Antique Jewelry - Tom Tivol, Guest Blogger

Choosing the Centerpiece of Your Own Collection

This work of art is a museum-quality
cameo surrounded by ornate gold work. It
would be a cherished addition to any collection.
Purchasing antique jewelry requires more in the way of sharp consumerism than it does the purchase of modern pieces.  The choice of jeweler is substantially more difficult, as most sellers of old jewelry may be honorable merchants but have no authentic knowledge themselves of how to identify vintage, estate and antique pieces or to distinguish them from their modern look-alikes and reproductions.  It is also important to think about the relationship of the age of a piece to its value.  For example, why is it important to identify the piece as an antique, meaning 100+ years old?  Does it give the piece greater value?  Is a similar piece that is 85 years old of lesser value and if so how much?  Or, is the age of the piece not really so important;  rather like most works of art, is its value based on design, its execution, its gemstones and the overall analysis of workmanship and quality that gives the piece its beauty?
Your jeweler's answers to these questions may provide a helpful guide. However, as the buyer, it is what is important to you.....what you believe, that should create your excitement and drive the purchase.  I mention what must be obvious to most readers. But, because in my 40 years of buying, selling and appraising old jewelry, I find that many of my appraisal clients have little knowledge of the pieces they have purchased, and often, some of their information is inaccurate.  The seller then transcribes this information to the home owner's insurance appraisal, which then may create further problems down the road.

There rings demonstrate the delicate filigree work, craftsmanship and style of decades past.
Diamond, of course, became the most important gemstone of the 20th and 21st  centuries. As the diamond mines in South Africa, in other African nations, Russia, Australia and, now, in Canada continue to produce tens of thousands of carats of rough diamond crystal each year, to be consumed by the world market. Diamond was the primary gemstone demanded by consumers in Edwardian, Art Deco and Retro jewelry of the 20th century, and certainly became and held its position as the primary engagement ring gemstone in 2010. I will assume then that most readers of this brief article like, or love, diamond and given all other factors being equal, would choose diamond as the center stone of a collection of older pieces. If that is true, allow me to suggest the kinds of diamonds and pieces that might form the centerpiece of a collection of fine, older jewelry.

This diamond brooch with sapphire accents is a superb example from the Edwardian and Art Deco  periods when diamonds were the gemstone of choice for the fashionable.

The shape and facet pattern of both round and fancy shape diamonds before World War II was different than what is seen in newer cuts.  Many women love the way light explodes from a round shape diamond from the 1920's, a stone called a European cut.  This diamond has a high crown (the top section), a small table (the octagonal facet in the center of the crown) and a pavilion (bottom section) that is so steep as to leave a large flat facet at the bottom of the stone, called the culet. The culet is so large that it looks like there is a hole in the diamond seen through the top of the stone. When European cut diamonds are properly faceted (and there are different degrees of quality of faceting and shaping these stones), the light which explodes from the top of the stone is bright and appears as larger "pieces of light," compared to the pattern of scintillation produced by 21st century round diamonds. This light has a beauty of its own and is often preferred by customers seeking the most beautiful diamonds in older jewelry.

Cabachon-cut Burma rubies add a pop
of color and vivacity to this floral brooch
The European cut shape of the round brilliant followed its 19th and late 18th centuries version called the 'old mine cut' or 'old miner' for short. Old Miners are not round; most are cushion shape or severely out-of-round, and they exhibit various patterns of facets. Many customers of Victorian and Georgian English jewelry love old miners, because the represent a stage in the development of cutting a round diamond from crystals of different shapes. They too show a lot of sparkle though not in the same uniform fashion as the European cut. Before the 1860's, when the South African mines began their development, most diamond crystal came from India with a small amount from Brazil. Almost all old miners are therefore Indian crystals, as are many of the great diamonds of the world found and cut before the middle of the 19th century.

A beautiful right hand ring with classic style.
A wonderful piece of old jewelry is a platinum or white gold ring with a center old miner or European cut of 2 carats and up, surrounded by baguette diamonds set in a square.  Another center piece for women of all ages is a gorgeous pin or brooch, designed and executed with different shapes of diamonds including, round, marquise, pear and baguettes - all set in white gold or platinum.  Still another classic estate piece would be a European cut diamond set in a bezel or prongs and flanked with delicate wire-work which contains tiny diamonds, and these connected to the old chain which continues around the neck.  Finally, for the ear, a pair of delicate white gold or platinum and diamond dangles executed with authentic filigree wire design and designed just dressy enough such that they could be worn as a bridge earring, from daytime events to black tie.
These diamond and emerald beauties serve
double duty. The danlges detach for a completely
different look.

These types of pieces create the core of a fine jewelry collection. They are worn most often; are not trendy or high fashion and represent permanent, beautiful pieces of jewelry art in metal and stone, lasting a lifetime and beyond.

Tom Tivol is a graduate gemologist and attorney. For 28 years, Tom was employed by, and then President of, the Tivol Jewelry family retail business in Kansas City.  In 2004, Tom formed his own business, Tom Tivol Jewels, where he buys, sells, designs, appraises and repairs modern, estate and antique jewelry and gemstones.  He teaches his course in the gemological method of gemstone identification, valuation and appraisal ethics in the School of Art and Design at the University of Kansas in Lawrence.  He is an avid lecturer and is frequently asked to speak to private groups on a myriad of subjects ranging from the identification of antique jewelry to the pricing of modern diamonds and the proper way of having jewelry appraised for a variety of purposes. Tom may be reached through his website:, by email: or by phone: 913-381-4367. 


  1. I love diamonds and I enjoyed a lot your great article. Thank you for posting it.

  2. I love that necklace that has embossed Greek warrior with her wife and child. a very antique jewelry phoenix like. I also love the rings and the others. you have a very great taste to jewelries.


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