Finding Hidden Treasures: Hunting Jewelry at Garage Sales by Jenny Braun


Garage sales can be a treasure trove when you’re looking for jewelry. I have several invaluable tips on finding fabulous jewelry for just pennies. But first, I want to share some of the amazing pieces I found over the past few months. It was a great summer!

At one sale there was a shoebox full of jewelry tagged $1 apiece. I offered $20 for the entire box, and the seller accepted. I could not wait to get home and sort through this; I had a feeling there were treasures in there! Take a look at the fabulous sterling silver and mother of pearl ring I found (see photo below). I also found a colorful cloisonné pin stamped “Silver.” There were lots of goodies in that box!

Another great find was a vintage 14K gold Benrus ladies watch. I paid $8 for that gorgeous piece! The woman at the yard sale apologized for the “high price,” but told me that it was such a lovely watch; it just didn’t fit her wrist anymore.

Before garage sale season hits again, my first suggestion is to invest in a loupe. (A loupe is a hand-held magnifier used to see small details more closely.) With a loupe, you can search for markings on the jewelry; a designer’s signature, hallmarks, and numbers to indicate metal purity. Signed jewelry is generally better quality than unmarked (not always true, but use this as a general rule of thumb). You will find these markings on the reverse side of the jewelry, inside a ring band, on or near a necklace clasp, or on the backside of an earring. I’ve included a picture of a stamped clasp from a 14K gold chain. Unless you have bionic vision, you’ll probably need a loupe to read the marks! You can find inexpensive loupes on the Internet. They are made in different strengths; the one I carry in my purse is a 20x magnifier. It has come in so handy when I’ve unexpectedly stopped at a flea market, rummage sale, or thrift shop. I never leave home without my loupe.

Next, polish your negotiation skills. Sometimes when I walk into a sale the seller will say something like, “Everything is negotiable,” or there may be a sign that states, “Make An Offer.” Those are open invitations, but more often than not you’ll have to ask. Always show respect for the seller. You will get much farther by being friendly and not trying to use a lowball approach. I did not negotiate the $8 price on the gold watch I mentioned earlier; that was a steal. Notice, though, that I did negotiate on the shoe box full of jewelry. Here, I went with my instincts and took a slight chance, but it paid off big time. Of course, I could’ve taken the time to sort through the box right there with my loupe, but I had other sales to hit! Use your good judgment, and as you practice the art of negotiating, you’ll develop this skill over time.

Finally, don’t be afraid to speak up. When appropriate, I ask if there is more jewelry available for sale. Survey the situation before you ask. For example, if the seller is a young woman with small children, it’s probably not appropriate to ask. You don’t want to inconvenience a busy mom. This is another situation where you’ll use your good judgment, and you’ll get better with practice. I’ve had women actually bring their jewelry boxes out! A woman once sold me her jewelry case and all the contents for $50. Amongst the many lovely costume pieces, there was an exquisite 14K gold and diamond tennis bracelet. It takes a bit of finesse, but sometimes it can really pay to ask about more jewelry.

Jenny Braun has vintage jewelry for auction on eBay, and for sale on her website. You can contact her through her website.