Over the past few years, I have noticed that vintage jewelry has become extremely popular amongst buyers. It is not to say that it was not popular before, but I noticed this trend relatively recently. I was somewhat surprised to discover that vintage jewelry is so popular that the buyers are ready to pay more (sometimes even substantially more) for an article of vintage jewelry than for an alike article of contemporary jewelry on many occasions. That seemed somewhat illogical, taking into account the fact that contemporary jewelry is new and unworn, whereas vintage jewelry is used, with visible signs of wear oftentimes.
Why would anyone prefer a piece of used jewelry over a brand new, unworn jewelry? Is that purely a matter of sentiment, kind of the grass was greener and the sun was shining brighter back then thing? Or is it because people believe that the quality of jewelry was substantially better 30 or 40 years earlier? Maybe they are much more sophisticated and are aware that many of the most violent, and oftentimes undisclosed, gemstone treatment methods (like lead glass-filling, for instance) have been invented within the last few decades? It sounds rather reasonable that someone might prefer a piece of vintage jewelry in the hope of avoiding jewelry with a gemstone that can hardly be called a gemstone any longer.
The reasons for such choice can be multiple, ranging from pure sentiment to a well-weighed decision. They can be a combination of some of the aforementioned or others I have not even thought about. Whatever the reason may be, one should be clear: if a buyer has decided to buy a piece of vintage jewelry, he should get a piece of vintage jewelry.
So, I decided to conduct some research and see what do people buy and sell in the vintage jewelry segment, what the vintage jewelry prices are, and most importantly – is what is said to be vintage jewelry really vintage.
One of the first things to discover was that most of the auction websites do not have themed vintage jewelry auctions. However, the ones that have offered much more surprises than I ever expected. So, my miniature research resulted in an impressive collection of outstanding examples of lack of professionalism and deception. Let’s have a look at these examples on a case by case basis with short comments for each of them.
This is one of my favorites. I am not sure which part I like better – the fact that the auction’s so-called expert has placed this item in a totally wrong category: Antique and vintage silver jewelry, or that the seller claims this is an Art Nouveau pendant made in the Netherlands between the years 1890 and 1919. Everything has been messed up here: this is not an Art Nouveau pendant, and it has not been manufactured in the Netherlands.
Instead, this is a contemporary piece of jewelry made in Thailand after the year 2000, and it has been available online for an average price of $20 – 25 for years. So, the “lucky” buyer, who intended to by an Art Nouveau piece of jewelry, has paid EUR 207 + 9% auction fee for a contemporary piece of Thai-made jewelry worth $20. I have bought and sold tens of these pendants. They are indeed very nice, no question about it, but they are not Art Nouveau, have nothing to do with the Netherlands, and definitely are not worth 200+ euro.
This is another example of a contemporary piece of Thai-made jewelry being sold as vintage. This is an absolutely great, professional seller. I have bought from them myself. I’d say that this case simply illustrates that even the best of us make mistakes from time to time. I feel it is important to add that originally this bracelet would cost about a half of the price the buyer paid here (for a brand new, unworn bracelet as opposed to the pre-owned, worn item here).
Here we have a sterling silver ring that has been auctioned off for EUR 320 + 9% auction fee. It has been sold in the Antique & Vintage category. So, one can presume that the buyer intended to: a) buy either an antique or vintage piece of jewelry; b) buy a ring with a genuine ruby (the listing’s description actually claims that this is a “Stylish ring with 100% genuine ruby”). Sadly, the buyer gets none of these. First of all, this is a 100% lead glass-filled or so-called composite ruby and it costs next to nothing (read more about composite rubies and their true value here). Secondly, lead glass-filled rubies first appeared in the market in 2004. Apparently, it makes it impossible for this ring to be antique or even vintage.
As a result, the buyer has wasted almost EUR 350 on a composite ruby worth around $20 – 30 and a silver setting that can be bought for another $5 – 10. The expert’s estimate, which is still somewhat high for a ring with a composite ruby (at least its higher end), clearly indicates that she understood that this is not a “Stylish ring with 100% genuine ruby”. So, if she understood that this is a lead glass-filled ruby, why did she allow the seller to state in the title that it is a “natural ruby” and in the description “100% genuine ruby”? In addition, an expert should be aware that the presence of a composite ruby automatically means this piece of jewelry can be neither antique nor vintage.
Here is another sterling silver ring with a lead glass-filled ruby sold as a piece of vintage jewelry. For those who would like to find out more about how to identify composite rubies easily read this post.
This ring is interesting as it really has an antique or vintage appearance. The composite ruby, however, betrays it and makes it clear that it has been made after 2004.
A different category: Jewelry 1950 – 1970. A different expert. The same story.
These “emeralds” that actually are not emeralds, many of them with the GGL certificates, appeared in the market approximately ten years ago. Obviously, this item cannot be and is not vintage. The expert’s estimate clearly indicates that he was aware that this is not a real emerald, as real emeralds cost much more than this. Yet, he allowed the seller to claim that it is a “natural emerald”, and he placed this ring in the Vintage collectable jewelry auction. This ring is neither vintage nor collectable. The buyer intended to buy a piece of vintage jewelry with a real emerald but got none of these. You can read the whole story about these fake emeralds here.
Here we have again two contemporary pendants that have been sold as vintage jewelry in the Jewelry 1950 – 1970 category. Pay attention to the price the buyers paid for these items, and do not forget to add another 9% for the auction fee. These fake emeralds of this size can be bought for about $10 – 20 per piece. The expert’s estimates are way too high for these fake, non-vintage items. Yet, they are way too low for natural emerald jewelry. So, it is perfectly reasonable to assume that the expert is well aware of what is going on here.
As a result of the expert’s unprofessional and unethical behavior, the poor buyer of the silver pendant has paid EUR 1090 for a fake emerald worth $20 at most and a silver setting worth another $10. The buyer of the gold pendant is a bit luckier, as he got at least a few grams of gold for his 700 euro. Still, a miserable deal.
33.1 carats of antique emerald jewelry would cost tens, if not hundreds, of thousands of euro. Still, the expert sees no problem with the fact that the seller claims these are “natural emeralds”, when it should be obvious that they are fake. Just like he sees no problem in placing this contemporary set of fake emerald jewelry in the Antique jewelry auction. Another “lucky” buyer of “antique” jewelry.
Here again, the buyers have wasted over EUR 3000 on junk (except for a few grams of gold). As said before, these fake emeralds appeared in the market approximately ten years ago, which means this jewelry under no circumstances can be from the 1950s-1970s. Pay attention to the discrepancies in the expert’s estimates: in Figure 8 his estimate for the silver pendant with a 9.60-carat “emerald” is higher than for the gold pendant with a 27.53-carat “emerald” in Figure 10. This alone should serve as a huge, red warning sign!
Sapphires in this Sapphire serpentine bracelet can be called cobalt-lead glass-filled sapphires, lead and cobalt glass filled sapphires, cobalt-doped glass-filled sapphires, or cobalt-doped composite sapphires (as GIA calls them). Whichever name is used, the important fact is that these are composite sapphires that are extremely cheap and have serious durability problems (just like composite rubies). Another fact about these sapphires, that is worth mentioning, is that they appeared in the market in 2012 (eight years after lead glass-filled rubies). Inevitable conclusion: this bracelet is not vintage.
How can I be so sure these are cobalt-lead glass-filled sapphires? Well, it is pretty simple: composite sapphires have very much the same visual characteristics and gemological properties that composite rubies do. Have a look at the close-up images (Figure 12 below).
According to the Gemological Institute of America (GIA), “Gemological properties include readily evident color concentrations in surface reaching fissures and cavities, innumerable spherical to flat contraction bubbles”. As fissures have been filled with a rich blue substance, there is a blue color concentration where cobalt-lead glass has been infilled. This is where the characteristic darker color lines and uneven color distribution come from. Said characteristics are especially well visible in the upper-left corner image. These gemological properties are so striking that there is no doubt these are cobalt-doped composite sapphires. Consequently, there is no doubt that this bracelet has been manufactured after 2012.
The seller, however, shamelessly claims that these sapphires not only are natural but even untreated (meaning they are unheated, which would make them very valuable). The expert, obviously, has no problem with this apparently false claim. Just like he feels perfectly comfortable to state that this bracelet is a piece of vintage, collectable jewelry. This bracelet is neither vintage nor collectable.
As a matter of fact, I have seen such bracelets before. They have been readily available online for years, manufactured in Thailand, and their average price used to be $50 – 80. Here, as you can see, the buyer paid EUR 726 (the winning bid of EUR 666 + 9% auction fee) and received a piece of jewelry that is not vintage, not collectable, and is worth a fraction of the price paid.
A different category: Jewelry 1950 – 1970. A different expert. Yet, the same story. The expert’s estimate clearly indicates that she is aware this is a composite sapphire. Nevertheless, she allows the seller to falsely claim that “this is totally genuine” and vintage. Note all the seller’s bragging about “sapphires association with royalty”, Mrs. Simpson and Edward VIII, Van Cleef and Arpels, Prince Charles and Princess Diana, Prince William and Kate Middleton. So ugly when such a myriad of high-profile names is used by a person selling composite sapphire jewelry as the real thing.
Here is another piece of contemporary Thai-made jewelry with cobalt-doped composite sapphires. Even if someone misses the apparent visual characteristics of a composite sapphire here, the shiny appearance of a brand new, unused jewelry cannot go unnoticed. The average price for this ring is $25 – 35, and it is readily available online.
Yet another contemporary Thai-made ring that is readily available for an average price of $25-35.
So, learn from the mistakes of others and Buy smart or don’t buy at all!