How to select your perfect piece of vintage jewellery

How to select your perfect piece of vintage jewellery

Old is gold

Text: Ho Yun Kuan

Looking to purchase vintage jewellery but don't know where to start? Avid jewel curator Brenda Kang provides some helpful tips

As an ex-jewellery specialist at Christie's, Brenda Kang has spent a good 15 years indulging her magpie tendencies: Elizabeth Taylor's enviable collection of jewels, Harry Winston's own diamonds and American heiress Doris Duke's baubles — Kang has curated and auctioned off some of the world's biggest and most important collections. 

Today, the passionate collector is the owner of Revival, Singapore's first dedicated vintage jewels and objects retailer. Kang continues to travel the world sourcing collectibles to offer to her discerning clients. Her tiny showroom at International Building is a treasure trove of masterpieces from houses like Cartier, Van Cleef & Arpels and Bulgari. Vintage diamond watches by Chanel, Jaeger-LeCoultre and Tiffany & Co. also make regular appearances.

To Kang, the beauty of vintage jewellery lies in its workmanship: "Most vintage pieces are entirely handmade and some styles, like the Art Nouveau enamels or lace-like metal work from the Belle Epoque era, are near to impossible to reproduce today," she says. Then, there is the rarity of vintage pieces. The stories behind these creations and even the unique patina they have developed over the years are something today's jewellery can never come near to achieving. For those who wish to join her brigade, Kang has six tips.

1. Bringing Sexy Back
Look at the back of the jewellery. A well-made piece will look beautifully finished even on the back. Engravings and details added to the clasp are a good sign.

2. Conventional Cues
The 4C's (cut, colour, clarity and carat) are always relevant because they reveal the intrinsic value of the piece. The cut, especially, can be a very good indicator of its age because it may not be perfectly symmetrical. Technology for cutting and polishing were not as advanced back then.

3. Conditional Love
Always check to make sure the piece is in good condition — are the settings and prongs still in place or worn down? However, embrace patina because it is hard to reproduce and can help to date a piece.

4. Size Matters
Rings and bracelets that are too large may be impossible to size down due to the design. Bear this in mind before buying, because you may never get to wear it.

5. Famous Relations
Provenance, which refers to previous ownership of the piece by someone famous, can add great value to a piece. Try to find out more about the history of what you are buying.

6. Name Game
Karl Lagerfeld loves Suzanne Belperron jewellery. Other collectible names include JAR, Ostertag, Rene Boivin, Marcus & Co, Oscar Heyman & Bros, just to name a few. Most are not well known in Singapore and some are no longer in existence today.