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Jewelry, particularly antique jewelry, is often a most treasured possession. This can be for many reasons, perhaps because of its sentimental value or a family connection, or because of it's valued as an investment. Collecting rare and one-of-a-kind jewelry is like collecting works of art. Precious metals and gemstones are a very tangible and portable asset that usually tends to hold their value - or appreciate in value - over time. Most experts agree that jewelry is a longterm investment and that a trained eye is required to make the right purchasing decisions. Some degree of experience is needed to determine jewelry's value, based on the current trends and taking recent fluctuations of the market into consideration.

 

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What is the purpose and history of jewelry?

Jewelry is a cultural hallmark that has spanned the entirety of humanity’s cultural history, the earliest known jewelry having been created in prehistory. Archeologists have been known to find examples of prehistoric jewelry in the form of snail shells or bird’s eggs with holes bored out to create strung beads.   Jewelry, depending on the age of the piece, can be considered archeological artifacts. Because of the durability of the materials often used (often metals and hardstones or glass), jewelry and other types of adornment are able to survive for centuries, often intact like the string of ostrich egg beads found in Kenya that was thought to be the oldest item of personal adornment ever worn. Aside from art, jewelry is perhaps the most potent and personal visual expression of a culture. 

Which items can be classified as jewelry?

Jewelry is not restricted to adorning the physical body, as it can also be affixed to the clothing or hair. It often serves a functional dual purpose; holding clothing, accessories or hair in place. It can be a symbol of financial or societal status and be used to invest wealth. Jewelry can have religious, ceremonial, or protective purposes for the wearer. The western definition of jewelry is restricted to decorative items worn for personal adornment. Each modern age has been marked with a distinctive style of jewelry, but the rise of commercial jewelry has broadened the visibility of wearable art trends. 

Types of jewelry include:

Is my jewelry old enough to be considered antique?

To be considered ‘antique,’ the jewelry in question must be at least 100 years old. While shops and emporiums for the sale and trade of antique and vintage jewelry dwindle, a vast inventory of estate, antique, and vintage jewelry is now online with the sale of major pieces of jewelry routinely handled by major auction houses. The Pink Star Diamond, at 59.60 carats, is known as the world’s most expensive gemstone. It was sold at Sotheby’s Hong Kong in April 2017 for a staggering £57.3 million.

What influences the value of jewelry?

The value of jewelry lies not only in the piece as whole, but also in the sum of its parts, namely, the materials. The metals and stones that are found in pieces are principle determinators of the value of the overall piece. Other factors to consider, particularly with estate and antique jewelry, are rarity (age), condition, craftsmanship and alterations.

Can jewelry lose value over time?

Unfortunately, there is no simple answer to this question. It really depends on the piece. Diamonds, particularly modern diamond engagement and wedding rings, do tend to be worth far less than their original purchase price. However, vintage diamond rings, particularly those from the Victorian and Art Deco eras, can actually increase in value over time. Gold is generally thought to be a good investment for portfolio diversification because it holds its value throughout times of political and economic hardship. It's also one of the few assets that can keep up with inflation and the rises in the cost of living. However, gold jewelry isn't necessarily a good investment because it loses value when it is melted to be more easily sold. The best way to ensure that your jewelry appreciates or increases its value over time is to invest in unique pieces from interesting periods in history and well-respected designer brands. 

How can I tell if my jewelry is genuine?

The magnet test is the most basic way to start determining the value of the metals in your jewelry.  Neither gold nor silver is magnetic, however, even if your piece passes the magnet test, you should still consult an expert for confirmation, as many inauthentic pieces are being made with non-magnetic materials. 

Another test that you can easily do at home is simply wear  the piece to see how the surface of your skin reacts to the metal. If the skin underneath the piece becomes discolored, then the metal is neither silver nor gold, which do not react with the properties of skin.  

Barring chemical tests, or a consultation by an expert gemologist, there are a few ways that one can gain some knowledge about the types of materials that make up your piece. Many pieces will bear a hallmark, or small impression struck by official offices for consumer protection. The purity mark is the most commonly encountered and denotes the type of metals and karat weight used in the creation of the piece. The Jeweler’s Liability Act was passed in 1906, which regulated the stamping of jewelry made from precious metals in the US. European countries including France, the United Kingdom and Germany have similar marking conventions for the same purposes. In addition to purity marks, there are maker’s marks, date marks, and town marks. Hallmarks can provide essential clues  when determining the age and origin of antique pieces of jewelry. 

Regarding gemstones, experts emphasize the value of imperfection, meaning that a stone which appears too perfect is often not genuine. An overly smooth appearance, may indicate that a stone is made of glass or plastic. Natural stones, like diamonds, have naturally-occurring flecks, and are easily visible with a magnifying glass.

Another quick, at-home test you can do to determine the authenticity of a diamond would be “the fog test.” Real diamonds don’t retain heat, so breathing onto a genuine stone will not cause it to fog up, however a fake stone will. 

Don’t discount the value of costume jewelry! There are many vintage brands and costume jewelry by long established designers, such as Channel or Gucci, can be valuable without being made of typically expensive materials. 

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