Feature Friday - A Collector's Primer Courtesy of Wilson Brothers Jewelry

I've always been interested in jewelry, ever since I was a little girl playing in my Grandma's jewelry box with her depression-era rhinestone necklaces or her little Wedgewood pendants.  And when my Grandpa helped me build a "rock box" to display my little collection of stones.  It's those memories which I look back on with a certain fondness.  They were the catalyst that created such a fascination in me.

But to be a successful collector (hoarder?), what are some of the basics that you should know?

Well...one of the best people that I know to answer that question is one of the two brothers behind the premier estate and vintage jewelry company known as Wilson Brothers Jewelry - Robert Wilson!

So here is a little Feature Friday Q&A Collector's Primer courtesy of Robert Wilson!

(Oooh! And all the pieces featured here are available through Wilson Brothers!)

1. What are some of the major design periods which every collector should be familiar with and please give a brief description?
The first big thing to be aware of is vintage versus antique. Every collector needs to know that antique items are those that are 100 years old or more. Vintage dates are a little more subjective, but most collectors would call something vintage if it is around 25 or 30 years or older. 

There are a handful of major design periods, several which are more prominent. 

Victorian Period – 1835 - 1890
This period is named after Queen Victoria for her love of sentimental and beautiful pieces. Brooches and lockets were very popular for this period, and we see a lot of sapphires and opals as well. One of the fascinating items from the Victorian period is mourning jewelry, which often contained the hair of a deceased loved displayed on the piece or inside a locket. 

Victorian ring available through Wilson Brothers featuring .42ctw rubies & diamonds in 14k yellow gold - $449.99.

Edwardian – 1890 - 1915
The Edwardian period couples intricacy and diamonds to create some absolutely stunning pieces. The intricacy of many pieces from this period was made possible by platinum, and pieces that would have been too delicate to make before were now made with great detail. Diamonds often adorned lace-like patterns on brooches or earrings, and reflected the quality and class of those who wore them. 

Vintage Edwardian onyx & diamond cocktail ring in 14k white gold from Wilson Brothers - $239.99.

Art Deco – 1920’s - 30’s
Some people refer to this as the years between the World Wars. This type of jewelry became fashionable in the late 1910’s, and would carry on until World War II. Art Deco pieces are often platinum or white gold, and have a more geometric shape than the Edwardian period. Watches with square faces and diamond encrusted bracelets accompanied solitaire diamond rings with beautiful bridge work. Sapphires were also popular during this period, and many rings combine sapphire and diamonds to create a look of elegance and sophistication. 

An Art Deco VS1 2 .90ctw diamond & emerald engagement ring in platinum from Wilson Brothers - $3399.99.

These are some of the main periods, and some of our favorites, but a collector should also be aware of Georgian (1714-1830), Art Nouveau (1890-1910), and Retro (1940-1945) pieces. 

Available through Wilson Brothers, a Georgian suit clubs brooch with diamonds & onyx in 18k yellow gold - $799.99.

2. From a collector's standpoint, what design period do you feel is not given enough attention and why?
The Victorian period is one that is often overlooked. Art Deco pieces are currently popular and fit well within the styles of today, especially when it comes to rings. Victorian pieces are a little simpler and have lost their sentimental value. Lockets and brooches are not worn as often today, and the idea of carrying hair of a deceased loved one around in jewelry is a fad that I don’t think will catch anytime soon. Large brooches from this period are often too heavy to wear with today’s styles and most pieces from this period are a yellow gold and sometimes duller color than the popular platinum and white gold pieces of the Edwardian and Art Deco pieces. 

A decorative Victorian brooch in 10k yellow gold circa 1860-1870 - $149.99.

3. What eras or types of jewelry do you find the most collectible, personally? Professionally (i.e. for resale purposes)?
Personally, I favor the Art Deco period pieces. I like the geometric shapes and I would pick white gold or platinum over yellow gold. Art Deco rings tend to have beautiful bridge work and sometimes couple diamonds with sapphires, which are some of my favorite pieces. 

Professionally, the different eras make up different sections of our shop. Edwardian and Art Deco pieces tend to be more expensive, typically offering  more rings and modern pieces. Victorian pieces tend to have more options with varying price range. There are less expensive lockets, brooches, shirt studs, mourning pieces, etc, and there are also more expensive pieces containing more gold and intricacy. 

Edwardian pearl brooch in 14k yellow gold circa 1910-20 - $119.99.

4. From a collector's viewpoint, if their tastes run the gamut of eras, materials and designs; should they narrow their focus or continue to collect what "speaks" to them regardless of era, value or material?
Focus on what you like regardless of era or intrinsic value. If you like pieces from every era that we have talked about, then build your collection from all of them. However, if you are attracted to one era then don’t feel obligated to collect from other eras for the sake of diversity. The biggest thing is to know what you are getting and know something about the time period you are buying from (Google is extremely helpful here). Your collection should be personal and knowing the history behind the era (and sometimes you can find the history behind specific pieces) and connecting with that history is what makes your collection yours. 

5. What should beginning collectors look for in pieces?
Beginning collectors should start by finding styles that they like and eras that pique their interest. Then you just want to look at the authenticity of the piece and the quality of the work. Many vintage pieces can have slight damage, and sometimes this damage is simply some surface scratching that comes with the territory of vintage jewelry. Other times it can be a broken bridge design or broken lace design on an Edwardian earring that can deter you from purchasing. Know the styles you like and find sellers that you can trust.  

Victorian pearl floral dangle earrings in 14k yellow gold engraved swirl - $399.99.

6. Does price always equate to quality when collecting vintage or antique jewelry?  And how can collectors get the "biggest bang for their buck" while also not compromising on what they love?
Price does not always equate to quality. Price is often a reflection of the intrinsic value (gold content and purity and gemstone quality) and the rarity of the item. Find what you like and then determine your budget. Maybe you find a set of earrings you like that are platinum and have 1 carat of diamonds in them, but they are out of your budget. Try searching the same period for a white gold set of earrings, and you will often get a similar look for less. You can also move down in gold content and save money. Instead of buying an 18k white gold Art Deco ring that is out of your budget, search for a 10k white gold ring. This can help you save some money and still look great.  

7. Some collectors acquire pieces simply to have them and others believe that if you're going to purchase fine jewelry, you should wear it.  What do you believe?
I believe that you should do with your collection what makes you happiest. Personally, if I am going to own something, I would like to have it worn, but if you like to showcase your collection without wearing it, then by all means. Some people get greater joy from having jewelry in a display case and showing it to their friends and family (and maybe teaching them a little bit about what era it came from) than they do from wearing it. 

One of my favorites, because I love cufflinks on women! Edwardian engraved detailed cufflinks
in platinum & 14k white gold - $599.99.

8. When it comes to jewelry, is patina important or can you have the piece restored without hurting the value of it?
This is always a debate with each piece. Originally the pieces would have been brighter and had more of a shine to them, but when they are polished to restore that shine it can cause them to lose their appearance of age. Most pieces should be determined on a case-by-case basis. With brooches, lockets, medals and small pins I tend to like to leave them in their original condition if the patina is light. If the patina is distracting because of inconsistency, or if it is overly dark, it can help to lightly polish it with a rag. White gold and platinum pieces almost always look better with a full, professional refinishing. 

Air Force WWII Sweetheart Locket 10k yellow gold - $129.99.

9. What tips and hints do you have for collectors to get the best deals?
Educate yourself about jewelry and know what you are looking at. There is a lot of jewelry out there on the internet and you can get great deals from people who do not know the value of something. You can also put in some work into jewelry and learn how to clean it, turning a dirty diamond tennis bracelet into a sparkling piece (but be careful when cleaning vintage, the value of some pieces can be destroyed if cleaned). 

A 1.94ctw single cut VS1-VS2, G-H diamond wristwatch in platinum & 14k gold - $2,799.99.

10. What basic knowledge should a collector who's searching for their own pieces have in order to identify a piece's era, material, etc. in "the field?" What equipment (if any) should they keep on them when hunting?
Knowledge is the best thing. For example, if I saw a princess cut diamond in an Art Deco ring, I would know that it was set in that ring at a later date because the princess cut is a more modern style. Carrying around a loop when you are searching through jewelry is also a must. A loop is a piece that magnifies up to 10x and will help you see the smaller imperfections in pieces that the naked eye cannot see. 

11. What do you think is the most collectible and hardest to find piece?  Your 'white whale' so to speak.
We have a lot of varying types of jewelry and styles, but the most collectible and hardest things for us to find would be specific fraternity and sorority pins. Our business started out by buying organizational pieces like fraternity or sorority pins, then correctly identifying and reselling them. Some have been kept in a personal collection of one of the brothers, who has a passion for such items, others we have resold and continue to search for rare finds of some organizations. 

This beauty is for sale at Wilson Brothers Jewelry.  It's a vintage Tau Rho Mu fraternity pin with garnet eyes.

12. Any final words of wisdom that you want to share with either collectors or jewelry lovers?
Shop around. With e-commerce more jewelry from more time periods are readily available for browsing and purchasing. Don’t just buy the first thing you see. Do your homework and learn a little bit (you don’t have to be an expert, just have some basic knowledge), then take your time looking for what you want. 

An Art Deco 17.23ct, unheated GIA-certified sapphire, diamond & platinum pendant / brooch - $13,999.99.

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