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How To Buy Estate Jewelry

For those who have never tried their luck at an auction, we asked Nazgol Jahan, head of Phillips’ Jewels Department, for her advice

What do you look for in estate pieces?

In general, we look for pieces that are well-made with excellent craftsmanship, high-quality gems and, if possible, signed pieces. Pieces from the more renowned houses—such as CartierVan Cleef & ArpelsDavid WebbBuccellati and Bulgari—will always be a collector’s item and hold value over time.

How do current trends play into vintage jewelry auctions?

We do see a lot of trends coming back in jewelry such as chunky Retro pieces with big colorful stones, Victorian-themed lockets, long chain pieces and geometric Art Deco patterns. I often see that a lot of clients are attracted to these original designs that are seen a lot in estate pieces.

What is one of the most exciting pieces that you have found?

We sold an Internally Flawless Fancy Intense Yellow Diamond Ring (23.79 carats) in 2012, which was an extremely rare and exquisite stone. The piece gained a lot of attention, and ultimately sold for the highest price-per-carat ever achieved for a Fancy Intense Yellow diamond at auction at the time. [Editor’s note: The ring sold for over $1.2 million dollars.]

Do you have any tips for buyers who are looking to start a collection?

I would advise buyers to actively peruse auction houses, various antique and vintage jewelry shows—they most often have the best pieces at great prices. It’s good to invest in signed pieces, but many times even the pieces that are not signed have a craftsmanship that is not commonly seen in today’s contemporary jewelry.  

How should you care for antique jewelry?

Estate pieces should be cared for just like any other piece of fine jewelry. If it is well-made the piece will stand the test of time. If the piece has pearls, you should definitely make sure to avoid lotions or perfumes while wearing the piece. A lot of estate pieces also have beautiful enamel work which requires extra care when wearing and storing the piece. It is advisable to avoid dropping the piece, since most of the enamel damage comes from chipping and scratching due to wear. Also, many antique pieces are very delicate; you may want to consider wearing such pieces on special occasions.