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.
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.