Estate jewelry describes any jewelry previously owned. Valuable pieces can often be bought well below market value if you know what to look for. Yard sales, flea markets and even antique stores often do not have every piece of jewelry priced at true value. By learning to identify precious metal hallmarks, gemstones or designer costume jewelry, you can buy pieces to add to your collection or resell at a profit. Bakelite and other vintage materials are highly collected and often overlooked.
Learn how jewelry pieces are marked. Gold jewelry is marked with the karat marking. 18k means 18 karat gold. Pure gold is 24 karat. Gold jewelry is an alloy of gold and other metals for strength. 18k is 18/24ths pure gold or 3/4ths gold by weight. Sterling silver jewelry can be marked "sterling" or 925. Sterling silver is 92.5 percent pure silver and 7.75 percent other metals. Pieces marked silver plate or gold filled are only electroplated with a thin layer of precious metal.
Become familiar with jewelry designer names and markings. Many costume pieces are made by contemporary or vintage artists and design companies. Some designer's are sought after by collectors and have enthusiastic buyers for any piece you find. If you find a jewelry piece with a name, do a Google search or search online auctions like eBay and see what turns up.
Learn about styles and materials used in different eras. The back fastening on a broach can date a jewelry piece by the type of closure. Bakelite was a common material for bracelets and broaches until the mid-20th century. Bakelite jewelry pieces of good quality can sell for hundreds of dollars. Bakelite is often overlooked at estate sales. Ivory and shell was a common material for carved cameo pins and rings in the Victorian era. The more you know about fashion and style changes, the easier it becomes to date vintage jewelry.
Go to antique shops that carry a good selection of estate jewelry. Antique dealers are a valuable source of information. Many dealers are passionate collectors of the type of items they sell. Ask questions about what makes a certain piece valuable. Shop owners readily share information with potential customers. They also become good buyers for pieces you may find. They buy both as collectors and to add to shop inventory.
Look for quality in a piece. What you suspect to be well made costume jewelry could be estate jewelry. Quality jewelry pieces and well made items sold for more when they were new. They are usually rarer and maintain value because of attention to detail and quality of workmanship.
Buy antique jewelry guidebooks and price guides. Read everything you can on vintage jewelry. Good jewelry books have photos of pieces you can study and become familiar with.
Join online forums dedicated to collecting jewelry. There are many clubs, blogs and website with valuable information and members willing to answer questions. Participate and learn tips on identification and value of jewelry pieces.
Attend antique jewelry shows. There are periodic shows around the nation that are well attended by buyers and sellers of estate jewelry. A day or two in the booths of a show, with dealers and collectors of estate jewelry, is a perfect chance to learn and make new contacts.