By Danielle Olivia Tefft
I don't know about you, but I have found time truly does seem to fly faster with each passing year. A few weeks ago we held the annual fund raising rummage sale I help with at the local senior center. It's a joy for me to work for two reasons. First, the lady in charge reminds me of my dear grandmother. Second, I get first dibs on the huge assortment of donated costume jewelry she offers for sale each year.
It's not hard for me to zero in on quality pieces of vintage costume jewelry amongst the hundreds of pieces on over 30 large trays we offer at the sale. But I see many people with puzzled looks on their faces come to the jewelry table. I think that much jewelry laid out in large glittering piles is overwhelming to most. But if you know a few things to look for, it can help. For starters, you should always carry a 10X jeweler's loupe or magnifying glass with you so that you can see any marks or signatures on the backs of pieces. Armed with your jeweler's loupe, you should now look for the following:
1. Prong Set Stones
Prong set stones indicate a quality vintage piece of costume jewelry. Prongs are small metal tabs that hold the stones securely in place. If you're looking for a vintage piece to wear, it's wise to look for pieces with prong set stones. Don't get me wrong. Many older costume pieces have glued in rhinestones and glued in faux cabochon stones. When costume jewelry first took off in the 1920s and 1930s, it was meant to be worn with an outfit for a time and then discarded. So, many costume pieces from these eras were made as inexpensively as possible. This philosophy called for cheap base metals and glued in stones. That doesn't mean these pieces have no value today. But some of these pieces are almost 90 years old. The glue that held the stones in place for decades is surely in a brittle state. These pieces shouldn't be worn regularly because the stones could fall out at any time.
2. Knots Between Individual Beads
A sign of quality vintage costume beads and necklaces strung on silk cord or other stringing material is a knot between each bead. That way, if the cord breaks, you won't lose all of your beads. This is especially important if you are looking for a vintage strand of costume beads to wear frequently. Especially if you don't have the patience to restring the beads on modern stringing material. Or if you don't want to pay to have someone else restring them for you. Why? Just like the glue holding rhinestones in place in older costume jewelry, the stringing material becomes brittle over time. I love vintage glass art beads from Czechoslovakia and Italy. But I have restrung all the strands I wear (with knots between each bead) for fear of losing them on the old silk cord.
3. Gold Filled Pieces
Gold filled pieces are quality pieces of costume jewelry made of base metal (typically brass) that have a mechanically bonded sheet of gold on the surface. Gold filled pieces are typically marked on back, " 1/20 12K GF." The "GF" stands for gold filled. Sometimes they have 14K instead of 12K. Gold filled pieces are higher quality than gold plated pieces because by law, they must contain a minimum of 5% gold. That's what the "1/20" stands for. Gold plate, on the other hand, can be applied so thinly, that the percentage of gold can be almost negligible. Gold filled pieces also maintain their appearance longer than gold plated pieces in which the thin plate is very susceptible to wear.
There you have it! Three tips to selecting higher quality costume jewelry at rummage sales and flea markets. Yes, there are other things to look for, but if you look for these three, you will be way ahead of the game. Happy Hunting!
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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 ghostwriting 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 significant other. Would you like to hire her to write for you? 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!