Whether you buy costume jewelry for your own collection, for investment or for resale, it's important to know when to repair a piece that has damage or missing stones, and when to walk away. Whether you intend to wear it, or plan to sell it "as is" will determine the wisdom of repairing it. If you plan to repair the piece and then sell it, be sure to factor in the cost of repairs to see if it's worth fixing.
If you have a piece of costume jewelry that you'd like to wear, but has loose or missing stones, or has other condition issues, what are the best ways to repair it so you can safely enjoy wearing it?
I've found that some issues are easy to address, others require more time, patience and money, and still others benefit from the attention of a professional.
If you'd like to repair your jewelry yourself, there are a few things you should invest in. If you don't already have a jeweler's loupe, or strong magnifying glass, you should get one. I have two – one stays on my desk, and the other stays in my purse, so I always have one handy, whether I'm working at home or out shopping for jewelry. Another handy magnifier is one that straps on your head, leaving your hands free.
The most common problem I see in costume jewelry is with the stones – rhinestones, crystal, glass or plastic, they may come out of their settings, be loose, or crack or dull. Older pieces may be set with glue that has dried and let the stone fall out. It's important to use the right kind of adhesive, and to not use too much. Krazy Glue or Super Glue is not recommended, as it may break down when attached to glass. Super Glue may be especially damaging to vintage pieces – a film may develop if it reacts to old metal and plating. If you get it on the surface of the stone, it's difficult to remove. Never use hot glue – it can expand and contract with temperature changes and may crack the jewelry or loosen the stone. The best adhesive to use would be one designed specifically for jewelry, which can be found in craft stores and on jewelry supply web sites.
Be careful not to use too much glue when replacing stones. The glue will not dry properly, and the adhesive will flow out around the stone and onto the metal. I use a toothpick dipped in a little pool of glue to drop minute bits of glue into the setting, a drop at a time, using as little as possible.
Putting the stone back into the setting is a delicate process – you can wet the tip of your finger to make the stone stick and then carefully drop it into the setting.
Save your old broken jewelry, or any unmatched earrings for their stones. You might find broken pieces at flea markets, yard sales and antique shops. It's hard to exactly match a missing stone, but if you build up a collection of orphan pieces, the right size and color just might be available. You can also access jewelry suppliers for stones. Keep in mind that whatever you purchase for repairs should be factored into the price if the piece is for resale.
One way to make old jewelry look new again is replating. Replating can be costly, and should only be done if you are keeping the piece for yourself to wear. Replating may diminish the value of vintage jewelry, just as refinishing antique furniture would decrease its value. An Internet search should provide the names of jewelry restorers in your area.
Now, what about that green stuff that you sometimes see on vintage jewelry? Some jewelry collectors simply pass on pieces that have green verdigris on them, as it can indicate corrosion that can't be cleaned off. You can try to clean it with a cotton swab dipped in vinegar, but if the metal is heavily coated and degraded, you may need to gently chip the green away, taking care to not damage the metal beneath. Wipe the piece with a damp cloth and let it air dry completely. You can also try the same process with ammonia. Be careful to never immerse the piece of jewelry in liquid, as the stones may loosen or discolor due to water getting into the setting.
Costume jewelry is made to be worn and enjoyed. Replacing missing stones and cleaning the metal will give your vintage jewelry sparkle and glow and many more years of wear.