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What does it take to be an Antique & Vintage Jewellery Dealer?



Never before has there been such interest in Antique, Vintage, Pre-owned, Pre-loved jewellery or whatever else you want to call it. Rightly so as there is generally less energy and environmental impact from buying second-hand than a new piece. This isn't meant to disrespect new pieces at all as many use ethically sourced gems and metals as well as recycled and re-claimed materials, me included.


Looking at online marketplaces, some of which I sell through, there is an incredible amount of new sellers all offering things from true Antiques through to "bought yesterday from a shopping channel" pieces. Selling second-hand is easy, many of these sellers are proof. Doing it properly on the other hand is a different matter.


What do you need to be a second-hand jewellery dealer?

Money, flashy website, shops on marketplaces such as Etsy and Rubylane, a catchy name, decent photographic equipment and access to Wikipedia. That's it, simple, this is what the majority of new second-hand sellers have.


Most of them are outstripping me in sales by a long way and good luck to them. They have huge social media followings, new pieces everyday, models showing things off and some have even attracted investors.


This situation worries me. Many of the practices used and listings I've seen are of great concern to me. I've seen all sorts of things going on that make me want to throw my hands in the air and give up. Below is a brief list.


  1. Some of these new dealers are using freshly prepared Valuations for Insurance as a selling tool, often with a new replacement value listed. Second-hand is not new and this represents an inducement to buy, which is frowned upon in the established trade. Most valuers won't provide a "New Replacement Value" on these pieces unless instructed, so there's an issue there.

  2. "Antique Tanzanite Ring" Technically, this could be true as pieces of Blue Zoisite (Tanzanite) have been around a long time, but Tanzanite was "discovered" and named/branded by Tiffany's in 1967.

  3. "Antique Malachite Bead Necklace". Not even Malachite. These beads were another form of Zoisite (green rock) that doesn't resemble Malachite in the slightest. In addition, these beads were listed for £495 (far too much for Malachite or Zoisite), they hadn't been re-strung and were likely to break, they had a small silver clasp which wasn't up to the task and they certainly weren't over 100 years old.

  4. "Untreated Blue Topaz Brooch". Untreated? Virtually all Blue Topaz is irradiated (treated) with very, VERY, few natural examples (generally collected at source and housed in important collections) and impossible to prove they are natural. A very unwise declaration. Treatments in general are a nightmare when it comes to many of these dealers, they mostly tip to untreated rather than "I don't know".

  5. "Art Deco" wedding ring on a plain 22ct gold band. Art Deco is a period of design, not a date range. If the ring was of the right date range and had a typical geometric style, then yes, Art Deco is a possibility in the description, but not a plain one. The fact it was hallmarked in 1939 is not enough, even that's getting a bit late.

  6. "Natural Lab Created Ruby" Okay....which is it? Natural (earth mined) or Lab Created (Human Made)? At least they are a step above the many sellers selling synthetics as natural.

  7. Damaged and badly restored items listed as "Wear consistent with age". Damage is not wear. Often there is no mention of these issues. I once had a customer decline to buy a brand new, Platinum and Diamond full eternity ring from me as it was too expensive (£2,000 at the time). They bought a second hand version for £1,400 from someone else instead. A few months down the line they brought it to me as 2 stones had fallen out and the dealer they bought it from was blaming it on them. The ring was worn out and I made a new ring to fit their stones at a cost of £1,500. An expensive mistake. If I were selling the original ring, I would restore it first.

  8. Damaged and uneconomical to repair. "You can buy it for only £500 as it needs repairs, but it will be worth 3x that when restored". This was something I was told when I casually asked about a piece. They were right, it would be around £1,500 when restored. The cost of restoring was around £1,500 on its own though.

  9. Not spotting altered items. Rings that were once Brooches or pendants. Three bracelets combined to make a Diamond necklace. Transposed hallmarks on silverware. A transposed hallmark is a hallmark cut out of one piece and inset in another. Years ago these were easy to spot as they were soldered in. Today they are more sophisticated. Recently I saw a 1930's style teapot with the hallmark of an Exeter spoon maker dated 1824. The maker never made anything other than spoons and was clearly a century ahead of his time.



So what do you actually need to become a respectable second-hand jewellery dealer?

  1. Honesty and Humility. If you don't know, admit it. If there is something not quite right, say so. If something has been repaired, restored or altered, say so. If it needs work, say so. If you don't want to buy something, say so (better than an insulting offer).

  2. Knowledge. Either through training or experience. Listen to people that know more than you.

  3. Qualifications. Training is good, but the assurance to your customers of qualifications from respected education providers is priceless.

  4. Experience. Being told something is not the same as doing it. You can explain and teach skydiving, but it's not the same as experiencing it.

  5. Equipment and resources. In order to buy or sell you need to be able to measure and weigh accurately as well as test Metals, Gemstones and Diamonds. The weighing is extremely important as balances need to be "legal for trade" and they cost a fair amount of money. Many dealers rely on a visual appearance or hallmarks for metal quality and don't test. As an example, hallmarked rings are often taken off a genuine necklace and added to a plated piece. These are minimums. These days gem treatments are getting harder to spot and Lab Grown Diamonds are causing many issues as well. I have recently seen Lab Grown Diamonds cut to mimic Victorian style Diamonds and there's only one reason why that's the case, to deceive.

  6. Training and experience. Did I cover that already (Knowledge & Qualifications)? Yes, but it's very important.

Once you've got these, crack on with the flashy website, media campaigns and the rest.


For the consumer reading this, never before has "buyer beware" been more important. There are more dealers around now than ever before and more of a lack of knowledge than ever before. Add to this all the tricky little things out there to catch people out and there is a disaster brewing.


This is the same whether you buy in shops, trade fairs or auctions. Buyer Beware.


Thank you for reading.


Best wishes,

Damian







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