First when browsing through a large selection - I pick up the piece that catches my eye most. It may be something I recognize, such as a known Exquisite or Miracle brooch or just jewellery that has caught my eye. I especially like bold glittering pieces or vintage plastic kitsch. Cameos, fantasy and animal designed jewellery; as well as filigree and the bright enameled pot metal jewellery from the thirties.
I study the front of the brooch or necklace, at this stage I am looking for any damage. Are all the stones present, is the clasp still there and can I see any parts missing?
Now my eyes are not what they used to be and although I use a jeweler's loop using a pocket magnifier is just as good for this stage. Have a good look at all the stones, sometimes small missing stones are difficult to see. Then look at the stones together - are they all matching and have any been replaced. Look around the jewellery are any parts missing such as an empty loop at the bottom of a brooch or missing links that have been repaired but visible on closer inspection. If a piece of vintage jewellery is enameled are there any chips, if so how much damage is there to the piece. Does the surface have any scratches and has the plating worn to show the base metal beneath?
Mock pearl vintage necklaces are plentiful but extra care needs to be applied. Handling the beads will soon tell you how much cleaning need to be made before they can be worn or used for making jewellery. The only way I can describe faux pearl beads that need an awful lot of cleaning is sticky! The colour is also dull or sometimes a brown shade rather than the luster cream colour that they once were!
If the jewellery has mock pearl bead decoration - assess how much if any have the beads peeled. Once peeling starts, the beads can be difficult to clean or wear without additional peeling occurring. Peeling at the clasp is not as noticeable as if the beads on full view have peeled
For necklaces and bracelets check the clasp are in good working order and are the stones or beads all there if the clasp is decorated . Apply gentle pressure (so as not to break the jewellery) to make sure it does not spring open, which will happen when worn if the clasp is faulty.
It is very important to view the back of the piece of jewellery. In the first instant you are looking for damage.
In a brooch - is the clasp present! Its surprising how many brooches I have seen that can not be worn!
Check the clasp locks correctly by opening and shutting the pin several times. Is there any other damage - such as a missing loop (some brooches can be converted to a necklace and sometimes the loop for this has broken off) If the stones have an open back - is the coating over the stone intact or scratched as this will effect the view from the front. Again how much wear is there to the plating and if there is can it be seen from the front?
One of the main reasons for checking the back of a piece of vintage jewellery is to see if it is marked. Obviously for gold and silver jewellery the hallmark should be present and readable. Do not take a dealers word that the jewellery is gold or silver. By law any reputable dealer will have had the piece hallmarked for resale or will not sell as gold or silver but gold coloured metal, etc and at a lower price. Take a look at reputable jewellery auction for many examples, at their descriptions for jewellery that probably is gold or silver but by law can not be sold as such here in the UK. For more information have a look at the Birmingham Assay Office's website
As a dealer of vintage and second hand costume jewellery I am more interested in the makers mark. The use of a jeweler's loop or magnifying glass is very handy here.
The best website on the web for a huge range of international marks and their identification is Illusion Jewels
For identifying Juliana or D & E (DeLizza and Elster) jewellery visit Cranberry Manor's blog
Also now available are many books on Sarah Coventry/ Eammons and Avon vintage jewellery.
From the time I have picked up the piece of jewellery to completing an examination for condition and manufacturer, I will have already gauged the age of it. Already I have a previous blog on aurora borealis for dating and on our website Jewels and Finery many of the descriptions explain why the age is such.
Certain maker's and designer marks will also give an age estimate due to when they were in business, as well as information on when that jewellery was made from the different marks used in set years; and you may be lucky to find the actual year of production in books, catalogues and adverts.
This blog will over the next few months be looking at dating in more detail, so bookmark please.