Tips for Buying Vintage Silver Jewelry
This post will share expert tips for buying high-quality vintage silver jewelry that you can enjoy for a lifetime.
As luck would have it, I’m allergic to nickel which is the metal that most inexpensive jewelry is made from. That means that my whole life, I’ve ‘had’ to wear jewelry that is real silver or gold (of course, I could have gone without adornment, but what fun is that?). As luck would also have it, my husband has been and continues to be a pretty darn good shopper when it comes to gift giving and has given me a wide range of baubles, both new and vintage, over the years. If I have to while away some time scrolling the internet while waiting at the DMV, it won’t be on Facebook; it will be pouring over the gorgeous Instagram boutique accounts featuring vintage silver jewelry, rad vintage cowboy boots, and other treasures from yesteryear that are both beautiful and functional.
I decided to interview my favorite boutique owners, since they buy silver all day, every day, what a girl should look for when scoring their own silver heirlooms. Both Goodbuy Girls and Three Wolves Trading have delivered high quality, as-described vintage goods, had great customer service, fast shipping, and have a wide range of items I think you Wildflowers would love.
Here’s what the experts say to look for when buying your own vintage silver:
If possible, talk to the seller. Ask about the origin of the item and how they came to own it in the first place. Ask about the age of the piece and if it has been repaired or cleaned.
Check for a stamp that says “sterling” or “.925” or a maker’s stamp. These stamps can be very valuable in dating and assigning a value to an item. It is important to remember that for Native American pieces, many weren’t signed until the ’60s or 70’s so if it is lacking a signature, that probably just means it is older, which would likely increase its value. Furthermore, if an item is “coin silver” or lower grade sterling, that is still a high-quality metal that will stand the test of time. Don’t shy away from a piece just because it doesn’t have a stamp. Stamps are helpful, but not definitive. You can use white cloth, like a piece of white flannel, for example, to rub the piece. If a black smudge appears, the item at hand is real silver because silver oxidizes, or turns black (like your apple slice that turns brown) when exposed to oxygen.
The Navaho and Zuni tribes are known for a jewelry style called “needlepoint and cluster work” (no embroidery hoops here). Navaho designs tend to have bigger stones and heavier than Zuni pieces which tend to be the most intricate. Very fine Native American silver jewelry was made between the late 1800 and the late 1970s. This site has a ton more information on tribe specific hallmarks and styles.
Look for signs of wear and tear. Vintage silver should look worn, not super shiny. If it is really shiny, ask the seller if it has been cleaned. If it hasn’t, it may be newer.
Terms to look out for and avoid at all costs include “resin turquoise” (a faux, made in China plastic stone), and “nickel silver” which indicates it has zero real silver. If the item is very lightweight, especially a large item like a cuff, or if it is very shiny, it is most likely a knockoff. More information can be found here.
Compare prices. Check the price of the item against similar pieces of the same size and style. If it seems too good to be true, then it probably is, and if it is way more expensive than comparable pieces, you might be being swindled.
Ask for the weight. The more silver in a piece, the heavier it will be. A lighter piece doesn’t necessarily mean it is lower quality, it just might be a lighter style, and the silver therein can still be of high quality. If you can hold the item in your hand, do, and notice how it feels and compare it to other items.
Check for cracks, loose stones, or warping. Cracks need to be repaired in order for the item to be worn safely. If the stones are loose, check to see if the bezel is covering (holding) the stone completely. Sometimes, especially with Native American pieces, the backing behind the stone can expand or contract, depending on the conditions the item was stored in, so just be sure the stone will stay put. It may need to have work done in order for it to be wearable.
And finally, to directly quote sweet Shea of Three Wolves,
“Go big or go home! Have fun! Vintage silver jewelry is some of the most beautiful artwork there is out there. Find a piece or several that speak to you. And lastly, by God, WEAR THEM! Jewelry was made to be worn and shown off. You spent the money, so you might as well get your money’s worth! There’s nothing more depressing than a gorgeous vintage squash blossom sitting in a box somewhere in someone’s attic or the back of their closet! Rock your vintage pieces everyday!”
Now that’s some advice I can get behind!
Follow these Instagram boutiques: Three Wolves Trading and Goodbuy Girls and buy with confidence. That’s where all my allowance money goes and when my daughter asks if she can wear my pieces someday, I can say honestly, yes <3
Kenneth Gladman says
I like your advice on checking for a stamp. This can help you find authentic and valuable pieces but aren’t fool proof. I would also look for clasps, this can help you date some of the jewelry and get a better idea of the age.
Interesting article thanks for your information its really helpful
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Jenny Gomes says
I am so lucky to have many many handmade necklaces, rings and pins from my parents. Many of the stones were hand polished as well. They started making jewelry in the 1940s and stopped in the 1980s. I have all of the pieces they made since they were for their and my personal use. In the later years they used a sterling stamp as well as a stamp for their names, depending on who made the piece. I wish I had more places to wear all of the beautiful items. – Margy