01/07/2009 05:12 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

Glitz, Glam, & Green Too: Vintage Costume Jewelry, the Perfect Recycled Gift


Okay guys and gals, you want to get some killer jewelry as the perfect Christmas gift, but somehow another anonymous, mass-produced bit of sparkle from the local mall doesn't quite seem to fit the bill anymore. And besides, you're into "green" these days, and what with the manufacturing, transporting, and advertising of all that zombie jewelry, it sounds like it might be sucking the environment dry just so you can score a few holiday points.

May I suggest -- vintage costume jewelry? Okay, in the interests of full disclosure, I gotta admit that collecting these historical beauties is an obsessive hobby of mine, so I'm perhaps a tad prejudiced... portions of my tiny little house are floor-to-ceiling with it. (Hey, it takes up less space than American Art Pottery, right?) But really, it allows you to score big-time and feel virtuous too. You can participate in a particularly satisfying form of recycling, display your shopping savvy, and come up with a gift that is singular, stunning, and sure to please. Every female I know eagerly looks forward to gift-giving time, as they know there will be inimitable, intriguing, and incredible Jools forthcoming from my collection!

So herewith a quick primer on how to find and select the most desirable possible gift for your sweetie (or yourself).

Find It.

Admittedly, you'll have to work a little harder at this than just a cruise to your local mall store, and it'll depend on where you live as to just how simple or arduous this shopping excursion may turn out to be. Head for the internet, of course; if you Google "vintage jewelry for sale", you'll get somewhere in the neighborhood of 292,000 options -- not a bad place to start, especially if you have the time and patience to wade through a plethora of websites and subsequently wait for delivery. And there are sites like Illusion Jewels, where you can not only shop but also get information about the makers and background of what you find. eBay, of course, is a prime source (I have over 5,000 feedbacks there, so you can surmise I've done a bit of shopping there myself), but it can be a bit overwhelming; once you're in the Vintage Costume section, try doing a search for something you know your honey likes -- "opal", "bracelet", "glitzy", or anything you can think of that describes her favorite things.

Another option is your local Flea Market, especially if you prefer to have a tactile as well as visual experience of your options. Many reputable dealers display their goodies there, and the selection can be more than sufficient, with someone knowledgeable to guide you to the perfect choice. Even more fun is finding something that was inherited from a favorite great-aunt or a beloved mother, and there's a personal and heart-felt story to go with it -- those are my favorites... the sense of history, of lives being lived with the jools as participants and witnesses -- that's a special thrill, and greatly enhances the gift. And on a practical level, the prices in this venue can often be a bewitching bargain.

Finally, you can hie you to your local antique mall -- regrettably, a somewhat vanishing breed since the advent of the internet, but there are still enough of them around to make this a viable alternative. The same rules apply here as at the Flea Market: find a dealer with goodies that appeal to you, enlist their assistance, and immerse yourself in yesterday. You'll pay a little more here, but the shopping is more concentrated, and more efficiently accomplished.


Select It.

This can be either tricky or a breeze, depending on your intimate knowledge of the giftee's taste, and your own level of confidence. When in doubt, go for the gusto I say... if you love it, chances are good she will too. C'mon, you've been dating for a year, you gotta have some idea what she likes!

There are a couple of considerations to keep in mind beyond personal preferences. Here they are:

1. Condition. Always keep in mind, these beauties are vintage -- they can run the gamut from "mint condition" (virtually new and unused) to "gently loved" (some small issues but still lovely) to "well-worn" (nearly trashed). It's a gift -- go with one of the first two or something in between. Make sure there are no missing stones or parts, no discoloration, no obvious flaws or damage. Something with the original paper tag still attached is a safe score -- it was probably never out of the jewelry box.

2. Size. This matters especially for bracelets and rings. A bracelet that's too big or too small, no matter how stunning, will never be worn. Seven inches is a standard, average length that is pretty safe, but if your giftee reminds you of a delicate bird, or is delighfully zaftig, adjust up or down as necessary. Rings that are solid gold or sterling can be sized, no problem; plated, you have a problem -- plan accordingly. Necklaces allow you a little more leeway, but use common sense -- if your object of desire reminds you (in all the best ways of course) of a fullback, you want to avoid that delicate little 13-inch choker...

3. Cost. All sorts of considerations come into play here, but I'd like to steer you a bit so you don't get snookered. Signed will always cost more than unsigned; perfect condition will always command a higher price than slightly imperfect. But go with your gut -- if it seems over-priced, it probably is. And unless you're buying for a collector, signed is moot -- she won't know or care. And there's a whole world of Jools to choose from, you're bound to find something that thrills you that is exactly what you want to spend... keep looking until you find the perfect bauble -- she'll love you for the effort!

I could go on for days expounding on the multitudinous virtues of vintage costume Jools, and how infinitely preferable they are in every way to the anonymous, mundane products being manufactured today, but since I wanted this to be a simple paean to 'green' holiday gift-giving, I'll spare you (for now)...

So grab your keyboard, or your hat and coat, and get hunting! The perfect Jool is waiting...

Oh, and if you have any questions -- gimme a holler! I'm always delighted to proselytize about my obsession to anyone who'll listen...