If you are scouring flea markets and yard sales for vintage jewelry to resell auction, there are five rules you must follow if you want consistent success. A recent episode of Market Warriors on PBS made this all too clear. The four expert buyers failed miserably to purchase suitable vintage jewelry for resale at a Los Angeles auction house. The foibles of these expert buyers made it painfully clear: when it comes to auction, you must follow these rules and leave personal preferences out of the picture if you want to make money on vintage jewelry.
If you are not on your home turf, you might have to do your homework to find out an area’s popular vintage jewelry styles and auction prices they command. Look through old auction catalogs if they are available. Attend a few vintage jewelry auctions at your targeted auction house. If possible, pick the auctioneer’s brain for top selling items. The bottom line is this: if you want to be successful selling vintage jewelry at auction, you have to know the local market. Just because you covet vintage Chinese export jewelry doesn’t mean someone at auction in rural Ohio will. To make money on vintage jewelry at auction, you must know what auction goers in the region are looking for.
Auctions are a hard venue in which to make money on vintage jewelry unless you have something coveted by many attendees or you have large quantities of average items. No matter what your situation is, the deck will be stacked in your favor if you can purchase the right vintage jewelry pieces at the right price. The right price is always well below value. You must remember that many vintage jewelry pieces only ever sell at auction for around scrap value. So if you want to make money at an auction, not lose it, you must purchase vintage jewelry pieces as cheaply as possible.
Provenance is a key factor for getting more money for a piece of vintage jewelry at auction. Any designer signed piece in good condition will bring more money than its unsigned counterpart. However, auction goers are still looking for a bargain, so don’t expect to get retail for the item, no matter how coveted the designer. Therefore, you must try to purchase any designer piece at a super discount. Otherwise you might just break even or worse at auction, even though it is a signed piece.
People often assume that a damaged piece of vintage jewelry by a coveted designer like Boucher or Chanel will bring similar money to a piece in pristine condition. You just can’t assume a jewelry collector will want a beat-up piece, even if it is rare or made by a coveted designer. Collectors typically want to acquire pieces in the best condition possible. They do not want to be bothered with paying to have items restored after the auction. A badly damaged piece by a great designer might not get any worthwhile bids at auction. Think hard before you purchase such a piece for an attempt at resale.
Another way to put this is to beware of fakes, reproductions and marriages. If you take time to know your vintage jewelry, you won’t be fooled by modern reproductions. You will know how designers spell and sign their jewelry and how it is crafted so that fakes will be obvious. You will also be able to recognize a piece that has been repaired or combined with elements that don’t belong (a marriage). Just because you know vintage plastic jewelry is hot, don’t jump on a “deal” if you really don’t know much about it. Those plastic bracelets that the dealer told you were old carved Bakelite could turn out to be modern resin reproductions worth almost nothing. For success at selling vintage jewelry at auction, you must buy what you know.
Auctions can be a hard venue in which to sell vintage jewelry. However, if you buy regional favorites at a low price, you’ll have a good chance of making some money. Also, try to find designer signed pieces at low prices and stick to jewelry types you are most familiar with. Finally, try to buy pieces in the best condition possible. If you follow these five rules, you should have no problem making money on your vintage jewelry at auction.