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Buying and collecting costume jewelry

BUYING

A Q&A with Julia C. Carroll, author of three books on collecting costume jewelry.

May 03, 2009|Susan Carpenter

Diamonds may be forever, and gold may make the ugly beautiful, but with precious stones and metals fetching ever higher prices, more and more women are turning to costume jewelry to add a splash of style to their wardrobes without spending a lot of cash. We asked Julia C. Carroll, author of the books "Collecting Costume Jewelry 101," "202" and "303," for her advice on how to make sure your money's well spent.

What are some common mistakes for beginning costume jewelry buyers and collectors?

There's lots of them. The first thing would be paying too much for something by not doing the research first. There's a lot of signed jewelry out there, and a lot of unsigned jewelry, and it takes experience to know which pieces are collectible and will command high money and which will not. My recommendation has always been: Go to the stores, go to the shows and touch the pieces. Get a good feel for what's out there before spending a lot of money.

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How do you know what's a good piece and what isn't?

I'll give you the process. When I pick up a piece of costume jewelry, I look at the design. The next thing I look at is condition. Condition issues are huge. If there's anything wrong with it, it greatly impacts the price. Next thing is to turn it over. Look for rust. Green is rust. It's already damaged if there's green. The next thing is a signature. The signature provides clues as to when a piece of jewelry would have been produced. For unsigned pieces, it's construction clues that help authenticate a piece.

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How do you know if the price is right?

All you have to do is go to EBay to completed auctions and see the highest price. If you see something in a store that's $400 and think you want to buy it, go home and look it up on the computer. Check it out and see if that's a fair price. Of course, a store is going to be higher.

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Is it better to buy in a store or online?

The advantage to buying in a store is you can inspect it in person. Everybody makes mistakes and comes home with something that's damaged, but a store gives you a better opportunity to look it over, though it costs more. Buying online, it's very difficult to examine things. You have to ask questions.

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What are some of the most collectible names in vintage costume jewelry?

Trifari, Miriam Haskell, Marcel Boucher, Schiaparelli. Almost every maker had many different levels, however, so only the pieces in good condition that were originally very high end and expensive at the time will get good money today.

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The best vintage costume jewelry has seen consistent annual value increases over time. Even so, there seems to be a lot of controversy as to whether costume jewelry is a good investment. What's your take?

I would not be buying it as an investment. If people are going to buy vintage costume jewelry, they should be buying it because they love it and intend to keep it. Buying things like this is as risky as the stock market and you're taking the same risk with your money. I'm a collector, not a dealer. My goal is always to buy it at the lowest possible price that I can and see what things are selling, and I certainly stay away from trends.

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susan.carpenter@latimes.com

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