How To : Shop Estate Sale Jewelry.

Charleston-based boutique, Candy Shop Vintage, is one of my favorite destinations for a good piece of vintage or vintage-inspired jewelry. As you know, I love anything vintage or antique, and I’m in awe of how shop founder Deirdre Zahl sources and designs her jewelry pieces.

My personal favorite from her collection are the Charleston Rice Beads. I just love the colors and the thoughtfulness that is so clearly put into crafting each bracelet, necklace, earring and ring. I spoke with Deirdre and learned some of her best secrets for finding quality pieces of vintage jewelry, and gained some insight into what inspires her vintage designs.

You know I love sourcing vintage but jewelry has always been one thing I’ve steared clear of. I think it’s the mass quantities I come across, it can seem overwhelming. And I am never quite sure which pieces are actually worth investing in, beyond just selecting what I instantly fall in love with. Not a bad strategy and one I’ve leaned on thus far but hopefully these pointers fro Deirdre will help you make a more informed decision. Hope you enjoy this one as much as I did!.

heirloomed: What are your favorite kinds of pieces to look for when you’re shopping for vintage jewelry?

Deirdre: I am definitely drawn to big, bold statement pieces from the 60’s-80’s that are colorful, unique and still in great condition.

heirloomed: I frequent so many antique markets / vintage shops / thrift stores and there is always SO much jewelry to sort through. If I walk up to a huge case of jewelry, where do I start?

Deirdre: For myself, I just shop for styles that I am personally drawn to. It can be overwhelming to look at a big tray or case of jewelry, or dig through a pile of it, but I usually just start in one corner and kind of scan the whole thing bit by bit and interesting pieces start to pop out at you.

heirloomed: Are there any particular designers or hallmark pieces you should keep your eye out for when shopping vintage jewelry?

Deirdre: Some great names and signatures to look for are Trifari, Napier, Avon, D&E (also went by Juliana). Ciner, Panetta, Givenchy, Sarah Coventry, Joan Rivers, Kenneth J. Lane and CHANEL of course. These designers and design houses all make great pieces.

heirloomed: Is there anything you should avoid or be cautious of when buying vintage jewelry?

Deirdre: I examine pieces pretty carefully. I make sure there is not a lot of wear to the finish (with vintage costume jewelry once the finish wears off there is no way to polish or replate). I test clip earring backs on my ears because sometimes the backs can loosen with age. I avoid screw back earrings because they do not sell well and are uncomfortable to wear. And with pins and brooches I always make sure the little pin mechanism opens and closes easily and hasn’t rusted or worn out. I also test out all the clasps on necklaces and bracelets.

heirloomed: What are some of your favorite vintage details in jewelry? (i.e.: clasps, design features, finishes / stones / colors, etc)

Deirdre: D&E/Juliana vintage jewelry was really known for its stones. Their beautiful, complicated rhinestone pieces are often set with stones you would be hard pressed to find anymore – with gradients of color or cut in interesting shapes. Also, any costume jewelry made pre-1980 generally had a much higher grade plating than contemporary jewelry – so you are really buying pieces with a better finish and a higher gold content when you are talking about vintage. There is a mechanical brooch I have in my collection that was known as a “Night and Day Brooch” and is a metal flower that can open and close as if going from night to day. It really is an amazing piece of micro-engineering! There is also a genre of jewelry called “Tremblers” where little springs are soldered under details like flower petals or insect wings and make the pieces appear to move or “tremble.”

heirloomed: What is popular these days in terms of vintage jewelry / trends you’re seeing now or for the upcoming seasons?

Deirdre: I was recently in LA and there is an amazing exhibit down on the bottom floor of the Griffith Observatory of celestial jewelry. There are hundreds of pieces of celestial themed pieces of costume jewelry, starting in the 1920’s and going all the way to the present as you walk along the wall where the exhibit is. I think celestial jewelry is starting to have a moment again – especially with the recent eclipse – and we will see more and more of it in the months and year to come.

heirloomed: How important is it to find the jewelry in the original box, how much better is it to find a complete / matching set / etc.

Deirdre: I definitely think that finding jewelry as a set or in an original box hugely improved the value in terms of what a collector might be willing to pay for something. And complete sets are always more valuable to collectors than incomplete. However, I find that people buying jewelry to wear themselves (as opposed to collect for inherent value) tend not to buy sets as it has a bit of a dated feel to be to matchy.

heirloomed: What do you think about certain vintage jewelry pieces, like brooches or clip on / screw back earrings, that are gorgeous but maybe not used as much these days?

Deirdre: Brooches never seem to quite make a real comeback as a category of jewelry. People keep suggesting they will but no matter what it is hard to make a brooch look very modern, or at least not very youthful. Screw back earrings are definitely a thing of the past. They are uncomfortable and don’t hold well. I think they preceded even the clip and obviously the modern posts and hooks.

heirloomed: What is the most amazing vintage jewelry piece you’ve come across?

Deirdre: I found a vintage olo style necklace by Benedetto Panetta and incredible designer from the early 1920’s with a background in fine jewelry. I paid $5 and it was definitely worth a few hundred dollars, although I ended up giving it as a gift to the mom of a style editor who has featured our jewelry regularly. I found a big, gold Egyptian inspired replica cuff (in its original box) from the collection Elizabeth Taylor designed around her movie Cleopatra. I also had a Tortolani zodiac cuff in my possession for awhile – a big, runway cuff from the 70’s by an Italian designer with all the zodiac signs carved into it. A guy came into my shop and bought it for his wife as an apology gift – he must have done something really bad because it was the most expensive piece we had! And I recently found some really fun, absurdly oversized “Halloween-esque” contemporary brooches – one is a jeweled spider the size of my hand, and the other one an almost life size skeleton hand brooch that sits on your shoulder.

heirloomed: Do you have any heirloom jewelry pieces that have been passed down to you / what is one of your most special pieces of jewelry and why / story?

Deirdre: I inherited some delicate, costume pieces from my grandmother, including an art deco style necklace I wore in my wedding. It was just so perfect. My mother-in-law also gave me a huge, cocktail ring that looks a lot like a cornucopia but it set with tiny, semi-precious stones (it was passed down from her mother-in-law, my husband’s grandmother and purchased abroad for her by her husband who was an explorer for National Geographic!).

heirloomed: Where did your passion for vintage jewelry + design come from?

Deirdre: I’ve always been artistic – and also always interested in fashion and collecting. I think it was a natural progression from fine art, to kind of the artistic side of the world of accessories and the history that informs is.

heirloomed: What made you decide to start Candy Shop Vintage?

Deirdre: Honestly, I started it on a bit of a whim after hosting a couple of successful vintage jewelry trunk shows in Charleston. When I moved here ten years ago, it was a much smaller city, and I had a hard time finding a job that both paid well and held my interest or encompassed all of my skills. I worked for awhile in interior design which led me to hunting in antiques markets and shows and thus collecting and reselling jewelry. It all happened pretty organically and then about four years ago I decided to formalize it as a business and go for it full time and also try my hand at design.

Also, be sure to check out this fun collaboration Deirdre did with CINER and stay tune for her upcoming holiday collaboration with MUSC Shawn Jenkins Children’s Hospital and I Heart Radio.  And of course, if you ever find yourself in Charleston, be sure to stop by and say hi to her at her shop on 9 Cannon Street.


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heirloomed is a lifestyle brand with a mission of “keeping heirlooms around for another generation.” Our blog features stories about family recipes, creating traditions with your family, interior design and entertaining by mixing new and vintage pieces, classic style, and small town + historic travel. Our shop features a collection of “goods inspired by the past, for generations to enjoy” with an array of products and meaningful gifts including linen apronstabletop linensartceramics and beyond. Learn more at www.heirloomedcollection.com

I’m an old soul based in Atlanta, GA and mom of 3 with a deep love of all things from the past with a story to tell, on a mission to keep heirlooms around for another generation - whether it be a tradition, splattered family recipe, or historic home.

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