Humankind has a long history of conducting love affair with jewels and adornment, stemming as far back as the ancient Cro-Magnons who have been shown to have had a fascination with body ornamentation including jewellery made of bone or shell. In some cultures the wearing of jewellery has signified status as well as having practical functions, such as pinning clothes together or as a symbol; for example the wearing of the cross or Star of David; or the wedding ring symbolizing the married status of the wearer. Status has often been the most important element of jewellery wearing, although the introduction of mass production methods of course meant that every class of society have been able to aspire to similar status with factory made items.
The production of jewellery has had its role to play in the development of world history, with gold and diamond mining bringing mass immigration to the new and developing world, and the mining of both have had a crucial effect on the modern world and its development. Despite this, jewellery still serves what is in many ways the same purpose, if the manufacturing and process has changed. The Victorian era was of course the start of mass production, making jewellery much more affordable, as well as making the process easier meaning the jewellery could be much more elaborate and ornate.
Every culture has legends associated with some form of jewellery, for example the Irish Claddagh ring, with its symbol of love and friendship, where legends abound regarding its origin – the clearest of which suggest a seafaring man from Galway was imprisoned in Algiers and made the ring as a symbol of love and loyalty for his true love waiting back home.
Antique jewellery has inspired modern manufacturers to create reproduction Edwardian, Victorian and other period jewellery, but of course collectors will always look for the real thing. Along with the fascination for the customs of the past, including the Victorian idea of including hair from their dearly departed in jewellery, there is also the fact that for the collector, antique jewellery remains an attractive prospect. It is durable and can be worn every day rather than carefully stored; has great gift potential and of course is an obvious choice for investment purposes.
When it comes to choosing antique jewellery there are a few pointers to remember. Of course, the purpose of the item is paramount. If you are buying as a gift or even engagement ring, then clearly taste matters above all else. That aside, you should concern yourself with the quality and condition of the item in question. Is it made well, and is it still in reasonable condition for its age? Has it been repaired, and if so, has it been properly restored as opposed to a simple repair?
Do remember the terminology – antique or vintage are different things, with antique meaning pre 1920, and vintage referring to pieces made from the 20s through to the 70s. You must trust your dealer and don’t be afraid to ask about the clarity of stones and quality of settings as all these things will add up in terms of the value of the piece you choose. Once you have chosen your favourite item, don’t forget that antique jewellery can have a value far more than the sentimental, and so will need careful evaluation and proper insurance, as well as some small care.