The many types of jewelry collectibles offer choices for every taste and pocketbook. Some costume jewelry, for example, because of its stunning design or historic associations, has become more valuable than precious metal jewelry of the same period. To accumulate a great collection, collect what you love, but pay special attention to authenticity, workmanship, and beauty.
Some collectors specialize in a period, like Art Nouveau or Art Deco. Others choose a type, like mourning jewelry. Finally, many specialize in a favorite designer, amassing examples of a particular artist's best work.
Memento mori was a somewhat macabre style of jewelry popular in Georgian and Victorian times. Some examples include skeletons and tombstones in their design. Later in the period, somber jewelry of jet or ebony was designed especially for the bereaved. Rings, bracelets, and even earrings incorporated the hair of the deceased. Lockets or pendants held miniature portraits of lost spouses or children, or photographs taken after their death. Queen Victoria inspired this fashion with her long mourning for her husband, Prince Albert, and the pieces are often exquisite.
Lively Art Nouveau jewelry, made between about 1890 and 1910, went in a completely different direction. It celebrated nature with flowing lines and intricate motifs. Women with flowing hair, often lightly dressed, were commonly portrayed, as were flowers and foliage, snakes and lizards, dragonflies, and animals. Art Nouveau used enamel for bright and subtle colors, often set in silver or gold.
Art Deco celebrated the machine age, the Jazz age, and the age of speed. The graceful curves of Art Nouveau became the stronger, more massive shapes of Deco. Platinum was the favorite metal, often set with square diamonds and highlighted with natural or synthetic colored gems. Jewelry became tricky, with double clips that could become one brooch, or necklaces that could be taken apart into chokers, bracelets, and pins.
Kenneth Jay Lane has been making fabulous fakes for more than 50 years. His pieces from the 60s and early 70s are especially coveted, and he is still designing. The QVC channel sells KJL, while Nordstrom and similar stores sell high-end versions of his line.
Joan Rivers sells on QVC too. Her jewelry is showy, gaudy, and yet artful. It's as attention-getting as the lady herself. These are pieces to wear at night, and then to carefully pack away for your grandchildren to enjoy.
Plenty of contemporary Tiffany is not fantastically expensive. The silver pieces sold in Tiffany catalogs and stores make treasured gifts, and will certainly become heirlooms.
Madonna wears Trifari. This company made bold frankly fake pieces, first making their name in the 1920s. Mamie Eisenhower wore Trifari, and pieces in the styles she favored are especially coveted.
Coro once made half the jewelry sold. The company has been out of business since 1980, but many of its early pieces are considered rare treasures, such as the Jelly Belly pins and Trembler pins. Once sold in dime stores, clever Duette clips now fetch remarkable prices.
These are only some of the great designers. Haskell and Eisenberg are two more, and collectors will discover their own favorites as they learn. Etsy, EBay, and Portero are great places to look at jewelry of all kinds. Specializing in a particular designer helps a collector become knowledgeable enough to spot great buys and avoid fakes.
Pronged settings are a sign of quality, and so is substantial weight. Look for smooth, unworn plating, and make sure there are no clumsy repairs or missing stones, because it is just too hard to match old stones.
Only buy jewelry that pleases you, no matter how famed the designer. Your collection should be about you, the colors and forms you like, and the finishes you enjoy. Whether or not your pieces increase in value, they will be a source of abiding pleasure as your knowledge and your collection grows.