By Danielle Olivia Tefft, Jewelry Writer
Note: A version of this article was first published on the Ruby Lane Blog and the now defunct Yahoo! Contributor Network.
I love antique and vintage hand strung beaded necklaces. When I say old, I mean from the 1920’s or earlier. It is getting harder and harder to find these lovelies in good condition in antique stores and at auction. For several years, I passed up many of these beauties with imperfections and condition issues because I was such a purist/perfectionist.
I’ve passed up many old hand strung beaded beauties because someone restrung them on stiff nylon wire which didn’t exist back in the day. Or someone restrung the beads in the wrong order. That is, beads of the same color but different sizes were often strung in a hodgepodge rather than graduated order. It's a dead giveaway that a necklace has been restrung when someone mixes the bead sizes incorrectly upon restringing them. Many times the metal findings, especially clasps, are corroded on old necklaces. However, my biggest pet peeve is when it's obvious the clasp is not original and (gasp) it is an improper clasp for the time period of the necklace.
My attitude concerning old hand strung beads was forever changed practically overnight. I attended an old bead lover’s dream auction in July. By dream auction, I mean that practically every one of the 1000 or so lots consisted of a tray of old hand strung necklaces. I concentrated on the trays with the oldest beads, from the Victorian era to the 1940’s. The Czech beaded beauties of the 1920’s were especially appealing to me.
I wasn’t the only old bead lover there and competition was fierce (there are no friends at auction). It was hard to keep my ego in check, but I managed to stay within my budget and bring home a few trays of beaded wonders - or so I thought.
When I had time to sit and really go over the hand strung beads at home, I discovered that less than ten of the 40 necklaces I purchased at the auction were in good condition! I was heartbroken. And I felt cheated. Many had been restrung on improper wire or were incorrectly strung, so that graduated beads were out of order. Many had corroded clasps or (gasp) incorrect clasps for the period!
I sighed and began the task of picking out the necklaces I could put in my shop right away. One of these was the only Czech necklace I managed to win. It was strung on the original silk cord and had beautiful molded carnelian glass beads amongst ornate brass findings.
I carefully draped it over a velvet palette to take photos of it. Much to my horror, as I was getting the camera ready, the silk cord on my fragile Czech beauty broke and the beads dropped and bounced over every inch of my office floor. I almost burst into tears.
It was during the task of meticulously searching for and picking up every last bead of the broken treasure that I came to a stunning realization. If I wanted to remain in the business of searching out and selling antique and vintage beads (my passion), I had better learn how to properly repair them! After all, typically, these beads are 70, 80, even 90 years old and many are nearing the 100 year mark!
I also realized right there that it was much better that the necklace broke BEFORE I sold it, and not while one of my customers was wearing it! I just couldn’t bear the thought of the misery such an event would incur for both of us!
So now I have learned to properly restring these necklaces, preferably on silk cord, like many of the originals. I have learned to replace corroded clasps with proper types of clasps for the period, even if I have to resort to new clasps of the same design as the originals. It is a long, tedious process. But I take great solace in knowing that my restored beaded beauties will last another 70, 80, 90 or 100 years!
Source: Personal Experience
Do you have any old hand strung beads? Let me know in the comments section and please subscribe to this blog if you enjoy vintage and antique jewelry as much as I do!
Danielle Olivia Tefft is a professional writer with a lifelong passion for gems, jewelry and fashion. She is a GIA accredited jewelry professional and the owner of online antique and vintage jewelry shop, Treasure Box Antiques. Current projects include writing jewelry and fashion blogs for clients worldwide. When she is not writing, she spends time in the garden, spoiling her cats and traveling with her fiancé. Would you like to hire her? Visit her website danielleoliviatefftwrites.com for clips, terms and more information.
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The Found in the Jewelry Box Blog is my attempt to teach others about the wonderful world of gems and jewelry, past and present. Please enjoy!