consignment jewellery
Graphic by Danielle Campbell

A Jewellery Expert’s Guide to Consignment Shopping

Here's what you need to know before buying second-hand jewellery.

Have a taste for the sparkly stuff but looking for sustainable (and budget-friendly) ways to satisfy your jewellery habit? Consignment shopping might be right for you. Here, jewellery expert Megan Kirkwood shares tips for shopping consignment jewellery.

Q: I’ve seen some great jewellery at consignment shops. Is it safe to buy?

A: With a little smart shopping, you’ll find that second-hand jewellery is absolutely safe to buy. Consignment retailers are not only a great place to potentially find the best price for a piece you’ve had your eye on but also one of the most environmentally conscious ways to acquire new jewels. In fact, jewellery is one of the most sustainable things you can buy because it can always be recycled and upcycled.

Not to be overlooked, the second-hand market can be a fun way to shop for jewellery, which can otherwise be an intimidating experience. Whether you’re browsing local shops, such as Retyche in Montreal, I Miss You Vintage in Toronto and So Over It Luxury Consignment in Winnipeg, online spots including 1stDibs and Vestiaire Collective or even independent sellers on Instagram, there are countless opportunities to discover unique and hard-to-find pieces. For example, you might be more likely to come across rare gemstones, such as demantoid garnets, kunzite and coral, or impeccably made designer pieces that are no longer available in current collections. Signed pieces are great investments for your collection as they are likely to retain their value or even appreciate over time.

If there’s something special you are after, do some browsing to get a good idea of the going price for similar items — both new and resale. After all, the best shopping luck tends to strike when a little preparation meets opportunity; you won’t have to hesitate when you finally find a great deal on your dream piece. If you fall in love with something on the spot but aren’t sure if the price is right, keep this rule of thumb in mind: 14-karat gold is a good jewellery standard, while the best-quality gems are usually reserved for platinum or 18-karat gold and lower-quality and highly treated stones are usually set in 9- or 10-karat gold. Prefer to avoid the guesswork? Take advantage of retailers such as The RealReal, which supply gemologist appraisals with every item, including details about the quality, composition and overall value of your new bauble.

Not sure if that chic gold signet ring is actually vintage? Remember that second-hand jewellery is generally labelled “estate” until it’s anywhere from 20 to 50 years old, at which point it’s usually considered vintage. Antique pieces are 100 years old or more, and the term “retro” is often saved for designs influenced by the scarcity of materials during World War II. Retro items are also considered vintage.

Lastly, don’t take the condition of any item for granted, particularly when you’re shopping online. Examine photos closely (and ask for more if necessary) to check for worn plating — especially on white-gold pieces, because they are often plated with rhodium, which is shinier — and scratches and chips on both the gemstones and the setting. For bigger-ticket items, visit a jeweller post-purchase to ensure that the settings are secure so you won’t run the risk of losing any gems with regular wear. You might also want to consider having an appraisal done by a professional gemologist (if one wasn’t already provided) for insurance purposes and in case you decide to sell (and recycle) your new treasure down the road.

Shop our upcycled and recycled jewellery picks:

CompletedWorks Recycled Gold Vermeil and Freshwater Pearl Ring

Maya Rudolph, Adwoa Aboah and Emma Watson have all been spotted in pieces from emerging sustainable British jewellery brand CompletedWorks. We particularly love the elegant, organic shape of this pearl ring, which was designed to represent rivers which have had to change course due to the effects of climate change.

Recycled Gold Vermeil and Freshwater Pearl Ring, $364, CompletedWorks + Net Sustain, available at Net-a-porter.

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Rolex Stainless Steel DateJust Watch

Perhaps the ultimate status symbol, this vintage Rolex combines a unique rose-hued face with a classic coin-edge bezel.

Stainless Steel DateJust Watch, $10,180, Rolex, customized by Private Label London and available at Moda Operandi.

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Cartier Clip-On Earrings

What could be chicer than these botanical-themed vintage Cartier ear-clips? Since you can wear them with jeans or a black-tie get-up with equal ease, these investment pieces are destined to become one of your personal signatures.

18 Karat Yellow Gold, Chalcedony and Diamond Clip-On Earrings, $5800, Cartier, available at Van Rijk.

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Emily P. Wheeler Bracelet

If you’re going to drop serious bank on a tennis bracelet, why not make it one that truly stands out? This recycled gold number features numerous heart-cut gems and will surely make you smile every time you catch a glimpse of your own wrist.

18 Karat Recycled Gold and Amethyst, Citrine, Garnet, Iolite, Peridot, and Topaz Bracelet, $10,512, Emily P. Wheeler + Net Sustain, available at Net-a-Porter.

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Louis Abel Recycled Sterling Silver Ring

White metals are trending once again, and this recycled sterling silver ring from Swedish designer Louis Abel is the perfect, stylish accompaniment to well… everything.

Recycled Sterling Silver Ring, $427, Louis Abel, available at Moda Operandi.

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Melissa Joy Manning Earrings

We love this more imaginative take on a classic hoop featuring natural diamonds and recycled gold. Plus, their subtle size and wishbone-shape layer perfectly with other studs and huggies.

14 Karat Recycled Yellow Gold and Diamond Earrings, $1617, Melissa Joy Manning, available at Net-a-porter.

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14 Karat Yellow Gold, Blue Sapphire and Diamond Brooch

Brooches are back! This buzz-worthy pin is perfect for transforming any lapel or too-basic look into something truly attention-grabbing.

14 Karat Yellow Gold, Blue Sapphire and Diamond Brooch, $1090, 1st Dibs.

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Bulgari Gold Ring

This tri-coloured, second-hand ring is the perfect piece to stack with (and pull together) multiple pieces. Been searching for a perfectly unique wedding band? Consider it checked off your list.

18 Karat White, Rose and Yellow Gold Ring, $2346, Bulgari, available at Vestiaire Collective.

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This article first appeared in FASHION’s April 2024 issue. Find out more here.

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