In Part One I covered the importance of obtaining good quality pictures, both front and back, of the vintage jewelry you’re bidding on. We discussed carefully checking out an item’s photos, making sure to ask the right questions of your seller, reviewing a seller’s rating and getting a shipping and handling cost before you bid. All of which are pretty obvious I know. Now I’d like to go over a few less obvious tips and pitfalls, learned by experience, which I hope will help you out so that you don’t have to learn the hard way as I did.
Dimensions: Pay attention to them if they’re in the listing. If not, ask. I found this out the hard way when I purchased a rhinestone brooch. Oh, the pin was a dazzler, well-constructed from the looks of it and I got it at a great price. The funny part was when it arrived. I could barely see it! The photo in the listing was excellent but with macro photography, of course, what I was looking at was a close up and at first glance the item looked pretty substantial in size. It wasn’t the seller’s fault; it was mine. The dimensions were included in the listing but again, I was so bedazzled by the picture that I hadn’t bothered to look. Now I keep a little 6′ ruler in the vicinity of our PC; when I browse Ebay you’d better believe I’m hauling out that little ruler as I window shop.
Return Policy: Be sure that the seller has a stated return policy and gauge your comfort level with it. If none is stated in the listing, please ask. In general, unless I’m nearly 100% certain that I’m looking at the “real deal,” and certain it’s in as excellent a condition as stated, I back off from sellers who state they have a “no returns” policy. Along these same lines I’ve learned that Paypal, the electronic clearing house that most sellers use to receive payments, enables a seller to provide partial refunds. If an item you’ve won arrives and it’s a keeper but still not as described in the listing, it doesn’t hurt to inquire about a partial refund provided that it’s justified. I found out about the partial refunds when I purchased a lot of celluloid pieces which included a pressed celluloid clamper bracelet. The bracelet was described as being in excellent condition and although it was very wearable, the ends of the clamper were warped and thus didn’t meet squarely. I sent a very nice email to the seller about it and received one in return offering a partial refund or full refund (less shipping and handling charges), my choice. When you run into a snag like this on a transaction most buyers/sellers will be open to working it out to the satisfaction of both parties, without the involvement of negative feedback.
Learn How to Read Between the Lines: “Sixteen Inch Amber Necklace” can mean just that: A 16′ amber necklace. It can also mean a 16′ amber color necklace. Likewise, an “all prong set crystal brooch” doesn’t necessarily mean the stones are actually crystal. It’s probably crystal-color (clear) rhinestones. Be sure to ask for clarification from the seller.
Along these same lines, in the case of rhinestone jewelry “all stones are present,” means exactly that. It doesn’t mean there haven’t been any replacement stones added and it doesn’t mean stones haven’t been reglued and it doesn’t mean some of the stones aren’t dead. Be sure to ask.
As a matter of fact, it doesn’t hurt to ask whether all the stones and hardware are original and in good working order. Of course it’s going to be hard for a seller to vouch for original stones but some may know and if they do, they will be happy to share the information. The hardware’s another thing. Nearly all sellers will state that the findings on a piece of jewelry are in good order if they are, and if not, will state so. However, and especially in the case of earrings, please ask anyway. I can’t tell you how many sets of vintage earrings I have lying around in which one earring clips on just fine and the other is loose, sometimes too loose to wear. After all, who expects loose earrings? And why should one earring be loose while the other’s just fine? Who knows? But it’s a detail that will often be overlooked by a seller. And being the proud owner of only one wearable vintage earring isn’t going to do you any good.
Comparison Shop. Everyone loves to get a good buy and Ebay’s a great place to do so. But just because an item’s on Ebay doesn’t inherently mean it’s a good buy. Example: Before I get into a bidding war over a “deeply carved red Bakelite bangle bracelet,” I’ll open another window and do a Google search (or Yahoo! search) for “carved red Bakelite bangle” or “carved red Bakelite bracelet” or something similar. Then I’ll either go through a few listings which pop up or I’ll click on the Images tab at the top of the screen to see whether I find a picture of something similar at another website or two or three. Visiting other websites of established vintage jewelry dealers give me an idea of the market value placed on the item in question and helps me determine whether bidding on the auction is a good idea. It also helps me set my own maximum bid amount. Why should I war over the privilege of paying a $75 winning bid when I can buy from an established dealer, without a bidding war, for $50?
It’s my hope that the tips I’ve gone over are helpful. Please keep in mind that, as with anywhere you buy, including a brick-and-mortar store where you can actually put your hands on the item you’re about to purchase, mistakes can be made. Most of the buying and selling mistakes on Ebay, I believe, are unintentional. As with anything else in life, you will make your fair share of mistakes, too. When it happens (and it will) go easy on yourself.
Keep in mind too, especially in the realm of vintage jewelry, that searching for absolute perfection – that brooch or demi parure or bracelet in excellent condition with no signs of wear for $10 – may not be a reasonable expectation. But you just never know, do you??