If you’re part of the antique jewelry Instagram community then you already know that our little corner of the world is having a huge problem with antique jewelry fraud right now.
What do I mean by online antique jewelry fraud? It’s when a piece of antique jewelry for sale online turns out to be fake in some way: either it’s a reproduction (a newer piece made to look old) it’s not all original (parts of it aren’t old) or it’s just not what it says it is (fake stones, replacement parts, etc).
Antique jewelry fraud can be an accident: unintentional ignorance on the part of an immature or inexperienced online seller who just doesn’t know enough. Other times it’s premeditated, malicious, intentional criminal activity.
Whatever the seller’s situation, the end result of online antique jewelry fraud is the same: a buyer who thinks they’re buying something precious and rare is instead tricked out of their money.
Antique jewelry fraud:
11 ways to protect yourself online.
There’s no way to be 100% sure you’ll never be a victim of antique jewelry fraud when shopping online, but there are things you can do to try to reduce the chances – or to minimize the damage if the worst does happen.
Look at a seller’s whole online presence.
There is an eBay seller who likes to steal pictures from my blog to use in fake listings. Here’s one:
If you look at the eBay seller’s other listings, you’ll see that her photos are all stolen from more than a dozen different sources: her photos are in different styles, picturing different people, even celebrities (I’ve seen her use photos of the Queen of England).
Someone like this is obviously up to no good, and it only takes a few extra minutes of sleuthing for this kind of blatant antique jewelry fraud to become very apparent. Take the extra time to look at a seller’s other items – including their other social media profiles, if they’re listed – and see if they appear to have a consistent, trustworthy-feeling online presence.
Good reviews and a comprehensive online presence can be faked, but if someone doesn’t even bother to try to appear trustworthy, you definitely shouldn’t be fooled by them.
(And if you want to see more of that necklace, you can see my original blog post here.)
Don’t fall for flash.
Anyone can use the word “Georgian” in an authoritative manner or take a beautiful ring tray picture. Don’t be fooled by good branding or a large Instagram following: if someone can’t prove that they have the knowledge or experience to be selling antique jewelry, you shouldn’t buy from them.
Look at all of a seller’s offerings and consider the complete story their listings tell. Do they give facts, or just use flowery language? Do their facts check out?
Keep an eye out for anomalies. For example, does a dealer have two identical Georgian giardinetti rings, an extremely rare find that you’re unlikely to see twinsies of? It’s possible that you’re witnessing something very unusual but genuine in action…but it should give you pause. If a dealer has even one piece for sale that make you say huh, you should think very carefully before buying anything from them.
If you love antique jewelry and want to buy it, the best thing that you can do is develop your own knowledge.
There are some fantastic books about antique jewelry that you can try to find at your local library if you’re not ready to make space on your shelf. You can also check #IGJewelryBooks, the new jewelry book rec Instagram hashtag, to see what other jewelry lovers are reading.
I want to review more jewelry books here for you in 2019, but I do have a Pinterest board dedicated to jewelry books I own or want to own.
For quick jewelry facts, my favorite resource is Lang Antiques’ Antique Jewelry University. It’s a whole library of antique jewelry information and it’s not only produced by a reputable source, its articles all include bibliographies.
I also strongly recommend following antique jewelry Instagrammers who are passionate about education. Kim of Estate Jewelry Mama, Lisa of Lisa Kramer Vintage, Hayden Peters of the Art of Mourning, and Nicholle of Jewelry Nerd are knowledgeable, experienced sources I love to follow for antique jewelry education, as well as Laurie Geller and Kil Jewelry. Keep an eye on their stories and IG lives for realtime educational content.
Education is antique jewelry fraud’s greatest enemy.
Get a good look – ask for photos.
You should never buy a piece of antique jewelry without seeing it from every major angle: especially the back of the piece.
When you’re considering buying a piece, look at it carefully: does it have seams where it looks like the different parts have been attached to each other, or is it smooth? Are the stones set in the same style throughout the the piece? When you look at the back and sides, does it all still look like it was made at the same time?
The seller should be able to explain every ding, nick, seam, or inconsistency. Antiques always show “wear commensurate with age” which just means “stuff happens to a 100+ year old piece of jewelry” but if the piece bears obvious repair marks, joins, or solder spots, you should always ask about them.
The backs and sides of things are where people who make fake reproductions are the most likely to slip up. It’s also where you’re the most likely to be able to tell if a piece is actually a conversion piece, or a “marriage” – that’s when more than one piece of jewelry is joined together to make a new piece, like a Victorian era stickpin turned into a ring or a Georgian era brooch that’s turned into a necklace.
If a seller’s photos don’t let you see every angle of a piece, ask for more photos. If they won’t give you more photos, don’t buy from them.
It’s much more fun to buy something in a rush – to just say “I’ll take it!!” without thinking twice. But for almost all of us, antique jewelry is a major purchase and it’s worth taking the time to make sure you’re getting what you think you’re getting.
If a seller says they’re offering a rare 9 karat gold French mourning ring that an earl’s daughter wore in memory of her father in the late 1700s, that person should be able to explain the facts behind that description. How do they know it’s French? What makes them think it’s a mourning piece? How do they know who wore it? How did they date it? Did they test the gold themselves, or have an outside appraisal done? Is the piece all original, or has it had repairs?
I’m not advocating being a pain in the butt – but if someone is going to offer rare, expensive antiques for sale they should be able to explain to any buyer how they evaluate their merchandise.
If a seller won’t take the time to answer your questions or can’t provide satisfactory answers, they don’t deserve your trust (or your money).
Listen to word of mouth but don’t be swept away by rumors.
Antique jewelry people love to talk, especially about their jewelry. We are a chatty, tight-knit, highly social group. If you’re plugged into the online community, you’ll hear rumors about fraudulent sellers and bad transactions.
It’s good to take gossip with a grain of salt, but you rarely have smoke without at least some fire. There’s a difference between hearing one guy say “oh this seller is shady” and hearing repeated accounts of fakes, marriages, and reproductions all traced back to the same unrepentant source.
If you hear something questionable about a seller – especially if you hear it from multiple sources – take your time to really investigate them before deciding to purchase from them. Pay attention to actual people who are willing to describe specific experiences of antique jewelry fraud. You don’t have to listen to rumors, but it can be dangerous to ignore them completely.
This is a magnificent Art Deco era emerald and diamond question mark necklace, from Pam Benson.
Get a second opinion.
When in doubt, you can always have something evaluated by a professional.
Every city has jewelry appraisers, who will be able to verify the materials and value of a piece, but you need someone with specific antique jewelry expertise if you’re looking for an accurate read on the authenticity of an old piece.
I personally recommend Nicholle Mogavero, aka Jewelry Nerd. I mention her several times in this article because she’s one of my personal antique jewelry expert go-to’s. Nicholle offers antique jewelry authentication services: you can hire her to examine your jewelry and evaluate, using her years of experience and education, whether or not a piece of jewelry is a real antique. You can also get a written report, which will be useful for pursing returns or even legal action in cases of antique jewelry fraud.
I’m sure there are other qualified people out there who offer similar services, but Nicholle is who I personally go to when I’m trying to decide if I want to buy something, and I can’t give a higher recommendation than that.
Read return policies.
Several of the horrors stories I’ve heard recently about online antique jewelry fraud involve sellers who won’t accept returns, even if the buyer has a written appraisal testifying that the piece of jewelry they’re trying to return is a fake.
Honest mistakes do happen, but if someone who’s been made aware of a mistake refuses to make it right, then the end result is the same as intentional fraud.
When you decide to trust a new seller, be sure to read their return policy fully before taking the plunge. If you have questions about their terms, get answers in writing and save the documentation. Consider taking a screenshot or making some other date-stamped copy of the return policy in case you need to prove what the policy was at the time that you made the purchase.
When you shop for a new t-shirt, you go to whatever store has the best selection or the cheapest deal at the time. When it comes to antique jewelry, the strategy should be different.
Yes, a small time IG seller may be able to give you a better price on one piece, but an established seller has invested time and money developing their expertise. That makes them a much, much safer source for antiques and that reduced risk is priceless, especially if you care about authenticity. You can also learn more from an ongoing relationship with a knowledgeable dealer than any book.
If you’re a collector, it’s also worth your while to develop these connections because a dealer who knows what you love will keep an eye out for pieces you’ll want and maybe even give you first dibs on buying them.
Find the sellers that you trust and go back to them repeatedly because that trust is worth more than anything.
Trust your gut.
The more you learn about antique jewelry, the better your instincts will be. If something feels wrong about a piece or a seller, listen to that little voice that’s telling you to hesitate.
The other wise cliche that goes alongside this one is if something looks too good to be true, then it is.
Put pride aside.
If you do end up getting fooled, don’t be hard on yourself. It will happen at some point to almost everyone who buys antique jewelry.
I recently had a portion of my collection authenticated (by Nicholle of Jewelry Nerd, who I mentioned above) and I discovered that a sapphire ring I’d bought was actually set with a doublet: that’s a thin slice of sapphire set over something less valuable to create the illusion of a larger gem. I bought it as an impulse on eBay, from a seller who doesn’t typically deal in jewelry and I asked no questions about the piece and saw only a few blurry photos of it. It’s been in my collection for years and I had no idea!
If you are a victim of antique jewelry fraud, don’t give up. Save all written records of your interactions with the problematic seller. Consider reporting them to the Better Business Bureau or the platform that they sell on, if applicable. You can even take the matter to small claims court, especially if the fraudulent transaction was for a large amount of money or is a repeat offense.
If you’re considering legal options, don’t say anything public (no social media, no online reviews) until after you’ve spoken to a lawyer. Anything you say publicly can affect your case.
Remember that if you do end up with a fake and you resell it as real, you can end up facing legal consequences. Fraud is fraud, whether you were the starting point or just another link in the chain.
Don’t be afraid.
I know all of this is intimidating, but don’t let fear of antique jewelry fraud stop you from loving antique jewelry. Every industry has its unscrupulous people: there’s a surge in antique jewelry fraud right now, but there are even more truly wonderful people and resources out there to help fight that tide of dishonesty. And the more you learn about jewelry, the easier it will be for you to identify fakes for yourself.
All we can do is look out for each other, promote education, proceed with caution and remember not to let our hearts run away with our brains when we fall in love with a piece of jewelry.
If you love antique jewelry and want more, check out my Guide to Antique Jewelry Shows or my antique jewelry show archive.
Juliette Kaune says
I have been looking on Eragem site can you tell me what you think of this site? Thanks in advance, Julie
I’ve never bought anything from EraGem but I’d consider them to be an established, well-respected seller. We have emailed a few times and they struck me as lovely and knowledgeable.
Claire Hamilton says
Hi Juliette, I know this is a late reply but I think you’re right to be cautious. EraGem have some lovely vintage items on their site, but also many highly suspect ones that look like they just came off a Wish production line. I’m not convinced and their local “independent” valuation documents don’t sway me.
Keen to know others’ thoughts on this.
james johnson says
I really like this article, because now a day we can’t trust anyone if you buying jewelry online firstly we do query about the website , and product listing and prices.
I appreciate the article too but you can’t be cautious enough. Even the Met museum in NY has bought fakes. They mostly come from countries where it’s tough to make a living and this is an option. I decided not to buy any Roman gold, especially if it’s pretty nice. I think the bronzes are ok.
It’s a good point: you can never know 100% for sure if something is genuine. All you can do is be as careful and informed a buyer as possible and understand the risks of collecting.
I loved this article Becky thanks for sharing ! I recently had a terrible transaction and was none the wiser until a more experienced seller on Instagram messaged me to let me know what was up with the pieces I thought I had bought as authentic . The bit about being too good to be true is so correct in my situation – if I had just paused and really thought about it , it would of logically came to me that these were all super rare antique and vintage French 18k charms that shouldn’t pop up twice so soon , and how on earth did this shady seller have so many all at once for such low prices ? Lesson learnt and it’s made me a lot more cautious with where I buy from and to really do my research . Thanks for sharing !
I’m so sorry you had an experience with a shady seller! It sounds like you listened to your gut and learned from it, though, which is the best case scenario.
Gemma Tubbrit says
Some great points Becky, as a reputable retailer of antique jewellery we feel very strongly about this and you raise some wonderful points. The fraudsters are ruining it for us all !
Read up on the company and pay attention to company review pages, do they sell on other marketplaces such as ebay ? read the reviews there also.
Thanks so much, Gemma! And that’s great advice about finding people on multiple marketplaces to check them out: I totally agree!
Thanks so much for reading and commenting.
Fantastic points! Also, the “if something sounds too good to be true, it is” is the BEST indicator of fraud. I’m reading The Confidence Game right now, and we (and I mean all of us) are easily taken in by appearances that can be “explained”.
Also: I bought from Kim (Estate Jewelry Mama) and she is WONDERFUL.
Thank you for all of the great advice here!
In addition to studying books, study the marketplace! Knowing what is selling for how much will help inform your purchasing decision. If a piece is listed as Georgian, why is it cheap? Or, what makes it expensive? I sell mostly French antique jewelry which is almost always 18k gold, that adds to the price. Understand that the price of gold in the global marketplace factors into your purchase price. Many factors go into pricing: is the seller a collector looking to offload a personal piece at a good price, or a true-blue dealer who pays rent and taxes? Be aware of who you’re dealing with before making an offer.
Also consider how long someone has been in business. It’s both a blessing and a curse that literally anyone can sign up on Etsy, hang out a virtual shingle and call themselves a dealer. There’s soooooo much more to being a dealer than this! I think this is where buyers get into trouble, because a newbie “dealer” (someone who loves antique jewelry and means well, but doesn’t have extensive knowledge) will sell something they don’t really know.
AMH @ Métier Paris says
I’ll add: understand how jewelry was made and for what purpose – across eras and countries. What materials were available? What were the popular styles of the era the dealer it is claiming it is from? This is a hefty learning curve, but it’s really the crux of becoming an expert.
A few years back I had a “faux” dealer (a chic with more trust fund than knowledge who bought herself into the industry) return a ring, calling it a marriage, because she had no experience or knowledge in metals, casting, history, or jewelry for that matter, and din’t know how to evaluate a piece. Great way to get on my bad side!
Excellent points Becky! Thanks for putting this in print and doing it so well. Time stamping the return policy is a great idea!
Thank you so much, my friend! I wish none of this were necessary, but since it is, I wanted there to be something written down.
Mabry Hall says
This is a great educational article. I would never purchase a major piece of jewelry from anyone who didn’t have a track record and an open return policy. It’s a very bad sign if a dealer isn’t willing to return your money within a reasonable time period.
I’d also like to point out that sometimes you just love something. If it’s not expensive enough to put a hole in your budget, don’t worry too much that you aren’t in a big, fancy jewelry store purchasing a name-brand piece. Ask yourself if you’d enjoy wearing it even if it turned out not to be quite as authentic as you were led to believe. I’ve had friends tie themselves in knots over a pair of $500 Victorian earrings, and they wouldn’t think twice about spending that much on a pair of shoes.
I have as much fun shopping for antique jewelry as I do purchasing. Find a good store and spend some time. I’ve never met a salesperson who didn’t want to share her knowledge.
Those are all truly excellent points! There’s nothing wrong with buying something that might not be authentic if you are okay with it not being authentic, especially if it’s a lower priced item and you love it anyway. I think the most important thing is clarity between buyer and seller and also between the seller and their own heart. If you love something and you’re going to love it no matter what it turns out to be, there’s no reason not to buy it.
Thanks so much for reading and commenting!
Thank you for this article. The scams on instagram are off the rails right now & are really doing damage to unsuspecting buyers’ wallets. Don’t fall for the scam of IG personas who lure you in with phony mystique & hype about their expertise & lifestyles. The saddest thing about the current instagram sitch is that these sellers – mostly women – are stealing from other women, while cloaking the fraud with female empowerment.
I completely agree with you. It’s so sad – the love of jewelry and sharing that love of jewelry are such wonderful things, and the community around antique jewelry online is so strong and good that it pains me to see people using wonderful things as an opportunity for fraud. I think it’s good that people are talking more and more about the scams out there – the more buyers who learn about the possible traps, the better.
Thanks so much for reading and commenting!
Lisa Sullivan says
Excellent article, Becky!
Thanks for a thoughtful look at how to protect oneself from dishonest sellers.
It’s my pleasure, Lisa! I wish this were less of an issue in our community at the moment, but since it is happening, I think the best thing we can all do is be open about the risks and help educate each other.
Thanks so much for reading and commenting!
Ron Yates says
I love this article Becky. Such valuable information! In my 30 years of dealing in estate jewelry I’ve seen buyers get taken hundreds of times. Usually, they don’t realize it until some time has went by. Like when they want to trade it in with me, or sell it to me. And I have to deliver the bad news that their piece is NOT vintage, or their “fancy yellow diamond” is in fact a Q-R color for instance.
It would be nice if you could get this information in front of more people. I really think that a larger media outlet should pick this article up. It will help people!!
Thank you so much for this kind, generous comment, Ron! I really appreciate you taking the time to read and weigh in. And I’m so glad you like the article. There’s so much bad information on the internet, my goal is to help put more good, true, helpful information out there.