How to Shop for Pre-Owned Fine Jewelry

Welcome to our How to Shop Like series, where we spotlight personalities within the fashion

Welcome to our How to Shop Like series, where we spotlight personalities within the fashion industry and take a deeper look at how they shop—think all the best insider tips and tricks. This week, we’re chatting with vintage jewelry collector Tiina Smith of her eponymous store and online marketplace about shopping for pre-owned fine jewelry.

The art of shopping is not only a highly creative endeavor but a craft that must be studied and practiced, at least in the mind of vintage jewelry collector Tiina Smith. For her, the more you learn, the greater your chances of success within the pre-owned fine jewelry sphere. Her parting words to us encompass her entire ethos: “Collecting vintage jewelry never gets old, there’s always more to learn and new people in the field to meet: collectors, historians, writers, auctioneers, dealers, museum curators, and more!” Continue to discover how Smith not only approaches this form of shopping, but how she manages to delight in the process, as well.

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In terms of vintage jewelry, how do you know what is a good investment?

“What I love about vintage jewelry is the quality of the craftsmanship and the rarity of the pieces. I won’t be walking down the street passing someone wearing what I have on. Our gallery tends to focus on great vintage pieces by the most respected makers. These are pieces that have already proven their worth and continue to hold their value (such as our amazing Suzanne Belperron Emerald and Diamond necklace or our Cartier Aquamarine and Diamond Earrings).”

Should you be shopping for vintage jewelry with financial investment at the forefront of the brain? Or should another factor take precedence?

“When you are spending a considerable sum it’s hard not to consider the investment angle. But while jewelry is an intrinsic asset, it’s primary purpose is to delight and adorn the wearer. Don’t buy anything you don’t absolutely love and know you’ll wear.”

What do you recommend for a first-time purchase?

“That’s such a personal choice and really depends on where you are in your life. Whether you’re just out of school, celebrating a new child, honoring a long-term relationship, or just treating yourself, buy the best you can afford. I’d rather have a few singular and outstanding pieces by Cartier, Boivin, or Boucheron than many small pieces that just end up idling in a drawer. The first piece that I purchased for myself was a pair of elegant Edwardian diamond drop earrings that sway when I walk. My taste, at the time, had been shaped by very classic and refined jewelry and I thought these were ‘the ultimate.’ I still think they are stunning but my taste has broadened to include a variety of styles.”

Which materials will physically hold up the best over time? Which will retain the most value?

“All fine materials, from platinum and gold to diamonds and opals, will hold up over time as long as they’ve been well cared for. That’s why it’s so important when purchasing any piece of jewelry, vintage or new, to carefully inspect the piece before committing. I tend to not look at a piece for its component parts, so for me, the jewelry that will retain the most value is that which is finely crafted, retains a sense of relevance for today’s women, and which is made by recognized master jewelers.”

When looking at an overwhelming display, how do you find the best piece for yourself?

“I’ve spent decades looking at jewelry and honing my style. If I’m buying just for me and not the gallery, I have an eagle eye for what I like—great statement earrings, colored stones, and wonderful brooches. My advice is to really take time to think about the pieces you love and that you will wear. For myself, I like to have a few standard ‘go-to’ looks of jewelry that go with everything. These include a ‘bold gold’ look with professional looking David Webb earrings and a few Tiffany & Co. Retro tank bracelets as a larger accent. I also have a few ‘wow’ looks that are bold and colorful but only go with certain outfits. I love my David Webb coral ‘brocade’ bracelet with either my coral, ruby, and pearl JAR earrings or my Henry Dunay coral, pearl and tassel sautoir. Being a May baby, I also love emeralds which are my birthstone. Sabbadini large cabochon emerald and diamond drops together with a 9.01 carat vivid emerald ring and a slew of emerald and diamond line bracelets by Van Cleef & Arpels and others perfect that look. I should also add that I most often shop for clothing around my jewelry looks and not the other way around.”

How do you approach buying a gift versus buying for yourself?

“When buying a gift I work really hard to know the person’s personal style as well as lifestyle. Oftentimes these things are completely different from mine. I have a friend who really loves bold gold jewelry, but she’s not crazy about diamonds—imagine that! When picking out a gift for her, I looked to brands like David Webb and Bulgari who are known for great gold statement pieces that mix in cabochon and faceted colored stones. It may not be exactly my taste, but she loved what she received.”

Where do you recommend searching for vintage purchases?

“It all comes down to research. Look online, go to your local jewelry stores, visit antiques shows, and talk to the dealers. You can learn so much from those of us who have been in this business for years. We love to answer questions and give details about our pieces, our favorite makers, and eras. Start the conversation, whether online or in person. It’s amazing what you can learn.”

What are baselines to note regarding price point? How should shoppers stay mindful of what things should cost?

“I always say that an educated consumer is our best client. Know your style, know your budget and know your goals. By that I mean look at everything—research makers, visit museums, stop in at local jewelry stores. You’ll begin to learn what things cost and you can plan your purchasing accordingly.”

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Should you consider trends when buying?

“The market for vintage jewelry is definitely affected by current style trends but be clever and look for things you love that may not be in the forefront of other people’s minds. Current trends come and go, but great vintage jewelry will always stand the test of time. Invariably, you’ll find something terrific at a fair price.”

Foundation of a great collection?

“As you start to build a collection, buy what you know you will wear, whether that’s a great pair of diamond studs or a signature brooch; it really all depends on you and your style. I think it’s equally strategic to start with a basic that goes with everything (our Art Deco shield ring or our Fred Leighton diamond hoops) as it is to begin with a piece that is bold and colorful (Rene Boivin brooch or Chanel Muse ring) that can become your signature.”

Go for color or stay neutral?

“I unabashedly love color! So, I say go for it.”

Any final words of advice?

“Collecting vintage jewelry never gets old, there’s always more to learn and new people in the field to meet: collectors, historians, writers, auctioneers, dealers, museum curators, and more!”


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