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How to Buy Fine Jewelry: Don’t be Afraid of Mistakes

Miriam Haskell Jewelry

Miriam Haskell vintage necklaces offered in the December 7, 2010 Skinner Fine Jewelry auction

Especially with the collection of Miriam Haskell jewelry coming up for auction (see a gallery of images below), people are asking me, “How do I get started buying fine jewelry?”

Here’s what I say to them, “Don’t be afraid to buy something and make a mistake.” If you don’t make a mistake, you haven’t tried hard enough. And you know what? You’re not going to make the same mistake again. Plus, the next time, you won’t be so afraid to try.

Every time I made a mistake—and believe me, I’ve made my share—this is what I would say to myself: if I had to take a degree in antique jewelry it would cost at least $100,000 in college tuition. So every time I buy something and lose money, I write it down. So far, I haven’t finished my degree.

It’s a great way of looking at it. Think about it: with each mistake, you’re not losing money, you’re earning your degree! I’m probably up to about a year of college courses just from getting out there and giving it a try. If you don’t try, you’re not going to get it, and you’re just going to go through life on the sidelines.

Here’s how you start out. Go to museums and look at the best stuff first so your eye is trained to look at great pieces. You want to judge everything against that. Then, start reading auction catalogues. There’s nothing like going to an auction, reading the catalogue, and seeing things sold.

Finally, you take the plunge. Set aside a certain amount of money, say $500. Ask yourself, “What is the best thing I can buy for $500?” It could end up being a great silver bracelet, or a nice piece of costume jewelry. From there, you move up the ladder. Maybe next you want to buy an Art Deco ring. Set a price range again, and decide what you want to focus on. Do you want it in silver or gold? Do you want colored stones or do you care more about design? There are so many different designs within Art Deco. You have to train your eye to recognize which pieces you really love and what speaks to you.

The whole jewelry world is right there, in museums, exhibitions, auctions and auction catalogues. At auctions, you can see what’s been made, what’s being bought, and what’s being sold. Where else can you do that?

Skinner’s next jewelry auction is December 7th in Boston, featuring a collection of vintage jewelry by Miriam Haskell. I hope to see you there.

Just remember: it’s okay to make a mistake. That’s the best teacher.

Gallery of Miriam Haskell Jewelry

13 thoughts on “How to Buy Fine Jewelry: Don’t be Afraid of Mistakes

  1. Kerry, the link in your blog comment of 11/20 won’t work on my computer. Could it be me or is the link just maybe not right? I love the blog, I started reading as soon as I signed up! I happen to have some Miriam Haskell pieces that I’d love to learn more about so I’ll watch the auction! Thanks!

  2. Kerry, glad to see the blog. I’ve been collecting jewelry (mostly vintage costume) for about ten years now and I have to agree, completely. I’m sitting here racking my brain trying to remember when or where I’ve made a mistake and all I can think of is when I didn’t buy when I should have. It’s agonizing to think back on the pieces I’ve let slip from my grasp.

    From the start I bought and read books like crazy. Knowledge is power!

    In short of how I got started; I’ve got a lady friend who, at the time, had been collecting jewelry for twenty years or so. From the time I met her she tried to get me to look at her collection and I always declined. I just wasn’t interested.

    Well…one day I finally caved and said, “OK let’s see it.” WOW! My eyes must have looked like half dollars. I was hooked from then on. She had it all, (thousands of pieces), well organized and displayed in carrying cases. IT was absolutely beautiful. I couldn’t stop looking at it.

    I was an antique dealer for a number of years and was very diverse in my buying but never thought about jewelry. I now collect with great passion with the pieces numbering in the thousands. It’s amazing what you can find if you just look.

    In my experience, the biggest mistake is NOT buying.

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  4. Collecting is always fun; the thrill of finding unique items is unbeatable.
    It is also a good investment, as the right group of items put together is worth more than each one separately. Another great advantage of collecting jewels is that one gets to WEAR them! rather than putting our friends and family through the ordeal of having to admire the latest acquisition…; furthermore one’s selection of pieces is exclusive and personal making it a valuable reflection of our personality and taste for future generations.
    This site is for everyone who shares this passion.

  5. Go and invest! It is fun to try to understand the reason things are the way they are. The more you know about antique jewelry the more you realize that you hardly know anything.

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  7. My brother is looking to be the best piece of fine jewelry that he can find for his girlfriend’s birthday. So thanks for suggesting that he starts by going to museums and training his eye to look at great pieces. I’ll be sure to tell him that before he starts looking at actual fine jewelry, he should check out the pieces at the museum to get more used to it.

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