Thursday, February 12, 2015

Estate Jewelry: What Was Old Is New Again . . .

This old ring is cleaned and polished and ready for a new life . . .
I love old Masonic rings.  I don't buy many old rings, but I have picked up a few, and a couple years ago I saw one I really liked.  Unfortunately, it wasn't in great shape, and the seller and I couldn't agree on the price, so I let it go finally.

You'll never guess what I found on the table of the estate jewelry guy at the Allied Masonic Degrees meeting in Washington D.C. a couple weeks ago!  Yup!  Pretty much that same ring, in great shape, and with a very small divide between the seller's price, and what I was thinking I'd part with.  We were able to work it out in short order--I got a great deal, and a great ring in good shape.

I took it to my jeweler when I got home, spent less than fifty dollars to have it inspected, repaired, cleaned and sized.  It's like brand new, and ready for another seventy or eighty years (although only a portion of that time will be spent with me unless medicine comes a long way in the next few decades).  As my jeweler says each time I bring him one of these little treasures, "they just don't make jewelry like this anymore."  He loves working on old rings, and I enjoy wearing rings with a little age and history attached to them.

New rings just don't do much for me.  The design of old rings, especially from the 30s and 40s, really appeals to me.  They are simple and elegant in design, and hold up extremely well over time.  Old Masonic rings, for the most part, were made a lot better than the jewelry that you can buy today is.  I promise you that most of the new rings you can buy today will not look as good in 70 or 80 years as many of the 70 and 80 year old rings you'll find in the display case of your local antique store.  And as long as the stone is in good shape, it is amazing what a jeweler can do to bring a very old ring back up to 'like new' condition for a very nominal charge.  I am always pleasantly surprised when I pick up the ring and find it looks better than I'd anticipated.  The best places to find old Masonic rings are in antique stores, pawn shops, and estate sales (check estate sale listings for "masonic items" or something similar)--and there are a few Masonic dealers that specialize in buying and selling Masonic estate jewelry that are easily found with a simple Google search.

But Let The Buyer Beware!

1.)  If you buy from online venues like EBay, there's a good chance you're not going to get what you think.  And you're going to have a heck of a time returning it when you discover the 14K ring you thought you were getting is actually rodium or some cheap alloy thinly plated with a gold-like substance.  Remember if it sounds too good to be true, it probably is.  And online sellers are really good at taking photos that fail to show the flaws in the items they're listing.  So exercise caution.  I prefer to buy jewelry face-to-face so I can pick it up, touch it, inspect it, and put it on.  That is the safest way to go. 

2.)  Never buy without a guarantee.  Most reputable businesses will let you return an item if it turns out they are not as they were described.  Be sure anyone you're dealing with has that policy on the items they sell.  As a matter of fact, if the merchant finds you trustworthy, they may let you just take the piece with you and have it inspected by a jewelry prior to purchase.  

3.)  Look for old rings in good shape.  It is a amazing what a good jeweler can do, but if the ring is badly bent, warped, deeply scratched, etc., there's only so much even the most gifted artisan will be able to do to refurbish it.  And really look at that stone.  If it's chipped, that can't be fixed, and once the ring is cleaned and polished, that's going to be even more obvious.  If it's got a crack, there's a good chance that one day it's going to split into two pieces, and you're beautiful ring's days will be over--or you'll have to replace it at great expense.  If the stone is encrusted, or embedded with an emblem, look at that very closely to make sure that emblem or encrusted gold is in good shape, seems solid and the stone around that embedded emblem is not chipped or cracked.  Eyeball that ring very, very carefully before you consider buying it.

4.)  Even if you look it over carefully, you're probably not a jeweler.  There's only so much an untrained eye will be able to pick up when looking at an old ring.  If you buy a ring, even if you think it's in good shape, take it to that jeweler and have it inspected, refurbished if needed, and cleaned.  Even better yet, take any ring you're thinking about buying to him in advance, and have it look it over.  It's well worth the small fee he's going to charge you.  A good jeweler friend is a great person to know, and will save you a lot of heartbreak.  He will be able to see in about two seconds problems you may never be able to see.

I'd love to hear a few stories about great ring finds.  Have you found a great old ring recently?  Send me a picture, and perhaps I'll share it.  Be sure you include your name and lodge, and if there's a story that goes along with the ring, be sure to tell it!

~Todd E. Creason

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