Jewellery shopping is so much fun, but it’s also a crazy rabbit hole we’ve all gone down one time too many. You know what I mean. We all start out just wanting “a simple [insert precious stone here] ring,” or a “classic diamond necklace,” or “timeless pair of earrings.” However, the more research you do and the more designs you see, of course the more pieces you try on, somehow you begin to find fault with everything and eventually they all start to look alike.
This is quite often the case with contemporary jewellery because thanks (or no thanks, rather) to advancements in production technology, the pieces can be mostly made by mass production, with only the last five to 10 per cent finished by hand, if at all. You’re definitely in good hands when you go for top-shelf maisons such as Cartier and Van Cleef & Arpels, Bulgari and Chopard…
But let’s face it, there’s a ton of people out there who already have a Love or Juste Un Clou bracelet, an Alhambra necklace or a B.zero1 ring. As fashion statements, they’re great. Although when you’re in search of something much more unique or unusual, you’re going to have to expand the search radius, and here’s where vintage jewellery comes in.
Vintage jewellery can be anything from the 1950s to late 1970s. Pieces made between 1980 and before 2000 would be more accurately called retro designs. Antique jewellery is anything older than 1950s and are often iconic to a specific era such as Art Deco, Edwardian, or Victorian.
Says Brenda Kang of Singapore’s own Revival Jewels, “Through vintage jewellery, you learn about jewellery history, jewellery design through the ages, skilled workmanship (some which cannot be reproduced today), and even see rare gemstones and diamonds.”
Because jewellery in the past was never done on a mass scale, modern creations simply cannot be compared to vintage pieces. The dedication and finesse to jewellery crafting and goldsmithing then is also far more sophisticated, so you could often very easily distinguish between a vintage jewel and something else made in the present day.
For a truly unique engagement ring, for instance, you could consider something with old mine cut diamonds, rose cut diamonds, kite shaped or hexagonal diamonds, Burmese rubies, coral centre stones… all which are rarely or no longer available in contemporary jewellery.
Naturally, shopping for vintage jewellery pretty much means what you see is what you get. That is the first caveat when you’re hunting for something already made decades earlier, and very likely pre-owned. A number of things are par for the course here: fine scratches, no choice of sizes, and sometimes missing gemstones.
You could skirt some of these issues by polishing the metal or resizing the piece (if it allows) but one thing you should always remember is to buy from a trusted source. Speak to the store owner to suss out how knowledgeable or passionate he or she is. At the end of the day, you always want to buy from someone who values their reputation more than making a sale.
Here are some of Vogue Singapore’s favourite online avenues to shop for vintage jewellery.
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The California-based jewellery designer retails her own collections, striving to create one-of-a-kind designs in the fine jewellery space. She also sources and retails a selection of vintage and antique jewellery across a wide range of price points. You could shop an $800 petite diamond ring or a $14,500 sapphire and diamond Art Deco ring on the very same platform. This rose cut diamond navette ring is perfect as a proposal ring. More on ashley zhangjewelry.com
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Bentley & Skinner
This famed establishment on London’s Mayfair district has been in the jewellery business for three generations, and was once the appointed jeweller to the British royal family. Specialising in fine antique jewels, they stock a dazzling array of engagement rings priced £3,000 and up, featuring stones of all colours and carats. This lovely mid-20th century emerald and diamond ring would make anyone say “yes!” More on bentley-skinner.co.uk
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Probably Singapore’s best kept jewellery secret, Revival Jewels is run by Brenda Kang who spent 15 years as a jewellery specialist at Christie’s. Her salon at Wheelock Place open for viewings by appointment only, and that is where you’ll find a treasure trove of beautiful antique, vintage and retro pieces. Kang curates the selection with her expert eye, and this exquisite old mine cut diamond ring is unlike anything you’ve ever seen. More on revival jewels.com
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Carrying a mix of in-house-designed creations as well as vintage jewellery, Erstwhile Jewelry has a long and storied background in the jewellery business. This family-owned outfit specialises in all kinds of styles from 19th century Victorian to turn-of-the century Edwardian jewellery, French Art Nouveau, Art Deco and retro 40s. We are absolutely in love with this late Victorian rose cut oval diamond ring. More on erstwhilejewelry.com
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This vintage jeweller from London has one of the most extensive collections of antique rings in the world, as it focuses on pieces that represent the best of every period. You’ll find some interesting signed pieces from classic American jewellers including a wide selection by Oscar Heyman Brothers, in addition to pieces from Yard Inc. and Eugene Meister. How do you say no to this gorgeous 1970s ruby and diamond ring by Oscar Heyman Brothers? More on berganza.com
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One of London’s leading sources of exceptional and esoteric jewels dating from the 17th century through to the early 20th century, Sandra Cronan has been in the antique jewellery business for over 40 years. The selection is small but well curated. This late 18th century rose cut diamond button ring is simply too beautiful for words. More on sandracronan.com
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Specialising in jade and diamonds with a Straits-Chinese distinction, Gem Gardener deals only in Type A Jadeite Jade. Among the selection you’ll find lots of natural green jade pieces and rose cut diamond jewellery, as well as Old European cut mostly from our region. This mid-century baguette diamond ring in white gold makes for an unconventional choice if solitaire or centre stones aren’t your thing. More on gemgardener.com
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Already a member of Vestiaire Collective? Then you’re no stranger to its collection of quirky vintage jewellery. Stocking an extensive range of fashion, fine and high jewellery, you’ll have lots of fun shopping on this page. Don’t log out without checking out this delectable vintage Bulgari yellow gold ring with a rose tourmaline centre stone. More on vestiairecollective.com
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Galerie Lydia Rupp
This Parisian vintage jeweller offers a range of jewels and objets d’arts, sourcing from 19th century Belle Epoque, Art Nouveau, Art Deco periods, along with signed pieces and contemporary creations. Their website may not be much, but don’t that that distract you from the fabulous jewellery pieces, some of which are surprisingly well priced. This gold diamonds and amethyst ring, for instance, dating back to the 1960s/70s. More on galerielydiarupp.com
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Saidian & Sons
This New York jeweller stocks an incredible array of antique and vintage collections, with a strong focus on Van Cleef & Arpels as well as Cartier pieces. In the 90s it has even sold an important jewel to the Louvre, and to this day continues to deal in legendary pieces, many with ties to royalty. This dazzling 5-carat rose cut diamond ring is one to cherish forever. More on saidiansons.com