Trinket or treasure: how to tell if old jewellery has value

November 26, 2014

Everyone loves the ideas of sitting on a goldmine. But is that fancy ring you inherited a cheap trinket or pricey treasure? Here's how to tell if your old jewellery has value.

Trinket or treasure: how to tell if old jewellery has value

Possible treasure? Or clever deception?

If you don’t know what to do with the old jewellery that’s been collecting dust for years in the bottom of a box, a quick visit to an antique jewellery appraiser will help you get your facts straight.

  • This kind of jeweller has the technical expertise and historical knowledge to know if your beautiful broach has any antique or market value, or if it is a recent reproduction.

Could you tell the difference?

For most of us, telling the difference between antique jewellery and plain old reproductions isn’t an easy task. The fact is a piece of jewellery must be 100 years old or more in order to be elevated to the status of antique. That doesn’t mean a beautiful post-war piece of good-quality jewellery has no value. In that case, it will be referred to as retro jewellery, or vintage jewellery.

  • In all cases, the appraiser can refer you to restoration experts, if needed, or to buyers, if you'd prefer to sell.

Worth its weight in gold

Whether the antique jewellery appraiser is a jeweller or gemologist, he or she uses well established criteria to identify the jewellery’s period and its current market value. The jeweller will look at the following things:`

  • The type of metal that was used, including platinum, gold, silver or some kind of alloy.
  • The quality of the stones, such as diamonds, sapphires, pearls or other gemstones.
  • The condition of the piece – generally the closer it is to the original state, the greater its value.
  • Indications of authenticity, like the maker's hallmark.
  • The style, which indicates when a piece of jewellery was crafted, e.g., the Victorian period, Art Nouveau period or Art Deco period.

Preserving a piece of history

A piece of antique jewellery is steeped in history and life experience. It may also be a family heirloom to which you are much attached.

  • If time has left its mark on the item, a restoration expert will be able to fix a chipped diamond, repair gold with a laser or retouch chipped enamel.
  • Sometimes a thorough cleaning to preserve the jewellery’s patina — the weathered look that metal takes on with time — is all that’s required. However, be very careful: cleaning that removes the patina can actually destroy the value if done improperly!
  • If you suspect a piece of antique jewellery has significant value, it's best to leave the condition "as is" and allow any cleaning to a professional.

Safeguarding jewellery

A jewellery box that is lined with soft fabric, a silk pouch, or the original box the jewellery came in will protect your antique jewellery from dust and scratches.

  • For added protection, wrap the pieces separately.
  • Keep your jewellery in a dry, dark place where the temperature is stable.

For antique jewellery enthusiasts

In this era of excessive consumption, rediscovering the value of old items is part of an environmental trend. So keep your eyes open next time you visit a second-hand shop. That piece of jewellery you’re holding may have been witness to a great historical event. Who knows, it may even be worth a lot more than you think!

The material on this website is provided for entertainment, informational and educational purposes only and should never act as a substitute to the advice of an applicable professional. Use of this website is subject to our terms of use and privacy policy.
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