Stretch your Valentine's Day dollar with estate jewelry

OTTAWA -- Anne Wallner carefully removes a platinum-and-diamond clip made by Cartier from a cabinet in her jewelry store.

Often worn in pairs, she only has one of the handmade, mid-century pieces for sale.

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With more than seven carats of diamonds, including a 1.25-carat centre stone, the price tag is $28,000.

"A comparable piece new would be more in the neighbourhood of $50,000," says Wallner, the owner of Alyea's Jewellers in Ottawa.

That's the appeal of shopping for estate jewelry.

"Estate jewelry is generally priced 40, 50, even 60 per cent lower than a comparable new piece," she says.

But it can offer more for those seeking a distinctive bauble as Valentine's Day approaches.

Collectors looking for authentic period pieces hunt estate sales, and those looking to minimize their environmental footprint may also want to take a look.

"Certainly today the fact that this is, in a sense recycled goods, so has very low environmental impact, is very appealing, particularly to younger people," Wallner says.

Estate jewelry is jewelry that has been owned by someone else previously.

It may be just a few years old or could be an antique piece that's more than 100 years old with a fascinating provenance.

When examining a piece of estate jewelry, it's important to consider the quality of the materials including the metals, the gemstones and workmanship. You should be sure that the clasps work, the gems aren't wiggling and that the claws holding them in position are in good condition.

"Those claws that are holding the stones in place will actually wear down and then stones can become loose, so you want to make sure that the stones aren't loose," says Lee Rock, a gemologist, certified diamond grader and registered master valuer.

Rock, who also teaches diamond grading and jewelry appraisal at George Brown College in Toronto, says if it's an antique piece, potential buyers need to know the circa date, when it was produced and find out if it comes with its original box.

"The value almost doubles on antique jewelry if it comes with the original box," she says.

Hallmarks stamped on a piece will show the type of gold or silver used, while a trademark will show the manufacturer, but not every piece will have them. Diamonds may be laser-inscribed with a traceable identification number.

Rock says jewelry made in Canada could include both a hallmark and a trademark, or neither.

"Both are legal," she said, noting that small independent jewellers may not have a registered trademark.

Donna Hawrelko, president of the Canadian Gemmological Association and a gemology instructor at Vancouver Community College, advises people to ask the shop if you can have the piece appraised independently.

"If it does not appraise out at what the store is selling it for or more, then you want the option to bring it back," she said.

If the store doesn't agree to allow you to have the item appraised before you buy it or to return the piece after purchasing it, Hawrelko says to consider bringing an appraiser to the store with you if it's something you still want to buy "especially if you're spending thousands of dollars on a piece," Hawrelko said.

"It is worth your while to spend maybe $100 or $150 to have an appraiser come in and make sure it is what it says," she said.

Shopping for estate jewelry means that choices might be limited by more than just the amount of money potential buyers want to spend.

Finding the right piece that fits your taste -- or that of your Valentine -- might be more difficult. But with a little luck and patience, it's possible to find a beautiful piece with the added bonus of a history.

Hawrelko owns a combination of estate and contemporary pieces of jewelry, but she says she prefers the estate items.

"I'm personally an art deco fan, so I like the designs of the period," she said. "That kind of jewelry appeals to me, so I love when I see those kinds of pieces."


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