I have been collecting Antique and Vintage Costume and Fine Jewelry for over three decades. Most of what I bought was from the Saturday and Sunday flea markets at the local drive-in theater and at a once a month massive open air antique market held in the mountains near where I grew up. I never paid much, a quarter here, a dime there and sometimes a few dollars however over the years until I really became a serious collector, I probably had no more than $500.00 in an amazing collection of over 2,500-3,000 pieces. 

Over the years I have collected many types of jewelry. At first it was bracelets, then rings and when I got out of college and pursued my career as an interior designer, I found pins and earrings to be practical and suitable. In the mid-60’s to early 70’s I bought a lot of colorful and heavy “plastic” pieces and most were bracelets. I just loved the dull clunk they made when they hit against my desk… well I am sure you know where this is going… you’re right most were Bakelite. One in particular is a wonderful art deco black, red, orange, yellow and green fins clamper bracelet and it is like having a carnival on your arm. It fits great and feels sturdy andit brings me joy. It wasn’t until I received Harrice Simons-Miller 2002 third edition Official Price Guide to Costume Jewelry, that I realized the bracelet is called “Philadelphia” and has a market value of up to $5,000 making it the Holy Grail of Bakelite jewelry.

I also became quite passionate for the charm bracelets made in the 1960’s by Napier. At one point I had over 30 of them and I rarely wore them I just loved holding them. I had the colored fruit, the Asian theme, and my favorites was the marine theme with seashells and seahorses. Over the years I paid between $1.00 – $5.00 each for them and in early 2000, I sold them individually on eBay for $125.00 and up to 245.00 each. What a great return, right. Well yes but a day does not go by that I regret selling them. They gave me more happiness than the monies they brought.

As I became more sophisticated in my jewelry search I began to love all things Miriam Haskell, Eisenberg, Pennino and Boucher. All of these names seemed to come with a higher price but still affordable and all quite luxurious. Then there came Staret, McClelland-Barclay, Schreiner, Dujay, DeMario, Reja, Deja and Alfred Philippe and Alfred Spaney’s extra special pieces made for Crown Trifari. Needless to say I was smitten and would never turn back. After a while and as I was getting older, I started to understand the beauty of 19C Victorian and Art Nouveau and in particular the mourning pieces made during and after the Civil War. The Art Deco period pieces also caught my attention because of their architectural angled designs. Well enough about me… 

Throughout the years it was truly guesswork as to what I should pay for a piece and then the harder part came when trying to find out how much a piece was worth. As a result I found that the public library had many jewelry price guides and I poured through them all for days on end and would pick out my next piece I was obsessing for. Through this research, I found three authors who stood out as being the best at giving the right information for just about anything you might need to know as an antique and vintage costume and fine jewelry collector or dealer.

The first is Jeanenne Bell. Jeanenne Bell has been on Antiques Roadshow as a jewelry appraiser and is one of America’s leading authorities on antique jewelry. She has written many books and the first book I bought of hers was “How to be a Jewelry Detective”. This book is filled to the brim with priceless information about the clues to solving jewelry mysteries. She gives easy to understand tips for testing materials, gem cuts, hardware and findings throughout the ages, marks and a whole lot more. I have recommended this book to literally 100’s of my buyers on eBay who may not be sure what gutta percha is, or is it ivory or bone and what is a briolette cut stone. She answers them all and she even has a small pocket size field guide to take along to the shops and flea markets.

My favorite book of hers is Collecting Victorian Jewelry which is a real treat for the eyes and is beautiful enough to be left out for others to peruse. In this book she shows an amazing range of incredible museum quality pieces of Costume and Fine jewelry. Each piece is a work of art and each has an easy to understand description and value assigned. She imparts the history associated with the Victorian era and who all of the main characters were. She enlightens the reader about this period in time that was all about romance, passion and heartache. Very good read and a very good aid to the serious period piece collector.

My next favorite author is Harrice Simons-Miller. I have two of her price guides, Costume Jewelry 2nd edition and Official Price Guide to Costume Jewelry 3rd edition. What I love about her books is that she knows her stuff as it relates to costume jewelry dating from early Art Deco up to the present. Her books are very good for identifying the major players in the costume and fashion design industries. She really clarifies what each jewelry designer’s signature look is and her photographs and descriptions will give you an edge when you are out in the field. Her values are truly representative of retail in fine antique or jewelry boutiques and give the reader the parameters as to what to spend to get your jewelry collection “fix”. She has bought from me on eBay on a couple of occasions and each piece she purchased was always a little odd and unexpected, making me think she knew of or was creating a trend which others were yet aware.

My third favorite author is Roseann Ettinger. She has a series of price guides that are not only about jewelry but other vintage collectibles with a lot of concentration on fashion and the fifties. Her jewelry price guides include her “popular” series and include “Forties and Fifties Popular Jewelry”, “Popular Jewelry of the 60’s, 70’s and 80’s” and my all time favorite of hers “1840-1940 Popular Jewelry” the revised 3rd edition. Her price guide covers jewelry pieces that you actually might come across and be able to own for not a lot of money. Unlike Bell and Simons-Miller who are showing museum quality and hard to find pieces, the pieces shown in Ettingers are really quite attainable and I have actually had many of her pieces that she has described. Her photographs are quite large making it easy to see the details of the pieces and she doesn’t dwell on the glitzier side of jewelry but the real down to earth stuff that most of our mothers and grandmothers would have worn.

There are many great costume jewelry price guides out there from Nancy Schiffer, Lillian Baker, Christie Romero for Warman’s, Cheri Simonds, Ronna Lee Atkins and more, but my first three will give the beginner or even well seasoned antique and vintage costume or fine jewelry collector or dealer a well rounded wealth of knowledge and pricing guidelines.

For even more super jewelry tips and great jewelry to buy, visit Vintage Gems Emporium at www.vintagegemsemporium.com. Registration is free and easy.

About the Author: My name is Candace Daugherty and I live near Charleston, South Carolina. I am an entrepreneur and have worked as a retail design and marketing consultant with many internationally known retailers and fashion designers over the past 30 years. My true passion however is Antique and Vintage Costume and Fine Jewelry. I have collected jewelry for over 35 years and own many incredibly fabulous book pieces as shown in the many of the jewelry price guides discussed above.

Since October 1, 2008,  I along with three others have founded the first of its kind, an exclusive auction boutique for antique, vintage and new costume and fine jewelry. We started Vintagel Gems Emporium at www.vintagegemsemporium.com with three philosophies in mind. The first is to be a specialty boutique in an Auction Venue just for the collector and specialist of antique and vintage costume and fine jewelry. The second is to be the lowest cost auction or fixed price venue on the internet. And the third is to put the entire Virtual Gems Emporium community first with unbelievable customer service and fair equal treatment of all trading partners.