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Your Guide to Buying Vintage Jewellery
At NMJ, we believe that jewellery is an investment – something to love, wear and treasure forever. And while we are passionate about creating modern heirlooms for our clients, we also have a soft spot for vintage jewellery.
Immortalising nostalgia, vintage designs remain an integral source of inspiration for our founder Natalie Fitch, who believes that by breathing new life into time-worn pieces, we are also able to foster a more conscious, circular approach to purchasing. “I love the mystery and enigmatic nature of vintage pieces; the opportunity for speculation on their history and journey,” she says. However, for the uninitiated, the prospect of shopping pre-loved treasures can be daunting. What are some key features to look out for? How do you know you’ve found the one?
On the NMJ Journal, we ask our in-house expert – our founder, Natalie Fitch – for her guide to purchasing vintage, how to care for your finds and what sparked her love for jewellery with a past.
DO: BUY WHAT YOU LOVE
Natalie: Simply, a piece of vintage jewellery should be chosen because it resonates with you, and because you fall in love with it. Not only are they imbued with the histories and stories of their past owners, but vintage jewellery also provides an opportunity to embrace sustainable purchasing habits – offering once-cherished designs a second (or third) lease on life.
I have always had a love for vintage jewellery, or vintage anything really. I used to spend hours in op shops collecting all sorts of odd finds – furniture, clothes, hats, even once a vintage suitcase which I used to transport and display my first ever collection! I love the mystery and enigmatic nature of vintage pieces, the opportunity for speculation on their history and journey. I also have a deep reverence for the incredible craftsmanship many of these piece’s hold. So much tradition and heritage exists in every tiny detail, which is where my love for vintage jewellery originates from.
I encourage you to find your spark. Is it a particular stone colour or cut, the setting or design style or maybe even the piece’s provenance and era that speaks to you? Is it because it reminds you of a place, someone special or loved ones from generations past? I always like to remind clients that jewellery doesn’t have to be engraved or marked with a special stone to become solely yours – it can be anything about the piece that sparks a feeling or takes you back to a moment in time.
There’s a sense of romance and allure inherit in vintage pieces, and finding the perfect design should feel akin to falling in love: a lightning bolt of recognition; the sense that you two were destined to be connected.
"I have a vintage ring I bought in New York on my 30th birthday from a tiny vintage jewellery store in Brooklyn. The ring itself doesn’t represent anything about turning 30, but the memories and story attached to the process of discovering the ring is forever a part of the piece for me. It’s a reminder of the last trip my husband and I took before having children. The excitement and charm and swirl of the city and the milestone that was turning 30, all wrapped up in a ring."
DO: ASK QUESTIONS ABOUT WHAT YOU ARE BUYING
Natalie: Being a team of jewellers, we naturally have a strong eye for detail and high-level craftsmanship, meaning we are often drawn to the more detailed, intricate designs which stand apart from what we often see with more contemporary jewellery. If you are not familiar with the wonderful yet complex world of jewellery, there are a number of questions to ask and details to dive into to ensure you know not only the history of your piece, but feel confident in your purchase.
Vintage jewellery has a unique history that jewellers will do their very best to preserve, while respectfully restoring any material weakness that is natural and expected as a result of its age. Ask about the quality checking process the piece has gone through (if any) to ensure that it is appropriately durable for continued wear or for how you intend to wear the piece. Ask about the stones and settings, and any structural concerns you should be aware of. If you’re feeling confident, ask to check the stones under a loop for any wear or damage, and to ensure that they are securely within their settings. Often the top of claws will be an area which is vulnerable to degradation over time, so this is something to look for, as well as the underneath of the setting where there can be damage or signs of wear if the ring has been worn alongside other rings for any length of time.
Hallmarks and maker’s marks will also help you to establish the age and provenance of a piece and establish authenticity, therefore it is always worth asking for details. These are the elements that help bring together the story and history behind the jewellery. It can take some tricky deciphering at times to make out worn down marks on aged pieces, but it's always rewarding when you know exactly what the symbols are telling you.
Vintage jewellery has a unique history that jewellers will do their very best to preserve.
Essentially, when it comes to vintage, you should always be looking for a high-quality piece with good quality stones. When you have peace of mind around your antique and vintage jewellery, you can ensure that the piece is ready to embark on the next chapter of its life and can bring you joy for many years to come.
DO: THINK ABOUT HOW YOU PLAN TO WEAR YOUR PIECE AND WHAT YOUR LIFESTYLE IS LIKE
Natalie: Vintage pieces have sometimes lived multiple previous lives, which means that they are embedded with unique histories and need to be chosen carefully with the awareness that they require special care. It’s important to be aware of your lifestyle, and how this may impact your new vintage piece before you decide to take it home with you. Do you plan to wear it every day? What do you do for work? Vintage pieces are more delicate than a newly made piece, so this should be considered.
Another consideration when choosing vintage, is how you will layer and stack your piece if you intend to. For example, if you choose a vintage engagement ring, this may limit your choices when it comes to a wedding band, dependant on the design and structure of the engagement ring. Often antique designs are low set and unique in their shape, creating some challenges when trying to match back with a more standard wedding ring design. This creates a beautiful opportunity to design something bespoke to fit your engagement ring, but we always encourage customers to consider this at the outset.
DO: TAKE EXTRA CARE WITH YOUR VINTAGE
Natalie: With most pieces over 100 years old, vintage jewellery requires an extra level of care and should be treated with the respect that their age demands. Extra consideration should be taken for situations in which your piece could be damaged, either through impact or contact with chemicals, soaps and detergents, lotions and in some cases even warm water, which can cause degradation of the materials and potential structural damage. This can occur as the result of a single incident, or as a slow process over time with exposure to damaging substances or prolonged inappropriate wear, so it is of the upmost importance that extra steps are taken in caring for your piece to ensure the longevity of these special pieces.
DO: ASK FOR PAPERWORK
Natalie: The majority of antique pieces come without any physical paper trail, which is largely due to their age and the changing of hands over the years. Once you have found your dream piece, you may like to ask for a valuation certificate to ensure the piece has been independently checked and appraised by a specialised jewellery valuer. This provides you with a third-party opinion on the piece in terms of not only its value, but also its provenance and the grading of any stones included.
Insurance is also important for antique jewellery to ensure that any accidental damage or degradation of materials can be covered over the extended life of a piece. Ask for assistance at the time of purchase for best recommendations of a reputable and reliable jewellery insurance company.
We are honoured to share our love for vintage with you. From geometric necklaces to statement earrings and one-of-a-kind rings, our limited seven-piece Vintage Collection spans several eras and has been personally sourced by Natalie through European specialist.
Our team of master jewellers have done all of the groundwork for you – checking, crosschecking, authenticating and restoring the pieces – so by the time it comes to making your choice, you can do so with confidence, knowing that it’s in the best possible condition for its age and it comes with the NMJ stamp of approval.
Step Back in Time
Vintage holds a special place in the heart of our founder, Natalie Fitch, in the DNA of our own designs, and in our pursuit of a more sustainable, circular jewellery economy. Now, we’re honoured to share this love with you.