This month’s blog is not a fashion advice post but rather something personal I’ve wanted to share for a while. As a vintage and antique jewellery collector, I come across stunning period jewels all the time. Most of them I purchase for my online shop, but every now and then, I stumble upon those special pieces that I just can’t let go past me. So unsurprisingly, I’ve amassed many time-honoured jewels for my private collection over the years.
I’ve always been passionate about jewellery and consider it an extension of my personality. I love mixing up old and new to create original combinations that reflect my mood and individuality. Most of my jewels are stackable, and I can easily mix them with the rest of my collection following some clear aesthetic guidelines, e.g. dark Victorian jewellery on my “serious” days, light-hearted modern designs on fun days, elegant and classic on bling nights, and so on.
In this blog post, I wanted to reveal some of my ultimate favourite and most worn pieces, particularly those that have sentimental value to me and hold a special place both in my heart and my jewellery box.
Although I could go on for days, I curated my selection down to seven pieces, one for each day of the week.
Here they are, in all their timeless glory:
1. VICTORIAN WEDDING BRACELETS
This antique jewellery set would look like just an old pair of gold bangles for those who don’t know much about Victorian bracelets. But a curious historical detail makes them so much more fascinating. During the Victorian era, bracelets were often sold in identical or non-identical pairs. Although they came in various styles and sizes, most were fairly common in appearance. In the late 19th century, however, a new style emerged in the form of gold “handcuffs”.
These handcuff bangles often functioned as a symbol of a marital bond and some were even equipped with a lock and key. A gentleman would lock one on the chosen lady’s wrist upon engagement and the second on her other wrist on their wedding day. This 14ct antique gold pair is etched “NY” on the tongues and has something very old-world, yet very modern. I like to style them in a stack of gold Victorian galore paired with a leather jacket or black power suit.
2. VICTORIAN MOURNING NECKLACE
One of the reasons I’m in love with Victorian jewels is the sentimentality and symbolism surrounding the antique jewellery designs from that era. Mourning jewellery was especially popular, a trend highly inspired by Queen Victoria herself, who mourned the death of her beloved husband, Prince Albert, to the end of her life. These jewellery mementoes had a strict aesthetic code and were usually made of darker gems, like black jet and onyx. It may sound morbid, but Victorian mourning jewellery is actually some of the most beautiful period jewellery ever made.
This antique necklace is made from onyx and it came with a glass compartment in the back containing the braided hair of the deceased – another common sentimental practice in mourning jewels from that time. I chose to have it removed and stored in a safe place out of respect. The centre is adorned with an old mine-cut diamond, the best and my favourite diamond cut. Popular during the 18th and 19th centuries, these antique diamonds feature a squarish shape with curved edges.
Contrary to the modern-day round brilliant cut, the old mine cut gave diamonds a higher crown, a smaller table, and larger facets (58 in total). However, there was a reason behind these bulkier proportions; they made diamonds sparkle brighter under candlelight. The term “old mine cut” was also originally used to indicate that the diamond was sourced from the older Indian and Brazilian mines, as opposed to the newer African mines that came into use in the late 1800s.
3. GRANDMA’S COSTUME BROOCHES
One of the most beautiful aspects of vintage and antique jewellery is their ability to turn into heirlooms passed down from generation to generation, connecting a family forever. This pair of costume brooches once belonged to my paternal grandmother, with whom I share so much in common yet never met in person. She is said to have had impeccable taste in jewellery, and her personal collection was a mix of fine and costume pieces — now you know where the genes came from!
She gifted these brooches to my mother as a present, who wanted me to have them as a souvenir from my grandma and an eternal reminder of our family bond. They’re embellished with faux pearls and rhinestones, and their designs are typical for the styles of the 1950s-1960s. I usually pin them on my jackets and don’t even mind the few missing stones — the retro effect is still gorgeous.
4. 1960s DIAMOND AND EMERALD RING
The 1960s were the decade that launched the Modern Jewellery era, and a vintage jewellery period that I personally adore due to the heavy influence of Hollywood bling. Stones became bigger, designs became bolder, and stars like Marilyn Monroe, Audrey Hepburn and Grace Kelly epitomised the era’s fabulous styles. The trend for rings changed from solitaire to clusters. Silver metal and coloured gemstones like rubies, emeralds and sapphires became widespread in fine jewellery production.
A perfect embodiment of the decade’s aesthetic shift, I scored this vintage emerald ring with diamond work from one of my favourite vintage jewellery dealers in Los Angeles. I knew I had to have it when my eyes fell on its original brutalist design! The swirling diamond clusters and emerald green accents remind me of something that Liz Taylor would wear at one of her lavish parties. The perfect statement ring to complete my evening attire on a night out.
5. 1920s SILVER AND DIAMOND BRACELET
This next piece is the embodiment of the history encapsulated in antique jewellery. Although the diamonds are not of the best clarity and colour, the story of this bracelet — which also has a twin not pictured here — simply captured my heart. Its journey began in the jewellery collection of an Iranian lady who emigrated from Iran to the USA sometime during the previous century. At age 90, she sold the bracelets to a New York City-based dealer, who happens to be one of my most trusted sellers.
Just take a minute to think about this jewel’s journey. From the jewellery box of an Iranian owner to the New York shop of an American dealer to the hands of an Egyptian collector based in Dubai. Upon buying this bracelet, I inherited this story spanning centuries, and I became its keeper until I pass it down to the next owner — probably my children. Now, that’s something that a store-bought jewel simply can’t give you.
6. RETRO ANIMAL BROOCHES
I wouldn’t be a proper vintage collector if I didn’t own at least one Jelly Belly brooch! First invented by Trifari in the 1930s and adopted by many other brands in the 1940s, these playful brooches are one of the most recognisable examples of vintage costume jewellery. They usually featured a cute animal with a protruding rounded middle made from polished lucite or other forms of acrylic. Mine features a turtle with a faux-pearl belly adorned with shiny rhinestones all around. I scored it at a vintage store in West Village, NYC, and it’s everything a Jelly Belly should be — charming, stylish, and whimsical.
I usually pair it with a fine companion of a winking owl brooch, covering both symbols of wisdom and longevity. The owl’s piercing ruby eyes are further accented by its diamond-filled belly, creating the blingiest of combos! I sourced this one from a vintage jewellery dealer in New York and was told that it’s a 1920s piece, but I believe it’s a later production, probably from the 1940s-1950s. I love wearing my animal jewellery at networking events when I can’t get myself to start a conversation — the jewels sort of make it easier for people to nudge me into chatting!
7. COSTUME PEARL EARRINGS
I sourced these seed and baroque pearl flower ear clips from Hirst Antiques, a favourite vintage jewellery store of mine on Portobello road in London, which specialises in unique, fine-quality costume pieces. They are signed “Robert”, an American costume jewellery brand that operated under several names, including Fashioncraft Jewelry Company and Robert Originals. Robert is best known for copying the styles of Miriam Haskell, another notable costume jewellery brand. His designs usually featured faux pearls and coloured glass in gilded filigree metalwork and floral motifs.
The US costume jewellery market wasn’t affected much by World War II, and ladies wanted to look elegant and wealthy after the gloom of the Great Depression, but without paying a hefty price for the privilege. This demand gave birth to magnificent hand-crafted costume jewels during that era. These stunning pieces combined excellent design and workmanship but without the pricey stones. I love this idea of making luxury more accessible to the everyday woman, even though countless Hollywood divas also wore splendid costume jewels both on and off-screen. These charming clip earrings are likely from the 1950s and have truly stood the test of time. I’ll just put on this pair of timeless classics when I need to brighten up my look with minimal effort.
And there you have it! A glimpse into my jewellery box and the top seven pieces that I always circle back to, each for different reasons.
I hope you enjoyed this little journey through time and have been inspired to start your own collection of pre-loved trinkets. And remember, whether it comes from your grandma’s drawer, an online shop or a dealer, vintage and antique jewellery beats mass-produced jewels every time. The story, heritage, quality and uniqueness carried within each fine or costume piece form the true definition of ever-lasting luxury. Plus, choosing vintage makes you an ethical buyer and conservationist instead of a fast-fashion consumer.
Don’t forget to visit YazJewels and discover more time-honoured antique jewellery and curated vintage collections from bygone eras.
Until next time, happy vintage-hunting.