Second-hand jewellery: how to strike gold

Watches and jewellery with a pleasing past make a unique style statement at heart-warming prices – you just have know what you're looking for.

Even the new releases from the major watch houses are paying homage to heritage as the retro rage continues to dominate luxury. 

Mark Hodges, owner of Brisbane online vintage dealer Harrington & Co., notes the fail-safe cachet of a classic Rolex Submariner. The archetypal diver's timekeeper, with distinctive dial, luminescent hour markers and solid link Oyster bracelet, still suggests an active owner more than 60 years after it was launched.

"The classic Rolex Submariner is always a fast seller for us. Most of the examples we have sold this year have gone in less than a week for between $5500 to $7500," he says.

Omegas, including the Speedmaster and the Seamaster, are also hot items. "The Seamaster 300 M Chronometer has to get a special mention because it has become incredibly collectable after appearing on Daniel Craig's wrist in James Bond's recent adventures," says Hodges. 

Women are getting more confident about wearing a larger-dial watch with a bit of bulk. Hodges reports mid-size men's watches are finding a female audience, most prominently the 1962 Patek Philippe Ellipse.

Buyer beware

The internet has opened up the watch and jewellery spectrum for collectors and allows for useful price comparisons for the same item. Every item purchased by Hodges and his team goes through an extensive procedure to guarantee 100 per cent authenticity before sale. There are some key safety protocols to keep in mind in a global marketplace.

"A buyer should always make sure a piece of jewellery comes with a valuation from a reputable valuer," advises Hodges. "As with most purchases, always establish that the company you are buying from has a money-back policy for change of mind purchases; for example, if the item isn't as you expected. It is illegal to sell fakes in Australia so if you are purchasing a watch from an Australian business you should be pretty safe."

The Jewellers Association of Australia is a helpful resource that can tell you who the JAA-listed jewellers, gemmologists and watchmakers are in your state and assist with complaint resolutions. All JAA members are required to abide by a Code of Conduct. If you feel uncomfortable, ask questions and take the time you need to consider the options.


Paypal is the preferred payment means, and secure, third-party money transfer systems offer peace of mind that credit card information is not being entered into fraudulent sites. "Paypal can also assist with opening a case or investigation if the item is not delivered, or is a fake or damaged," says Hodges.

Sparkling crowd-pleasers

Harrington and Co.'s second-hand jewellery covers classic jewellery houses such as Bvlgari, whose rings are movers, and Cartier; through to antique engagement rings.

"The biggest plus of buying a vintage engagement ring is you're buying in the secondary market and can save yourself hundreds or even thousands of dollars, or you have the opportunity to buy a nicer ring that you may not have had at full price, brand new," explains Hodges.

Most couples are after white gold engagement rings with a minimum of a one-carat diamond. As customers become more informed about diamonds, colour has also become very important. Men are not left in the shade, though – cufflinks by the likes of Georg Jensen, whether mid-century or contemporary, are enduring boardroom design statements.

In the competitive vintage jewellery markets of Paris and New York, Cartier creations guarantee a bidding frenzy along with those by the famous names of Van Cleef & Arpels, Chanel, Schiaparelli, Dior, Verdura, Boucher, Haskell, Givenchy, and Juliana, among others. 

Local legends

Jennifer Duff, owner of Trésors, a Sydney antique and vintage jewellery dealer in the historic Strand Arcade, says costume jewellery brand Simpson is a key Australian designer.  

"They employed up to 50 designer makers, from the 1940s up until the 1950s, with a large workshop in Newtown. Drummond and Co.'s 'Wattle' brooch with Australian diamonds was given to the Queen on her 1954 tour of Australia, and is very reminiscent of their bouquet style."

Dorothy Wager is another coveted name in Australian jewellery. She worked from a little laneway off Pitt Street called Rowe Street that was once a thriving retail and entertainment quarter, but was largely demolished in the early 1970s to make way for the MLC Centre.

Known for her nature-inspired arts and crafts designs, Wager liked to work in silver and gold. "Dorothy was ahead of her time," Duff says. "In the 1930s to the 1950s women were not recognised as competent jewellers. She set a lot of semi-precious gemstones such as opal with foliage motifs. Her work is very sought-after but I don't imagine she would have received many accolades in her time."

Australian jewellery of the past, while less known for pushing boundaries, makes up for its restraint with an iridescent diversity of materials such as opals and South Australian malachite. 

Condition report

The integrity of jewellery is often more vulnerable to time than watches, and can be a testing point. Customers need to remember than unearthed treasures are old and need to be treated and worn with care. Ask for advice on cleaning, regular maintenance and future repairs if you are unsure. And even before you make a purchase, if you are buying a piece in person, look over the item carefully. Are earring or necklace clasps working as they should?

Be cautious of verdigris, evident when a metal turns green. Akin to a virus, it can spread to other jewellery. There are ways to remove verdigris but if it's extensive on an item, then it's best to pass. Duff recommends making sure there are no chips on cracks in gemstones, and checking the stamps on gold and silver.

An Art Deco signet ring, a Mad Men tie clip or a 1970s gold tennis bracelet? The dressing table hasn't looked this inviting in a long time.