Does Anyone do Costume Jewelry Repair? I’m sure that question has been asked a million times. It seems like Jewelry stores look at costume jewelry as second class. As if it is below them to even consider helping you out. But who do you turn to when needing costume jewelry repair?
True costume jewelry may not have cost much new, but the sometimes sentimental valve is more than gold itself. It may have been a gift from a loved one or the first piece of jewelry you ever bought. Whatever the reason is. When you damage a favorite piece of jewelry it is nice to know someone can fix it.
Recently I had the fortune to meet Melissa Schultz, owner of The Jewelry Repair Company. Melissa had repaired a couple of pieces for me and to be honest I was amazed. The work was outstanding. Everything looked original with period-specific rhinestones and hardware.
After receiving the repaired jewelry back I thought to myself “everyone should know about this costume jewelry repair company”. That said I decided to ask Melissa if she would mind doing an interview for my readers. So here are Melissa’s answers to the questions I had.
Estates in Time: How did you start doing costume jewelry repair and when did you open your shop?
Melissa: Having owned a small business prior to this, I knew I wanted to continue to be my own boss. I knew I wanted to do something with restoration, but I wasn’t sure with what.
I toyed with the idea of furniture, but then, after explaining this to my older sister. Who had been in the vintage costume jewelry business for over 10 years at that point said to me. “You need to do repairs on vintage costume jewelry!”
My sister, Stefanie Brawner of Pretty Snazzy told me that she would teach me the basics. Such as stone colors, sizes, shapes, proper setting techniques, and the list goes on. I mulled it over for about a minute and a half. Then said, “Yes, I think this is exactly what I’ve been looking for.”
The rest, as they say, is history. I have added many services over time. Such as enameling, which, I’ve been doing the detailed painting for close to 20 years. Also re-stringing, mechanical repairs, and pinpoint welding. I’ve been doing this for about 9 years, or so my husband tells me!
Estates in Time: That’s quite an array of services. What other types of costume jewelry repair do you provide?
Melissa: Cold enameling, re-stringing and knotting, hardware replacements such as clasps of all kinds, earring clips, and brooch components. I also do pinpoint welding and soldering, verdigris removal and deep cleaning, some gemstone replacements. Along with other things as they come up.
I have people email me all the time with unusual repairs and more often than not, we can do it.
Estates in Time: Out of all the services you handle what are the most common costume jewelry repair projects you see?
Melissa: Stone replacement would be the most common, followed by restringing, replacing missing pin components.
And welding that darn top of the “v” on a box-and-tongue clasp that always seems to snap off!
Estates in Time: That’s funny, sounds like you get more of those box-and-tongue clasps than you care to admit. What are the hardest types of costume jewelry repair to do, and is there anything you won’t touch?
Melissa: The hardest repair, I think, is the re-wiring of Haskell and Haskell designer pieces!
Otherwise, it varies piece by piece. Some things I won’t work on just because the piece is too fragile.
Other things, such as a really soft pot metal that might not work well with welding. Attempting it will usually end up just melting the metal. I don’t like to do the conversions from-clip-to-pierced earrings. It ends up ruining the earrings and taking away from the original look of the piece.
Along those same lines, I won’t redesign a designer piece on the whim of a customer. A few years back, I had someone who wanted me to redesign a beautiful Juliana necklace. Just so the design would run more to her taste. As one who restores and therefore tries to preserve the originality. I just couldn’t bring myself to ruin a perfectly good vintage piece of jewelry. No matter how much she was offering.
The last thing I won’t touch, for an entirely different reason, is anything that has anything to do with devil/demons. Such as the faces in some Selro pieces, anything Zodiac related, or similar types of themed pieces.
Estates in Time: After seeing your work, you do an amazing job using period-specific rhinestones. How hard is it to find age correct rhinestones to do costume jewelry repair on vintage pieces?
Melissa: It’s getting harder! You can still find the rhinestones fairly easily. But finding unusual stones such as those used in Florenza, Juliana, Schiaparelli, Caviness, and others, are impossible.
Costume jewelry was a very competitive field. In an effort to curb copies from other companies. There were some designers like Florenza that would order the surplus stones. To be thrown out after a design had been completed.
Therefore, those are even scarcer than regular vintage rhinestones. That’s why whenever I see any vintage stones, especially unusual ones, I buy them up!
Estates in Time: I know major jewelry stores won’t touch costume jewelry repair, but do you repair fine jewelry?
Melissa: I will do some repairs on fine jewelry. Such as if a 14k necklace needs a new clasp, or if someone needs a new sterling chain.
I also replace stones. Such as onyx or turquoise cabs. Everything from purses to shoes and belts. Even vintage compacts, pill holders, and sunglasses. Pretty much anything that has rhinestones on it, I work on!
Estates in Time: So Melissa, do you think you have a niche market here? Or is there a lot of competition in the costume jewelry repair business?
Melissa: There’s some competition, especially with stone replacement. But, since I also offer so many other services for costume jewelry repair. That is what makes my business fill the niche that was missing.
For instance, one repair place may do stone and hardware repairs, but they don’t do the enamel or welding work. My goal is really to be a one-stop-shop for costume jewelry repair.
Also, what I’ve found is that most fine jewelers do not work on costume pieces at all. While other places may not know all the tricks. Or have the tools and techniques needed for the proper vintage costume jewelry care. So, yes, I do think my company a niche-filler that is needed!
Estates in Time: Have you noticed any trends in collecting since you opened your shop?
Melissa: In terms of what is popular to collect, not really. People will always collect what they love.
In terms of markets, things sell well until the market overloads. For instance, Bakelite was a real strong seller years ago. But then an influx of “Fakelite” from China cooled that market down. It is still a good seller, but it won’t command the prices it did, say 10 or 15 years ago.
The Juliana line by Delizza and Elster is another example. Once Juliana was “discovered,” and started pulling in some big prices. Suddenly everyone who had pieces with big rhinestones or a mix of rhinestones advertised it as “Juliana” or “Juliana style”.
Because of that, the prices have cooled off. Unless it’s a hard-to-find piece or one of the truly opulent pieces made.
Estates in Time: Who is your favorite designer? Melissa.
Melissa: Wow…tough question.
I like different designers for different reasons. I love Florenza and D&E for their use of unusual and beautiful stones.
And Hollycraft for their color combinations.
Corocraft for their detailed pieces.
Eisenberg, Mazer, Swarovski, and McClelland Barclay for their elegance, and Kirks Folly for their whimsy.
Estates in Time: In your opinion, who are some of the best costume jewelers?
Melissa: Best in terms of quality?
That would be designers such as Dujay, Mazer, McClelland Barclay. (It’s important to make the distinction between McClelland Barclay and Barclay – two completely different designers). Then I’d say Reja, and Pennino just to name a few.
These designers really tried to mimic the “real thing”. Their jewelry often looks like fine jewelry but uses costume materials. Although, a lot of times, they did use sterling.
Estates in Time: So tell me, just when did jewelers start making costume jewelry?
Melissa: Technically, the beginnings of costume jewelry, according to one account I’ve read. Can be traced back all the way to Medieval times. When royalty traveled by coach and would take their jewels with them. Of course, that would make them easy targets for thieves. So, the royalty would employ jewelers to copy the real thing using non-precious materials. They would put those in the places thieves would check and hid the genuine gems.
But, more recently, the term costume jewelry is said to have been coined in the 1920s by Coco Chanel. However, that’s disputed by some. At any rate, costume jewelry really became mainstream in America right around that time. Reaching its pinnacle in the post-WW2 years and for the next 2 or 3 decades here in the US. Before companies started using Chinese mass production.
An interesting trivial fact is that the term “rhinestones”. Actually comes from the quartz stones that were found along the shores of the Rhine river in the 1800s. While other countries refer to these same stones differently, such as “diamantes”, we still call them rhinestones here.
Estates in Time: That’s interesting about Coco. I had heard Florenz Ziegfeld coined the term, referring to Hobé’s jewelry creations for his shows.
So when did people start collecting costume jewelry seriously?
Melissa: Since I’m later than others in getting into the game of collecting vintage costume jewelry. I can’t say with any certainty when it began. But I would guess it really became popular in the 1990s. Again, that’s just a guess based on when books started being published about it. Along with the stories I hear from others.
Estates in Time: Looking at jewelry designs there seems to be a lot of different styles. How did these designs change over the years?
Melissa: Without going into a full history lesson. I think the designs changed based on what was going on in the world at the time.
Starting with the Victorian Era that began when Queen Victoria began her reign, the designs were delicate and conservative. However, overlapping that period, the industrial revolution was also happening. Sparking the Art Nouveau style that was chunky, with heavy metal freeform designs.
From there we had the Art Deco style that celebrated clean lines. Women were getting more liberal in their styles. They were getting the right to vote. Cutting off their long locks and putting on the fringe that would move with them. To show off their curves.
During the war years, then, you had a lot of Sweetheart jewelry, patriotic jewelry. Also, sterling was used more due to the rationing of metals.
The Coronation of Queen Elizabeth in 1953 brought a lot of royal designs: crowns and tiaras, scepters and swords.
The 1960s would see a lot of bright-colored flowers and bold designs. While the 1970s brought the hippie-boho style using a lot of natural materials and colors, and whimsical designs.
Finally, the 1980s celebrated big, bold, and bright.
These are generalities, and not everything is covered. But if you really want to know what defined the eras in fashion. You only have to look at what was going on in the world at that time.
Estates in Time: Wow! What era’s seem to be the most popular?
Melissa: The Art Deco era is very popular simply because the designs are so timeless. That would be 1920’s – 1930’s.
Then I see a lot of what I would call The Glamour years. My own terminology, that would be 1950s mid-1960s. There are a lot of rhinestones, a lot of sparkle in these pieces. Think Marilyn Monroe in Gentlemen Prefer Blondes from 1953. Victorian jewelry from the turn of the century is also popular.
Estates in Time: Out of all the designers, Who would you say is a must-have for a collector?
Melissa: For just collecting for the appreciation of the jewelry. I have to say that it’s whatever speaks to the collector. For instance, I personally don’t collect Miriam Haskell, yet there are many, many others that do. I appreciate the work, but the designs aren’t my favorite.
If you’re speaking about collecting for resale, then Crown Trifari pieces are a good bet.
Estates in Time: Are unsigned jewelry pieces really worth anything?
Melissa: It is! But, not as much as if it were signed. These are simply called “Unsigned Beauties” and sell simply based on their unique and eye-catching designs.
The one exception to this rule is the Juliana line from D&E. None of them were signed, so you have to know the Juliana characteristics. Look it up online or in a book, or some other resource to verify if it’s Juliana or not.
Also, there are times you can attribute a piece to a designer by seeing one like it that is signed. For instance, I have a piece that is not signed. It is heavy and good quality with good detail. I was looking for something else one day when I saw a piece identical to it in every way. Including the colors of the enamel. The one I saw was signed Reja sterling. So I’m confident that the one I have is also a Reja sterling piece.
Estates in Time: Wow, does that happen often? Two identical pieces, one signed and the other not signed?
Melissa: Actually there could be any number of reasons why it didn’t get marked. But, probably the most logical would be that the worker making it just didn’t stamp it. This particular brooch was from 1947 and Reja jewelry was handmade. Therefore it’s entirely possible it just didn’t get the mark.
Another reason could be that it was made for a boutique or department store. Sometimes the retailer didn’t want the stamp on it. That way, they could put it in their own box or use a tag and sell it under their own name.
For instance, Nordstrom could go to a designer and ask for a particular design with no markings. The designer would make it and then Nordstrom would put it in a Nordstrom box. With a Nordstrom label and market it as their own. I hope that makes sense. But, in all honesty, I can’t say with certainty why mine isn’t signed while others are.
Estates in Time: How can you tell who made the jewelry if it’s not signed?
Melissa: The easiest thing is to see if you can find another one online or in a book. Then see if it is referenced with a designer.
Beyond that, you can familiarize yourself with the designers and some of their telling characteristics. For instance, it is said that D&E only used clamper bracelet blanks that have the wires on the edges squared off instead of rounded. So, if you have one that has rounded edges, you can immediately dismiss it as being D&E.
There are a lot of informative websites that can help you learn some of the characteristics. The more you study the jewelry that is signed. The more likely you’ll be able to make an educated guess on something that isn’t.
Estates in Time: Last question Melissa. If someone asks you about collecting, what advice would you give to a person new to collecting costume jewelry?
Melissa: If someone is looking to start collecting just because it’s something they enjoy, then buy what speaks to you. Buy what you will wear and show off. Buy what makes you happy just to look at it.
If you’re looking to collect to resell – that’s a different animal.
Familiarize yourself with quality. The more you handle quality pieces, the more you’ll know when you’re holding something that isn’t.
Know the designers – who are collectible and who isn’t as much.
Invest in some books. I recommend Collecting Costume Jewelry 101, 202, and 303 by Julia Carroll. Very informative books!
Look the piece over. The one thing that is nearly impossible to fix is a piece with plating or finish issues. If the finish is flaking off, if there’s large chips or dents in it, pass it on by.
And finally…know a good costume jewelry repair person! 🙂