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Before I begin diving into my vintage jewelry collection,  indulge me for a moment:

It’s 2 am in the morning and you wake up to the sounds of your fire alarm going off. You rush to get your wits about you and have only a split moment to decide what you will take with you as you scurry out the door of your home.


What do you take?


A photo series titled, The Picture Show: from NPR (click here to check it out)  asked the public to submit images depicting what they would try to salvage from a fire. The following is a tiny sample of the list.


  1. Nostalgia items from the past (first camera, wedding album, items from passed relatives)

  2. Pets

  3. Favorite foods/snacks

  4. Technological devices

  5. Survival items (extra pair of clothes, bottle of water etc.)


If you want to check out more answers, Hop on over here to see the rest of the list.

What’s interesting about this list, is that people chose items based on how they interpreted the impact of the fire. For example, some people chose irreplaceable items from their past, while others chose “survival” items.

I considered what I might take if this should ever happen to me and I ended up surprising myself a bit. My smartphone and wallet are combined so it would only be a matter of picking it up and running out the door; this wasn’t what surprised me, though. What surprised me was my decision to take my vintage jewelry collection.


Now look, I know it might seem obvious because if you ever sat down and talked to me about my vintage style, you’d learn that there are some pretty valuable pieces in my collection dating back to the 30s and even early 1900s, but I didn’t make this decision based on monetary gain. I chose my vintage jewelry collection based on the sentimentality attached to each piece.


How I started my collection

My vintage jewelry collection goes back to when I was 12. Every summer my grandmother chose one day out of the summer months to deep clean her room and re-organize her items. I had the good fortune of being at the right place at the right time and reaped the rewards of helping her out in the form of jewelry, furs, hats, and handbags.


I have two older sisters, but neither of them were ever really interested in any of the items she had, so I gladly took them off her hands and began what would become some of my most prized possessions.


But inheriting grandma’s jewelry was more than just the items themselves– it was my bonding time with her and when I look back on each item I own, the memory of those days spent with her return, and so it becomes more than just jewelry; it becomes cherished moments.


pearl set

Grandma’s Pearl set

Despite the years that I’ve spent adding new pieces to my collection, my collection remains very simple. I don’t have boxes upon boxes or cases upon cases of jewelry because that’s not how my memories work. I store my jewelry the same way I store my memories—in special compartmentalized pouches.


I don’t have boxes upon boxes or cases upon cases of jewelry because that’s not how my memories work. I store my jewelry the same way I store my memories—in special compartmentalized pouches. Click To Tweet


Since the days of grandma, I’ve gathered items from thrift stores, yard sales, estate sales or online dealers. Additionally, I have a vintage pen pal and on occasions we’ll send items to each other that range from pictures, postcards, purses or jewelry. Regardless of where I snagged any of my pieces, there has always been a back story to each and every single one. 


Her-Story in the Making

 Probably what I’m most proud of when talking about my vintage jewelry, is the history behind some of the pieces I own. I feel as though I’m “walking history” and every time I put on a pair of earrings or a brooch, I think to myself all of the places and people those earrings or Brooches have encountered. I consider myself a curator of some of our finest items and moments in the past.

I own jewelry from the first people’s side of my family that dates back to the 70s, as well as a cardigan clip from the 50s that was used to keep my grandmother’s sweater up whenever she chose to wear it without putting her arms through the sleeves.

But whenever I pull out these pieces, I don’t just think to myself, “oh this will go with that.” I wonder, rather, if my grandma wore this when she went for walks outside with her mother or husband. I’m curious to know where she bought it and what made her choose THIS particular clip?

Similarly, the necklace and earrings from the first people’s side of my family, were they given as a gift? Handmade? Was it passed down from one or more generations?


native american jewelry pass down from my family

          First People’s jewelry set passed down through my family.


With the exception of jewelry from a thrift store or handcrafted pieces from a particular artisan, I don’t feel as though modern-day jewelry holds the kind of backstories or charm as jewelry from yesteryear or from individual hand-crafted designs. Granted, however, most modern pieces are too new to have gained much history behind them, but as our ability to mass produce everything and anything has increased, the meaning behind products has changed.

And it’s for this reason, that I treasure each and every jewelry piece I store in my collection.


For Sentimental Reasons

I’ve spoken so far about my relationship with my Grandmother’s jewelry, but many of my other favorite pieces come from my mother and mother-in-law. My mother used to work with my aunt back in the 80s when my aunt owned her own clothing line called why not.

During her time working with my aunt, my mother would attend trade shows with independent trade designers at the time, and she collected a great number of FABULOUS pieces. Most of those pieces were both timeless and very specific to the style of the time.

My mother has always been good about taking care of every item she has ever owned but found that she didn’t need most of her jewelry anymore because she didn’t frequent any of the places or events that she used to. As luck would have it, she gave some of her jewelry to me.

My mother-in-law’s jewelry will always have a special place in my heart, not only because of her thoughtfulness in gifting them to me, but also her pieces were given to me from her youth in the 70s, and 80s. What’s more, is that since she is from Turkey, her jewelry traditionally reflects Anatolian style and is both culturally specific and timeless.


jewelry from Turkey

Various Vintage Jewelry pieces from the US and Turkey


Speaking of timeless it might be worth mentioning the oldest piece of jewelry I own. I have clothing that dates back to the late 1800s and I wish I could say the same about my jewelry, but my oldest jewelry piece dates back to the 1960s and is my grandmother’s wrist watch.


gold set of vintage jewelry

classic gold set. watch is my grandmothers, necklace is my mothers earrings are my mother-in-laws


Caring For My Jewelry

As you can imagine with any item overtime, care is of the utmost importance. I store my jewelry in satin makeup bags that my grandmother used to own. These bags prevent snags, scratches and tangling because everything inside them just slides around gently. For bigger or longer pieces, I wrap the pieces inside a small piece of soft fabric. I then store the pouches in a medium sized jewelry box.

To clean my jewelry, I typically use Connoisseurs Jewelry Cleaner (click here to check it out). Keep in mind, however, the majority of my jewelry is costume jewelry, but I do own a few pieces that include real diamonds, sapphires and garnet.


How to Start Your Own Vintage Jewelry Collection

If you want to start your own vintage, antique or vintage-inspired jewelry collection but might not have a local thrift store or yard sale to check out, I suggest Redbird Vintage box. This company founded by two sisters is one of the most unique subscription-based businesses on the net.

Each month you receive a redbox full of vintage items based on a profile you fill out when you set up your subscription. The profile is designed to get an idea of your personal style. Redbird vintage box will then customize your box by including jewelry, clothes, handbag etc. according to your style.

If you are fortunate to hit up the local thrift, peruse the plexi-glass cabinet at the cash register during checkout. Another way you can build your collection is to start collecting items from family members or peruse the  Flea markets and antique shows, these are just a few other great ways to build your collection and often times the dealers know the provenance behind every piece.


As you see, memories mean everything to me. And preserving whatever bits of the past that I look back on fondly, are irreplaceable. Grabbing jewelry in a fire, for this reason, isn’t as far-fetched as it may seem. If you notice on the list from NPR, the #1 item people would try to save in a family, were nostalgia items; items that could never be replaced; this is because we value where we come from and the memories we have attached to our journeys.

 Perhaps overtime I may collect more but for now I only need but a few staple pieces. I’m working towards establishing a set collection reflecting one set for each decade. I don’t want to have multiple pieces floating around, just a specific set of jewelry appropriate for whatever I wear but based on a specific decade and for any occasion.


Do you own any jewelry from back in the day? What is your favorite piece of jewelry that you own?




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