Could you have a hidden treasure in your jewellery box? It’s worth having a rummage – vintage jewellery has soared in value by 88% in the last ten years, according to Art Market Research. That compares with 47% for average house prices in England over the same period. In particular demand are Art Deco pieces from the 1920s and 1930s, and Belle Époque jewellery, dating from around 1870 to the start of World War I.
What should you look for? “People tend to think designer pieces of jewellery are very obviously branded by their creators, but that’s not always the case,” says Jean Ghika, head of jewellery for UK and Europe at auction house Bonhams. “The identifying marks of many leading designers can be incredibly subtle… These ‘signatures’ can make a huge difference to the eventual selling price.”
For example, one brooch in a girl’s dressing-up box turned out to be a gold, pearl and emerald Verdura Camel Brooch made by Fulco Santostefano della Cerda, the Duke of Verdura, in 1952. It sold for £9,600. Then there was the case of a Yorkshire woman who thought that a chunky gold “twist” necklace, studded with large cabochon citrines, was near-worthless costume jewellery. On closer inspection, experts spotted a “discreet” engraving that revealed the item had been made by none other than Coco Chanel. It fetched £68,500 at auction in April 2015.
While some of the value of vintage jewellery is tied up in the gemstones used in the pieces, the surge in prices reflects other influences. After all, the price of diamonds – which tend to be the most sought-after jewels – actually fell by 7% over the last 12 months, as measured by the Rapaport One Carat index. Rather, it is the stories and history attached to the pieces that makes vintage jewellery so desirable, says Emily Barber, department director of Bonhams London.
“To find an original, intact, surviving jewel from a particular period in history, with the added bonus that it was made by a master jeweller, makes it an incredibly rare and valuable work of art. Its value is not just in the gems but also in the fine workmanship and innovative design.”
As with many collectables, much of the extra demand for vintage jewellery has come from China. Jeweller Michael Rose, who runs four outlets – including one in Mayfair’s Burlington Arcade – has seen rising numbers of Chinese customers looking to benefit from the weaker pound. “They are looking for jewellery that is linked to certain historical periods, styles, or famous designers,” he tells the South China Morning Post. “They cannot find the same quality of vintage jewellery in mainland China or other cities. London is the best place, and has the largest collections of classical jewellery.” Time to check your bottom drawer.
Looking after your jewellery
You’ve peered inside your jewellery box and you think you may have something valuable on your hands – how do you make sure it’s protected from disaster? Most insurers only cover individual items up to £2,000 on standard home policies, and expensive pieces should be listed separately. Direct Line offers a Select Premier policy, while Churchill Home Plus covers items up to £4,000. For those with more valuable pieces, you only have to let insurer Hiscox know of valuables worth more than £15,000 under its jewellery cover, but proof of loss is required when making a claim.
Having a third-party valuation document on your jewellery will make life easier if reporting a loss to your insurer, says Gareth Lane of price comparison site Confused.com in The Times. “Occasionally specialist valuations are required for items that are antique, very rare or exotic, mainly to ensure they are valued correctly.” You can find a certified specialist at the Institute of Registered Valuers – expect to pay around £40 on a £2,000 diamond ring. Bonhams currently offers a free estimation service at Bonhams.com/makersanderas, and for a limited time, free one-to-one valuations at outlets across the UK.
Finally, if you are lucky enough to be the owner of a Cartier necklace, say, then be aware that your insurer may insist that you invest in a high-quality safe, says Toby Walne in The Mail on Sunday. Buy a safe that conforms to a minimum security rating of EN14450. A decent “starter safe” should set you back £300, plus £150 for installation. Visit the Master Locksmiths Association website for further details.
A 25.65g solid gold Lego brick was expected to fetch £12,000 when it went up for auction with online auctioneers Catawiki this week. The bricks were presented as gifts between 1979 and 1981 to selected retiring business partners and staff who had served at least 25 years with the toy firm. Only ten are thought to exist. One sold for £11,000 five years ago.
A collection of 700 toy cars exceeded its £60,000 upper estimate when it went up for auction last month. It reached almost £100,000 when the hammer finally fell, including £2,100 for a pack of 12 Lego miniature vehicles (pictured above). Dudley-based Aston’s Auctioneers held the sale after 67-year-old retired motoring historian Anders Clausager, from Birmingham, decided that the collection, amassed over a period of 60 years, was taking up too much space in his house.