When shopping for jewelry, I’m a firm believer in thinking outside of the little turquoise box. The Tiffany toggle bracelets, the Van Cleef clovers, the Chanel CC’s of the world – their “it” factor has turned beautiful designs into mainstream commodities. Opting for vintage can be the most satisfying approach to getting that one-of-a-kind piece of jewelry against your skin.
At this season’s Manhattan Vintage Show & Sale, the cases were brimming with spectacular costume, antique and estate collectables. With over 50 of the country’s top vintage dealers showing under one roof, those special somethings were in endless supply. Here is a guide to my favorite vintage finds from the show.
From the depths of the wild to the necks of our favorite fashion icons, figural jewelry has made a roaring comeback. Featuring lions, owls, turtles, snakes and lizards to name a few, these oversize pendants from the late 60’s and early 70’s are sure to bring out your wild side. Figural pins, bangles and rings are also great finds, and are still moderately priced as so many were made as costume pieces. According to top vintage jewelry dealer H. Deirdre Geary of De Jewels,
“Costume is a wonderful alternative because you can get the same look without the investment. After all, jewelry should be about enjoyment – not about being preoccupied.”
Add some much needed color to fall’s subdued palate by piling on rich Bakelite bangles. In sweet and savory shades of butterscotch, root beer, tomato and papaya, vintage Bakelite from the 30s, 40s and 50s create sure-fire statement pieces. Just be sure to avoid “fakelite” imitations, most recognizable by the chalky residue that lies in the ridges of its carvings, and by the absence of the unmistakable clanking sound when two pieces of genuine Bakelite are gently tapped together. There is even a smell test in which you generate heat from the piece (under hot water, or with friction) to see if the smell of formaldehyde is produced, an instant indication of authenticity.
For instant femininity, seek out vintage cameos featuring idealized portraits of beauty and grace throughout the ages. A tradition dating back to the fifteenth or sixteenth century, and popularized by Queen Victoria of England, the cameo is a romantic piece of history that any woman can own. If you’re not willing to shell out thousands on a museum quality ivory Baccante maiden cameo, there are myriad styles carved from more affordable materials such as Mother of Pearl and tortoiseshell.
While you may not be able to see a thin wisp of hair or the weave of a fine lace collar as on the most coveted pieces, make sure the material is in good condition, without major cracks or chips. It’s also a good idea to ask your dealer for some background information on the piece, including the designer or manufacturer, age or era of the piece, distinguishing characteristics or materials, and background on the former owner (also referred to as provenance), if known. The value of your piece may have the potential to appreciate, and all the while you can enjoy its luxurious wear.
Still resistant to vintage?
Unfortunately, one woman’s trash isn’t always another woman’s treasure. Embracing pieces from the past isn’t second-nature for everyone—it may take some working up to. In the meantime, it’s great to know that even today’s most directional jewelry designers are known for keeping a keen eye on the past. While the originals can never be reproduced in quite the same way, we can trust our favorite contemporary collections to offer reinterpreted trends from past eras that will best compliment our modern day needs and aesthetics. From SoHo’s bohemian street artisans to mid-sized retailers like Anthropologie, vintage-inspired jewels can be found just about everywhere, and finish second only to the real thing.