As I think you know if you’ve read this blog (or followed my Instagram) for any length of time, I love antique jewelry shows. Love love love love love them. They are like visiting a museum + treasure hunting + shopping + antique jewelry lovers’ club all rolled into one. They’re the best thing.
However, I’ve learned from chatting with some of you that antique jewelry shows can be intimidating if you don’t know what to expect. Therefore: I’m about to tell you what to expect so that you can go forth and discover the wonder of antique jewelry shows for yourself!
Antique Jewelry Shows 101: an introduction.
Most antique jewelry shows are in places like convention centers or hotels, in a one or two large rooms set up as aisles of little stalls. Each little stall or booth is an individual dealer; these are all unconnected businesses and you should think of them as separate stores.
You may need a ticket for the show, or entrance may be free – it’s a good idea to check the event’s website before you go to make sure. (Also, if you sign up for dealers’ mailing lists, they’ll probably send you free tickets.)
Most antique shows are mixed antiques, meaning you’ll have to hunt for the jewelry dealers among other kinds of antiques (which are always cool to see) but a few shows are ALL jewelry.
What you need to know at an antique jewelry show.
Antique jewelry shows are glorious, but they can be intimidating if you haven’t been before. Here are some tips to make your antique jewelry experience as spectacular and seamless as possible:
It’s okay to touch, but you need to ask.
Dealers come to antique jewelry shows so that the public can see their wares. If something catches your eye, it’s extremely reasonable to ask to take a closer look or to try it on, even if you don’t know if you’ll be able to afford it.
Asking to see a piece of jewelry is not the same as committing to buy a piece of jewelry. If you don’t want something – or if you do, but you can’t afford it or need time to think – just say “thank you” and hand it back to the dealer.
Don’t Instagram without permission.
Many antique dealers will be okay with you photographing a piece of jewelry if you’re thinking about buying it or if you want to show it to a friend, but they may NOT be okay with that picture ending up on the internet.
This is hard for those of us who love IG to understand, but the concerns are valid: some dealers are looking out for collectors who wouldn’t be interested in a buying piece that’s already gone viral, or they’re concerned that having the specifics of their stock made public could attract danger by giving potential thieves too much information.
But the reasoning doesn’t even matter: the dealer owns the jewelry you’re playing with and it’s their call whether or not those pieces become Instafamous.
Have a budget plan.
It is SO easy to get swept up in the excitement of an antique jewelry show and end up spending more than you should have. I know I’ve done it.
It really helps to make a plan before you go in: think about how much money you’re willing to spend, what would be worth spending it on, and whether or not you’d consider breaking that ceiling for a Holy Grail piece (and what would be good enough to deserve such a splurge).
Not all dealers at antique jewelry shows accept credit cards, but most will take a check. If you have cash, though, you might find that some dealers will offer you a discount. Every little bit helps!
It’s completely fine to ask questions about the merchandise, especially if you’re considering buying.
Remember that you can ask “how” as well as “what.” If a dealer tells you the ring you’re looking at was made in England in 1839 and features Burmese rubies, it’s fine to ask them how they know that. Ideally you’ll learn something new about jewelry in general and that piece in particular.
If the dealer can’t answer simple questions about how they came to the information they’re giving you, you might want to think twice about buying from them.
Asking questions is also the best way to learn at antique jewelry shows. Many of my favorite antique jewelry show moments have been when dealers took the time to teach me about the interesting pieces in their collections, just for the joy of sharing knowledge. There’s no better way to learn about jewelry than holding in in your hand while a more experienced jewelry lover teaches you about the specific piece in front of you.
If it looks too good to be true, it is.
Many antique jewelry dealers are spectacularly knowledgeable experts with hearts of gold and unimpeachable moral compasses…but some are not.
It’s also a sad truth that reproduction pieces are rampant in the antique jewelry market right now. There are a lot of dealers out there selling fake new pieces as antiques: whether it’s intentional fraud, laziness, or ignorance, it could still lead to you paying antique jewelry prices for a meaningless copy.
Don’t be afraid to ask lots of questions before buying a piece, including if the dealer has a return policy or will allow the piece to be sent to an appraiser for authentication (my friend Nicholle offers this kind of authentication service and she’s brilliant). The higher the dollar amount of a piece, the more precautions you should take.
Be observant and listen your gut. Many people who are familiar with antique jewelry will have a sense that something indefinable is off about a reproduction even if they can’t pinpoint exactly what’s raising their suspicions.
Look at every part of something before you buy it.
Antique jewelry, by its very nature, is not brand new. That means it might have quality issues from wear or just from age. A few areas to be sure to inspect are the insides of rings, the clasps of necklaces, and every prong or bezel that holds a gemstone in place.
Do you see any cracks, dark spots, dents, or evidence of past repairs? Do the prongs holding the gems in place appear bent? When you move the piece, do the stones rattle?
Anything that’s wrong with a piece before you buy it has the potential to create future problems that will then be your problem. When you consider buying a piece with issues, factor in the probable cost of repairs to the total cost. Is it still worth it?
If a piece is actually damaged, some antique jewelry show dealers will be willing to do the work of having it fixed for you, either as part of the deal or for a little extra money. It never hurts to ask.
If you love something but you’re not ready to pull the trigger, have the dealer write down the information for you on a business card.
This gives you the specifics of the piece, a record of the price you were offered, and contact information in case you decide to want to buy it after the antique jewelry show has ended. This is a very common request and a great way to take your time thinking something over before you buy it.
Pounce if it’s your one true love.
In contrast to my previous point…you should never forget that antique jewelry is one of a kind. If you decide to take an hour to contemplate a purchase and the dealer isn’t willing to put it on hold for you, that means someone else might come along and buy it.
If the thought of someone else buying your coveted find makes your heart stop, then it might be time to pull the trigger.
You can haggle, but don’t be a jerk.
Many antique jewelry dealers have some wiggle room in their prices, but they generally also have an absolute price point at which they need to sell a piece of jewelry in order to avoid losing money in the sale.
It’s okay to try a little negotiation, especially if you’re buying more than one piece from the same dealer, but don’t be a jerk about it. Cultivating a good relationship with a specific dealer is much more likely to end up saving you money in the long run than bullying them into one single discounted sale. Also, if you alienate the antique dealers, you miss all the fun. Trust me.
Look for rare finds on the first day and good deals on the last day.
A lot of dealers sell to each other during antique jewlelry shows and a piece becomes more expensive each time it changes hands. If you go on the first day of the show, you get to see everyone’s fresh stock before it’s picked over by other dealers and early bird collectors.
The flip side of that advice is that dealers may be more willing to haggle on the last day, just to get another sale or two in before the show ends. It doesn’t always work, but it can’t hurt to ask. Just remember that anything can be sold at any time, so if you truly love something, waiting until the last minute to try to get a deal is a high-risk strategy.
Don’t let your playtime get in the way of business.
Let’s say a dealer lets you try on the Edwardian diamond necklace of your dreams. It makes you feel like a fairy princess. If you buy it, you’ll have to sell your cat and live on the street in a box with your dream necklace.
You wear it for a few minutes. The dealer lets you take a selfie so that you can remember this glorious moment (you asked permission to use it on social and now its your profile pic). You’re standing there, pretending to be Galadriel, when a crowd of people come up to the booth and start asking to see other things in the dealer’s cases.
It’s time for you to give back your dream necklace and let the dealer talk to her potential paying customers. Almost all antique dealers are happy to let polite, careful people handle their jewelry, but that kindness should be repaid with respect of their time.
Think about how you’ll wear something.
Antique jewelry is often more fragile than new jewelry, especially if it contains more fragile materials or is particularly old.
Some antique pieces aren’t strong enough to wear every day or can be damaged or destroyed by exposure to water. Asking about the durability of a piece is an important part of the purchase process for antique jewelry, especially if you’re someone who likes to throw jewelry on and then forget about it. You don’t want to invest money in a piece and then destroy it immediately, especially if it’s something you love.
I recommend a water bottle and some purse snacks so that you don’t make poor decisions after looking at jewelry for 7 hours with no nourishment or hydration. Wear comfortable shoes and bring a battery pack if you’re going to be on your phone during the antique jewelry show. You may also consider a clip-on phone light: they’re great for taking picture or just for getting a good look a jewelry in poorly lit convention centers.
I also recommend not wearing much jewelry if you plan on trying on a lot of jewelry. This sucks, because it’s SO MUCH FUN to wear your own antique jewelry around people who will appreciate it, but every time you take your personal pieces off to try on something else, there’s a risk they’ll get swiped or you’ll accidentally leave them on a counter. You’ve gotta protect your pretties.
Antique jewelry shows may take a bit of practice to master, but it’s so worth the effort: there’s no better way to find jewelry, IMHO.
It just so happens that America’s largest indoor antique show starts in a few days…is anyone else heading to the Original Miami Beach Antique show this weekend? I’m going to be there, so if you think you see me, definitely stop and say hello!
Click here if you want to ogle Diamonds in the Library’s archive of antique jewelry show recaps.
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