Why Vintage Jewels Are In Vogue

There's never been a better time to retrieve that jewellery box from the attic and get it valued - the price of vintage pieces is going through the roof


Love and Object's campaign features model Zippora Seven wearing a selection of e-store's vintage jewels. Picture / Mara Sommer

Dust off your old jewellery boxes and open up the family vault - you might just be sitting on a fortune. That’s the message from London auctioneer Bonhams, as it announced new figures showing the soaring value of vintage jewels.

Bonhams says the value of antique and period jewellery has increased by over 80 per cent in the past decade. Estimates have been abandoned as items have been fetching double, sometimes triple, their predictions amid fierce bidding wars. And it’s prompted the auctioneer to urge the public to seek valuations for any forgotten gems stashed away.

Locally, auction house Webb’s has seen increasing popularity and success in vintage fine jewellery sales. Webbs’ last jewellery auction in 2015 saw sales of more than AU$1.2 million, a record result for the auction house. Its next jewels and watches auction is scheduled for March 1.

Auckland-based Constance Cummings' popular online store Love and Object offers a strong edit of vintage jewellery sourced from around the world, including a couture collection of rare jewellery from top brands including Chanel and Balenciaga.

“An Art Deco Cartier emerald and diamond bracelet we sold in December was estimated at pounds 80,000-pounds 100,000 and it made pounds 210,000,” says Jean Ghika, head of jewellery at Bonhams UK and Europe. “It’s the quality of craftsmanship that is resonating with buyers. The types of stones that were used back then, compared to a modern piece, are special.”

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Vogue’s jewellery editor Carol Woolton isn’t surprised by the market’s strength. “There are so few investments that are reliable right now - stocks are in a state of insecurity, but gold and diamonds will never be a risky purchase for a rich person trying to maintain their wealth,” she says. “There are limited resources in the world, mines will run out and there is a finite number of precious stones - that’s what gives it a rarity value.”

Even if you haven’t got a spare Cartier brooch to auction off, it’s worth noting that the trend extends beyond designer names, and applies to specific stones, metals and eras, too. If the catwalks are revisiting silhouettes from a particular decade, the interest will echo through the jewellery world.

“Signed items from the Art Deco period and antiques over 100 years old will always be in demand,” says Ghika. “But we’re now seeing post-war period, 1950s jewellery, as well as pieces from the 1960s and 1970s really performing well, too.”

The thing that often prevents people from having their jewellery valued is the assumption that family heirlooms which have been set aside because they’re no longer fashionable won’t be worth anything.

“People often look at their items without understanding their importance in the context of history,” says Ghika. “We recently discovered a wonderful and rare Chanel Twist necklace, which a client had brought to a valuation day, but had thought it was just a piece of costume jewellery. But Chanel did make real jewellery as well as pieces in non-precious materials.”

The 1950s necklace had a discreet engraving on the inside, indicating that it was actually designed by Coco herself, and it subsequently smashed its estimate of pounds 6,000, fetching pounds 68,500 on auction day.

So how can you tell if something is valuable when digging through an old stash? Start with the logos and hallmarks, suggests Ghika, noting that the big names (Cartier, Tiffany, Bulgari, Boucheron and Van Cleef and Arpels) will always be winners, but also that key names from modern eras (like Andrew Grima of the 1960s, or John Donald of the 1970s) will have held their value, too. Next, you should assess the piece’s construction; do the stones have rough edges, are they generously packed in, or was the maker trying to scrimp by using more metal, less diamonds?

Even the battered and broken is not entirely beyond hope. “Professional repairs, if done well, can be discreet,” says Ghika. “We have had items come into us in two pieces before and, after it is mended, it hasn’t greatly impacted on the value.”

The best way to truly know what something might be worth is, of course, to get it valued by a professional. Because it is unlikely that you will be able to tell that the sapphires in granny’s heirloom ring were super-desirable specimens from the Kashmir region or the product of a rare mining community that was only operational for a 10 years at the end of the 19th century.

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What you can do for yourself, though, is take care of the stocks you’ve got. “If you think you might sell jewellery on, then you must keep the boxes,” urges Woolton. “The boxes and the paperwork for stones will really add to their value.”

The worst thing you can do is to let your old jewellery rattle around in a disorganised box. “Don’t over-clean old pieces,” Ghika warns. “Part of the history is the pattern that it has and if it’s stripped off then it lacks some of its soul.”

Other tips include not keeping hard and soft stones together to prevent erosion, wiping pearls with a cloth after every wear to remove oils or perfume, and splitting pairs of earrings into individual soft pouches so they don’t rub together.

If you’re keen to run with “gems over property” as your investment mantra, you may have to wait for the dividends. “Jewellery takes a long time to appreciate,” says Ghika, who suggests buying classics distinct to particular makers, like Cartier’s Panthere collection. Woolton, meanwhile, tips Dior’s fine jeweller Victoire de Castellane as one who will create the “masterpieces of our time”.

One thing all experts agree on however, is that primarily jewellery should be worn and enjoyed, with any increase in value seen as a bonus.

— The Daily Telegraph

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