Shopping for Vintage Jewelry

Jackie Mantey
A selection of rings from Scotch Street Vintage's Etsy store.

Editor’s note: Columbus Weddings writer Jackie Mantey is planning a wedding of her own. She and her fiancé chose an engagement ring fromScotch Street Vintage—an Etsy shop that you may recognize from our monthly Etsy Eight roundups—and took the time to chat with shop owner Lori Sudler about tips for buying and caring for vintage jewelry. Read their Q&A below.

How did you become interested in vintage jewelry?

My mom and I have always been “treasure hunters.” Going to antique stores, flea markets and estate sales has always been a favorite Saturday thing to do. I have always been obsessed with glassware. The craftsmanship and intricacy of vintage glassware and stemware is incredible. It was a good friend that said to me, “If you love glassware, you should check out vintage jewelry.” I was immediately hooked, and these two vintage areas did have a great deal in common. They both have a sentimental quality to them and you can’t find anything like them anymore.

When and why did you start Scotch Street Vintage?

For a long time, my business was family photography, but as my business grew, so did arthritis in my hands. Long weekends of multiple shoots were becoming painful and taking a great deal of time away from my family. It was my mom that suggested starting a vintage business. So in 2013, I launched Scotch Street Vintage. It started with furniture and lots of glassware, and then my friend put the jewelry idea in my head. After about a year of hard-core research and building a collection, I shifted Scotch Street Vintage in the vintage jewelry direction.

What does the name mean?

It’s funny, I get so many questions about the name. The name of the street I live on is the name of an old, renowned scotch. I originally contacted them and to see if I could [use the name of that scotch to] name my shop “Said Scotch” Vintage, and they said no. So I dumbed it down to Scotch Street Vintage. It is completely literal.

Have you seen any increased interest in vintage rings as a wedding piece?

I have; I think there is a huge interest in vintage in general right now. I think a clear sign of this is the onslaught of new designer jewelry that is being branded “vintage style” or “vintage inspired.” When the big names in jewelry today are not only naming but also emulating designs from the past, you know it has to be popular. The resurgence of filigree work—intricate gold design and detail—is another great example of the popularity of vintage right now. However, filigree in new jewelry is not the filigree of the past. The filigree now is basic roping and has a lot of gem enhancement, whereas the filigree work of the past is true artistry, with flowers and deco design as small as a millimeter. [Modern filigree] is a nod to the past but not a duplication of it.

Do you have any recommendations for couples who would like to have a vintage or previously loved ring?

1. Where are you looking? Your hunt for the perfect ring should start at reputable stores. Whether it is an online store or brick-and-mortar store, you can do some quick research to find out their history and reputation. Read reviews that people have left. Ask questions.

2. Know your gemstones. Here are just a couple quick facts about a few of my favorite gemstones.

  • Aquamarines should be visibly clean, and the color can range from an almost clear color to light green to a bright blue.
  • Emeralds should have visible inclusions and a thickness to the color; if it does not then it could be lab-created.
  • Rubies are always expensive. If you find a cheap one, it’s probably a fake.
  • Tanzanite was officially classified in the late 1970s when a large deposit was found in Tanzania. There are no vintage tanzanite pieces pre-1978.

3. Know your metals. A hallmark is the [name for the] marking on the inside of a ring band, usually. In some cases, the hallmark only tells gold content—10k, 14k, etc. —but often in vintage jewelry the hallmark also has a maker’s mark—a way to identify who made the ring—and there can be markings for origin and date. I would not buy a vintage ring without hallmarks unless the seller has good information and paperwork as to why it’s not hallmarked.

  • U.S. standards and hallmarks: 10k, 14k, 18k, 24k (rarely found in jewelry)
  • European standards and hallmarks: in European gold, content hallmarks are the percentage number of the gold content so, 14k [would be denoted as] 583.
  • German and Russian hallmarks are often on the outside of the band instead of the inside.
  • French hallmarks are the most complex, with symbols representing the different gold contents, but the symbols have changed over the decades. Most of the time, an eagle’s head represents 18k gold.

4. Protect and cherish. Now that you have that perfect ring, take care of it.

  • Once you have purchased a ring, I would definitely have it looked at by a local jeweler. Think about getting an appraisal for insurance purposes.
  • If you need to have the ring sized, always go to a local jeweler with an on-site person that will do the sizing. There are two points to this. First, there are many ways for a ring to be sized. Having the jeweler see the ring and size the client in-person is so important. Second, many [jewelry store] chains will ship your ring out to be sized, and that just leaves it out there in the world where it can be lost. Why take the risk?
  • Take care of your vintage ring. Things like polishing can be very harmful to delicate filigree work, as can constantly cleaning. Ask your jeweler the best way to care for your ring.

 Do you often know the stories behind the rings?

Sometimes the stories come from the items themselves via their hallmarks and inscriptions, original tags or original packaging. The item in and of itself is a wealth of information. I currently have an 8k gold (a standard no longer used to make jewelry) wedding band hallmarked 333 (gold content) and inscribed “G.M. ~ 1897.” It is an incredible piece.

However, the best stories come from sellers that have a personal history of the pieces. I have an engagement ring right now that was created from a brooch the seller’s grandfather had inherited. When he went to ask his love to marry him he had little money, but he took the brooch and used the diamonds and metal to create a one-of-a-kind ring. The seller (his granddaughter) asked one thing of me: To make sure that the story of her grandparents went with the ring and that whoever gets the ring knows that her grandparents were “ ’till death do us part.”

My job is not just selling vintage jewelry; sometimes it is preserving little pieces of history.