pearlized enamel is generally modern. Aurora borealis (also known as ‘AB’) is a special type of rainbow lustre found coated on glass stones and beads, and was invented in the 1950s; therefore it’s never found on art deco nor antique jewellery.
5. Try not to buy vintage jewelry which is damaged– things like flaking pearls and damaged enamel are not fixable and will only get worse, and definitely avoid metal that has little green patches (called verdigris) which will only get worse no matter how you try and clean it, and it will spread to other jewellery it touches too).
6. You may hear people talking about ‘signed jewellery’. This means that the company which made the piece has had it’s name stamped on the back (eg Trifari, Napier, Hollywood, Exquisite). Unless you specifically collect vintage costume jewellery (which is a big passion for many people, but a subject for a different blog post), I wouldn’t be too concerned about this, and certainly don’t pay over the odds for something your not 100% in love with just because it has a stamped ‘name’ on it. Some of the most stunning vintage jewellery I’ve come across has been ‘unsigned’ (ie, no stamp), and it’s been whole lot cheaper too (WINS all round :))
7. If you fall in love with jewellery which is damaged and you know how fix it (eg, replace missing stones) then have a go at (nicely and respectfully) haggling the price down if you feel it’s too high. While vintage will show signs of light wear (eg, gold tone metal fading, slightly dull rhinestones), don’t fall for some dealers sale speak of damage being a ‘natural’ part of owning a piece of vintage – it isn’t. If you want your items to last (or sell on at a later date) then the jewellery should be good condition.
8. You can find some real bargains at auctioneers – not the famous Internet ones, I mean the real life ones, with humans and hammers and dodgy winks and head shakes. In my experience, they’re great for buying vintage costume jewellery in bulk, or individual items of vintage fine jewellery (ie gold or gemstones) at a bargain.
9. You never know what lies inside that town or small city your innocently passing through. My best finds have been: a pile of art deco Bohemian glass necklaces in Accrington (£1 each), a huge 1950s rhinestone brooch from Carlisle (£3), an antique Victorian Whitby Jet necklace from Knutsford (£4), a carved 1950s mother of pearl powder compact from Kendal (£5), a carved art deco Bakelite bangle from Chorley (£1), some 1940s reverse carved Lucite jewellery from Altringham (£3 each), and an art deco glass paste bracelet from Caernarfon (£4). BTW, in the interest of balance and honesty, I usually don’t find one single thing when I’m out on a treasure hunt!
10. It’s what you’ve been hoping for all blog post – where to shop (ie, outside London, as that’s a blog post for someone who actually knows London well and who isn’t an odd day tripper like me). I’m not going to give away all my favourite places, but here’s a random 5 to get you started. In no particular order:
Glasgow: Byres Road area, which is near Glasgow University. A treasure trove of good quality vintage shops at proper prices (hint – don’t forget to investigate the cobbled side streets off it too – some of the best shops are found down there).
The cities of York and Chester – different counties but similar in enchanting olde world feel, and both a treasure trove of good quality second hand shops that don’t overcharge. If in Chester and you’ve got time, nip over to Wrexham too.
If you want proper couture and luxury designers such as Chanel, then head over to Alderley Edge in Cheshire (apparently the town with the highest concentration of millionaires or something). As seen with my very own eyes when I decided to have a quick nosy in while passing through on other business, the charity shops there are rightly the stuff of legend.
Ramsbottom in Lancashire has some great charity shops, and for the full vintage experience you can even catch an old vintage train there too. It’s also home to the incredible ‘Memories Antiques’ vintage emporium centre, which is bursting at the seams with stalls selling vintage clothes and vintage jewellery from floor to ceiling, all at very reasonable prices too. Even thinking about it brings a warm smile to my face and song to my heart.
And last but not least, take a day out along the lovely North Wales coast, from Prestatyn to Colwyn Bay and ending in Llandudno. All three are packed with charity shops and the odd old fashioned antique curiosity shop (the one in Prestatyn is legendary), and what the heck, ambling along these neighbouring seaside towns is just lovely way to spend a day.
Stuck for jewellery ideas regarding your Xmas and New Year party outfit? Don’t want to be caught out wearing the same accessories as everyone else? Let this mass of sparkling authentic vintage beauties give you some ideas ..
There are things in modern life that are certainties; death, taxes, and of course the autumn/ winter fashion designers rule which states that either army fatigues, the ‘Gothic look’ or head to toe tartan will be the next big thing (oh, and that some colour other than black will be the new ‘black’).
This year it’s tartans turn back on the runways (you can see some stunning Saint Laurent, Mulberry, Givenchy, Versace collections here). And if you happen to love tartan then why not finish your look with some rather gorgeous pieces of Scottish jewellery? Here are some beauties to wet the apatite…
This beautiful Scottish thistle brooch is made by another famous jewellery company called Heathergems. The stone isn’t a real ‘stone’ at all – learn more here!
If you are new to vintage jewellery, where do you start?
Treat yourself to a vintage brooch to begin with – they’re so pretty and can be worn in a variety of ways:
Brighten up old jackets and coats with a brooch which suits the occasion – daytime wear looks fab with kitsch 1940s vintage reverse carved Lucite brooches, while a sparkling 1960s vintage rhinestone brooch will get people talking for all the right reasons when pinned to your jacket.
Tartan and tweed makes another return this season, and what better way to cleverly kook up your outfit and pin together your cape/ scarf than with a fantastic Scottish agate brooch. For those on a tight budget look out for Miracle jewellery, who make superb Scottish style jewellery using glass instead of real agates. If you want the real thing then prices start at around £70 for a standard vintage Scottish agate brooch, with the finer antique brooches going selling in the £100s.
If you’re loving the Gothic trends at the moment then why not decorate yourself with genuine jewellery from the Victorian era – much of it looks as brilliant today as it did when it was first made. Modern plastic cameo jewellery compliments the look, though if you’ve not already done so then you should treat yourself to a real handmade one-of-a-kind cameo! Seriously, once you own your first proper cameo, and see what jaw-dropping beautiful works of art they really are, you’ll never go back to cheap high street one’s.
Remember, vintage brooches don’t always belong on the lapel or shoulder. Try pinning them onto purses and handbags for a touch of 1950s starlet glamour. A vintage brooch look stunning when holding your scarf, cardigan or cape in place, while all types of hat can be utterly transformed with a cute brooch You can also buy brooch ‘transformers’, handy little removable gadgets which clip onto your brooch pin and turn then into a pendant without damaging them. If you’re a dab hand at crafts, you can wrap wire around vintage rhinestone brooches and tie them to plain hair slides, turning them into fabulous hair clips and tiaras.