Do you have an old pile of costume jewelry sitting around? Was some of it inherited from you grandmother, mother, or favorite aunt over the years? While all that glitters certainly isn't gold, some of that glittery stuff may be worth far more than its raw materials (whether there's gold involved or not). Here are some tips on how to tell if that old "fake" jewelry is worth anything.
What Makes Jewelry A "Costume" Piece?
Glass jewelry made with plate metal started to become commonplace among the rich as far back as the 1700s. By the middle of the 1800s, the middle class began wearing jewelry made of glass and base metal to emulate the wealthy. True "costume" pieces, however, really didn't take off until around the 1930s, when people bought jewelry to go with specific outfits or dresses. One simply didn't just buy a dress: you bought the hat, shoes, gloves, and jewelry to go with it.
The 1930s were all about clear rhinestones, many of which came from Europe. Some rhinestones were set in gold vermeil (which is a thin coating of real gold over silver or another metal). You can often see the silver or base metal peeking through on the underside of well-worn pieces, which will give you a clue as to their age.
Generally speaking, the older the piece of jewelry, the more likely that it was meant as a costume piece. It may have a specific fashion or look that is now dated (and the reason that it's shoved in the back of your jewelry chest). For example, heavy "bib" style necklaces with lots of flashy rhinestones were popular during the 1940s and 1950s but fell out of fashion afterward. The 1980s saw large, Victorian-era style broaches come wildly into fashion, often with bright center stones as a focal of the piece.
How Do You Determine The Value Of A Piece?
First, get out your magnifying glass and go over the piece very carefully. A well-crafted piece of costume jewelry is more likely to have value than something that was quickly and sloppily put together. You shouldn't see any discolored stones or be able to see the glue holding stones into place.
Second, look for any symbols or identifying marks on the jewelry. A lot of expensive pieces of costume jewelry have marks showing who designed them. For example, the famous designer Coco Chanel stamped "CHANEL" on the clasps of many pieces of costume jewelry.
If your piece doesn't have any markings, however, don't despair. It wasn't uncommon for costume jewelry to be unmarked, especially back in the 1930s through the 1960s. Marks only make it easier for you to start to decipher the mystery of the piece that you're holding.
The easiest way to determine the value of a piece is to take it to a jewelry appraiser. Appraisers have many years of experience looking at both regular and costume pieces, and may be able to quickly identify the era, maker, and value of your piece.
Once you've determined the resale value of a piece, consider talking to the appraiser about finding a buyer (if you still want to sell it). There are people who specifically collect jewelry from certain designers and eras, and the appraiser may know one or two that will be interested. For more information, check out companies like The Jackels Collection of Beverly Hills.