Vintage cool: Tips to purchase and care for your jewelry finds

A vintage bracelet from Marks Jewelers, 817 Mass. Owner Brad Parsons suggests having a jeweler confirm repairs are possible on a vintage piece before purchasing.

What’s old is new again, right? Especially in the current economic climate, folks looking for something new and shiny are turning to something used.

Vintage jewelry can be cheaper, more unique and sometimes more durable (Hey, it’s survived this long!) than present-day bling — if you know what you’re looking for.

Surrounded by baskets full of vintage rings, bracelets and other jewelry, Lawrence resident Tricia Rock tries on a necklace at her home.

This vintage bracelet is part of Tricia Rock’s collection of vintage jewelry. She found it at the Salvation Army Thrift Store for a few dollars.

We talked with jewelry makers, sellers and lovers to find out just what you should be looking for when considering a vintage piece.

• Know what you’re looking at. Rachael Sudlow, who teaches jewelry making for the Lawrence Arts Center and sells her own goods in town and on websites such as and, says it’s always good to learn what you can about the piece, whether it’s a low-cost ring or high-end necklace.

“Looking for a hallmark of a metal stamp can help you identify quality metals, and any high-quality piece of jewelry should be labeled — 14kt is the common stamp for 14-karat gold, just like 10kt and 18Kt correspond with their qualities. Point-925 is a common stamp for sterling silver, and .999 is the stamp for fine silver,” Sudlow says. “PLAT, PT950 and PT900 are all markings for platinum, a very expensive, high-quality metal.”

• Consider condition. Vintage jewelry lover Tricia Rock says the first thing she does when she’s drawn to a vintage piece is give it a really thorough once-over.

“Always be sure to check all clasps and closures to see they’re in working order,” she says. “And look over any gems or stones to see they are secured on the piece correctly. Treat the piece like you will be wearing it in the future. I like to actually wear jewelry around a store while I shop to get a good feel for it.”

Brad Parsons, owner of Marks Jewelers, 817 Mass., says to also note that while many vintage items can be repaired, it’s good to make sure it can be saved before purchasing. If it’s a clasp, that’s one thing, if it’s a damaged stone, that’s quite another. If it’s an expensive piece, find out if the current owner will let it be examined by a skilled jeweler or repairman.

• Old doesn’t mean unique. Costume and commercially churned out jewelry were just as common last century as it is now, says Ernie Cummings, owner of Kizer-Cummings Jewelers, 833 Mass. Do your research and find out if you’re looking at something run-of-the-mill or one-of-a-kind. It might not be apparent on face value alone.

“There’s a lot of vintage jewelry that was just commercial jewelry. In fact, probably most of it was,” Cummings says. “Some of the pieces were more limited — it’s kind of the same way as now, there are some more limited editions.”

• Health considerations. Nearly every jewelry wearer has probably had a ring or bracelet turn her skin Hulk green. Vintage jewelry that has been plated can wear until the original metal shows through, and, depending on the metal, this can cause a rash or skin discoloration. A nickel allergy commonly causes a rash in wearers. Also of note, watch for pewter pieces — pewter is actually about 20 percent lead and 80 percent tin, says Parsons. Also a possible lead culprit? Cast items (like charms) that aren’t specifically labeled lead-free.

If you’re worried about lead, you can get an instant lead testing kit from Home Depot and other hardware stores for about $25.

If it’s just green skin you’ve noticed, Rock suggests painting the portion in direct skin contact with clear nail polish. She says this prevents green fingers and wrists.

• Already the owner of vintage jewelry? If you are planning on selling some of your jewelry, do consider getting it appraised by an expert jeweler before sending it off to one of those cash-for-gold operations. You might get money for your bling faster going the commercial route, but you also might send something truly unique to scrap, Parsons says.

“It’s really sad to think that that industry has sucked up the amount of magnificent pieces of jewelry that have gone to the scrap pile, via (cash for gold),” he says, suggesting a true jeweler’s appraisal of your goods before resorting to scrapping them. “You really feel good when you find somebody that appreciates something and is willing to take over and give it another 30 years, 50 years.”