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Collectible Vintage Jewelry

Vintage Jewelry: What to Buy and Where to Find It


For the fashion-savvy folks, flea markets aren't just for furnishing a home. Flea markets -- along with thrift stores, estate sales, and auctions -- are good sources for the fabulous antique and vintage jewelry you'll never find at any mall. If you're looking to start a vintage jewelry collection, these pieces are both wearable and collectible:

Cuff and Bangle Bracelets

If you've paid any attention to fashion in recent months, you've probably heard the term "arm party." It refers to the trend of stacking bracelets on one or both arms; the stacks are sometimes two to three inches high. The look is stylish, but it's not really new. The late style icon Loulou de la Falaise was well known for her fabulous bracelet collection, and she frequently sported more than one at a time.

You can use both cuff and bangle bracelets to get the stacked look, and vintage pieces are ideal. Your options include metal (silver, brass, gold, etc.), beaded, jet, Bakelite, and Lucite bracelets - just to name a few. Opt for plain, etched, or rhinestone encrusted versions. You can wear bracelets all of a similar material, period, or width. You can even wear all of them together. The key is creating the stack. The way you do it is up to you.

Modernist Brooches

For jewelry that doubles as art, start a collection of mid-century modernist brooches. The pieces are typically abstract art as it translates into jewelry. Some are made just of metal, others combine metals with stones. Many depict movement, such as the brooches by American sculptor Alexander Calder. Though you probably won't find many important signed pieces, such as those by Calder, Hermann Jünger, Ed Wiener, or Anton Frühauf, for pennies unless the seller doesn't know what he has, it does happen from time to time at yard sales and thrift stores. Even you don't score the museum quality pieces, you can find less valuable examples of the art at flea markets, antique malls, consignment shops, and vintage clothing stores.

Mourning Jewelry

If you're unfamiliar with the term, mourning jewelry refers to jewelry worn by the bereaved after someone died. Some of the pieces contained or were even made from the hair of the departed. The hair might be tucked into a hidden locket compartment or woven into the structure of the piece. Other mourning jewelry was simply made from jet and other black materials. The loved ones of the deceased were expected to wear black, even down to their jewelry.

Mourning jewelry was particular popular during the Victorian era, and the pieces are popular today as collectibles. The different types of mourning jewelry included pendants, bracelets, brooches, and rings.

Southwestern Turquoise Jewelry

Handcrafted turquoise and silver jewelry, particularly that made by artisans in the American southwest, never really goes out of style. Those who love it just do, no matter what the current trends. Look for handmade pieces made of sterling silver and real turquoise; avoid the cheap imitation stuff. Though you may occasionally at a yard or estate sale, your best chance of finding fine examples secondhand will be at flea markets, antique malls, and auctions. At flea markets and antique malls, booth owners who sell antique and vintage jewelry may have turquoise in addition to lots of other pieces. Occasionally, you'll find a dealer who specializes. If you attend a flea market or artisan market while on a visit to the southwest, you may even get a chance to purchase from the artist himself.

For more about vintage clothing and accessories:

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