I have been a regular of estate sales and yard sales for almost ten years now. Still, the first thing that comes to mind when I think about the potential of finding unique and valuable jewelry at estate sales, thrift shops and flea markets is the famous English folk tale of “Richard Whittington and His Cat”.
For those of you who are not familiar with the story, here is a short synopsis: an orphan boy decides to make a future for himself and comes to London when he hears that the British capital is literally paved with gold. Although there are several versions (mostly stage act scripts) about Richard’s harsh life and how he became rich, the outcome of the story is that he becomes the Mayor of London with the help of his cat.
While this is a great story, let’s not drift too far from the topic now. The reason I’ve mentioned this tale in the first place is to illustrate that with a small investment (like the one Richard put in to acquire the cat), you too can earn a fortune. Maybe you won’t become the Lord Mayor of London, but who knows? However, not all that glitters is gold or a similar valuable material used in the making of jewelry in this case. Therefore, you need to learn how to identify those precious jewels, hallmarks and gemstones that you can either add to your collection or resell for a profit. Following are some tips that I believe can help you out.
Learn the markings
As the best pieces to bring you a profit are either gold or silver, you will need to learn more about them. I want to underline that learning the marking it is not as complicated as it seems and the most important things to remember can be summarized in the following manner:
- Pure gold, which is extremely rare, has a 24K (24 karats). The rest of the markings usually indicate the amount of gold the jewelry has. For instance, an 18k gold bracelet means that this accessory contains 18 out of 24 or 75% pure gold.
- The most valuable silver jewelries are marked with 925 or have “sterling” engraved on them. A 925 sterling silver jewelry commonly contains around 92.5% pure silver, the rest being an alloy containing different metals.
- The jewelry pieces without the aforementioned marks typically have a lower value, the least valuable ones being those marked with gold filling or silver plated (they are covered in a superficial layer of gold/silver).
Find out more about styles and materials
I’ll admit that the marking represent one of the most efficient ways of differentiating between valuable and non valuable pieces. However, besides the marking, it is important that you become familiar with the designers’ names, materials and styles used in a different era. Let’s take the Bakelite jewelry for example: even though this is not considered a precious metal, Bakelite was commonly used until the 20th century. Nowadays, because of its scarcity, a piece of Bakelite jewelry is worth hundreds of dollars.
Bakelite is just an example and I want to point out that many such materials and styles are overlooked at estate sales. The more you know about the styles and fashion changes, the better the odds you will be able to recognize a valuable (even vintage) piece of jewelry when you come across it. If you are curious about learning more about less-know valuable materials and styles, then I suggest you talk to an antique shop owner.
Before you go shopping…
Since not every piece of jewelry you will find is actually worth much, I strongly recommend you purchase a magnifying glass or a jeweler’s loupe. Even though the price of a quality jeweler’s loupe is sometimes ten times more than what you will pay for most of the jewelry you can find at estate sales, rest assured that you will recover your investment sooner than you think.
In addition, when you become more skilled at hunting for valuable jewelry at estate sales, I also recommend purchasing a gold testing kit so you can discover further treasures that have – for some reason – remained unmarked. On a side note, from my experience I can tell you that most of the gold, silver and precious stones jewels are usually marked. Therefore, your number one priority resides in learning how to proficiently distinguish the valuables from the worthless jewels.
Hello, I’m Chad and one of my passions is to blog about the unknown potential of estate sales.