Gold Jewellery Through the Ages: A History of Second Hand Treasures

Gold Jewellery Through the Ages: A History of Second Hand Treasures

A brief history of gold jewellery

From ancient civilization's tombs to modern online marketplaces, gold jewellery has always held a special place in the hearts of people. The aura of opulence, beauty, and the enduring value of gold have made it the quintessential choice for creating pieces of adornment. Let's embark on a journey to trace the golden thread of its evolution. 

The Glint of Ancient Civilisations 

Gold has been the jeweller's darling since the times of ancient civilisations. From the Egyptians, who considered it divine, to the Romans, who used it as a status symbol, gold jewellery was always a significant part of their cultures. 

  • Egyptians: Gold was associated with the sun god, Ra, and was used extensively in royal adornments.
  • Romans: Gold rings were a sign of power and were only allowed to be worn by certain ranks in society.

The Middle Ages and Beyond 

As we move forward in time, gold continued to be the embodiment of luxury, power, and religious significance. It moved from the hands of the royals, priests, and nobles to the common folk as societies evolved. 

"Gold does not rust on the ground, and rocks don't get soaked in the rain." - Turkish Proverb, illustrating the timeless value of gold.

The Modern Era 

The modern era saw a transformation in the design, purpose, and accessibility of gold jewellery. It became a widely accepted form of investment, a symbol of love and commitment, and a canvas for artists' creativity. 

Period Significance of Gold Jewellery
Victorian Era (1837-1901) Gold Lockets and brooches were popular, often containing portraits or locks of hair from loved ones.
Art Nouveau (1890-1910) Gold was moulded into intricate designs inspired by nature, symbolising beauty and femininity.
Art Deco (1920-1935) Gold was combined with colourful gemstones to create bold, geometric patterns.

As we step into the age of second-hand jewellery, gold pieces from these eras have found a new life. They're cherished not just for their intrinsic value but also for the history and stories they carry with them.

The ancient origins of gold jewellery

Let's embark on a journey back in time, when coins were not just currency, but a statement of wealth and power. The ancient Egyptians were known to be the pioneers in the gold jewellery trade, fashioning pieces that were not only aesthetically pleasing but also held symbolic meanings.

Gold was seen as a divine and indestructible metal, symbolising the sun in all its radiant glory. It was used to craft intricate pieces that were worn by Pharaohs and Queens, signifying their divine connection to the gods. 

"Gold was the flesh of the gods, its lustre was filled with aspects of sacred sunlight." - Ancient Egyptian Text 

Gold Jewellery was not just a symbol of wealth, but also a mark of one's social status in ancient societies.


The Middle Ages and Gold Jewellery 

Fast-forward to the Middle Ages, gold jewellery underwent a transformation. While still regarded as a symbol of wealth and power, it was now closely associated with religious piety. The clergy and nobility adorned themselves with gold crosses and rosaries, reinforcing their authority and devotion. 

Gold was also extensively used in mourning jewellery during this era. The death of a loved one was marked by the creation of gold jewellery embedded with their hair or miniature portraits, a poignant reminder of those who were no more. 

The Victorian Era to the Modern Day 

The Victorian era saw a shift in the use of gold in jewellery. It was during this period that the concept of second-hand jewellery gained prominence. The Victorians were known for their love of sentimental pieces, often melting down inherited gold items to create new jewellery, a practice that has continued to the present day. 

Today, the market for second-hand gold jewellery is thriving. With the rise in gold prices and an increased awareness about sustainability, more people are opting for pre-owned jewels. These pieces not only carry the weight of history but are also an eco-friendly choice in today’s world. 

Period Significance of Gold Jewellery
Ancient Egypt Symbol of divine connection and power
Middle Ages Symbol of religious piety and authority
Victorian Era Used in sentimental pieces and mourning jewellery
Present Day Thriving second-hand market, symbolises sustainability


Whether it's an age-old amulet or a Victorian locket, every piece of second-hand gold jewellery carries a slice of history, a unique story waiting to be discovered.

The Victorian era and the birth of the sentimental jewel

There's a whisper of romance that still lingers around the jewels of the Victorian era. These were not just adornments; they were tokens of love, remembrances and even secret messages. With the rise of the middle class, second hand gold jewellery gained popularity and became more accessible. 

Symbolic Motifs 

The Victorians were fond of symbolism and incorporated it into their jewellery designs. Every motif had a specific meaning, further adding to the sentimental value of each piece. 

  • Hands: To the Victorians, a hand symbolised pledge and honour, often used in engagement rings.
  • Snakes: Symbolising eternity, this creature was a favourite of Queen Victoria herself.
  • Flowers: Different flowers held different meanings, making them a popular choice for sentimental pieces.

The Art of Hair Jewellery 

In an era where death was often a close companion, the Victorians immortalised their love for their departed ones through hair jewellery. Yes, you read that right - jewellery made from the hair of the deceased. It was an intimate way of keeping the memory of the deceased alive. 

Item Description
Brooches These contained a lock of hair visible through a glass cover.
Rings Often braided or woven into intricate designs and set into the band.
Bracelets The hair would be woven into the entire bracelet, sometimes along with precious stones.
"The Victorians found beauty in the ephemeral, turning the transient nature of life into pieces of lasting beauty."

There's an undeniable charm about these Victorian pieces that has stood the test of time, making them a treasured part of any second hand jewellery collection.

The impact of the world wars on the jewellery industry

Emerging from a time where jewellery was a luxury reserved for the affluent, the world wars presented an interesting paradigm shift in the industry. The shift was not only in the materials used, but also in the sentiment and purpose behind wearing jewellery. 

Make Do and Mend 

During the world wars, resources were scarce, leading to a significant decrease in the production of new jewellery. Enterprising individuals began to repurpose existing pieces, giving birth to what we now know as second hand jewellery. This was a period of 'make do and mend', where recycling and reusing was key. 

The Rise of Sentimental Pieces 

The wars also inspired a trend of sentimental jewellery. People began to treasure keepsakes from loved ones who had gone off to war. This trend led to the creation of sweetheart jewellery - pieces made from materials such as airplane and tank parts, carrying inscriptions of love and hope. 

Post-war Jewellery Boom 

The post-war period saw a resurgence in jewellery production. However, the notion of recycling and the emotional connection to jewellery remained, continuing the popularity of second hand pieces. 

"The world wars changed the face of the jewellery industry - not only in the materials used but also in the sentiment attached to these pieces. Second hand jewellery became a symbol of resourcefulness, resilience and love."
Period Impact on Jewellery
World Wars Birth of second hand jewellery and sentimental pieces.
Post-war Resurgence in production, continued popularity of second hand pieces.

In essence, the world wars transformed jewellery from a mere decorative item to a symbol of endurance, love, and remembrance, marking a significant milestone in the evolution of second hand jewellery.

The resurgence of vintage and antique jewellery in modern times

In recent years, there's been a marked resurgence in the popularity of vintage and antique jewellery, with second-hand pieces now gracing runways, red carpets, and high street fashion. This revival is not just about aesthetics; it also connects to aspects of sustainability, history, and individualism. 

A Nod to Sustainability 

As society becomes more environmentally conscious, many are choosing second-hand jewellery as a sustainable option. Rather than encouraging mining and production, buying second-hand reduces waste and reuses resources, making it a more eco-friendly choice. 

Revisiting the Past 

Wearing vintage jewellery is also a way of wearing history. Each piece tells a story, a precious memoir from a bygone era, offering a fascinating peek into the past. Epitomising timeless elegance, these jewels carry the charm and grandeur of the periods they represent. 

Uniqueness Personified 

Finally, second-hand jewellery stands out for its uniqueness. Vintage pieces are often handcrafted, with intricate details that are hard to find in modern, mass-produced jewellery. This distinctiveness makes the wearer feel special and different. 

  • Sustainability: Second-hand jewellery supports environmental consciousness.
  • Historical Connect: Vintage pieces offer a unique link to the past.
  • Individualism: Antique jewels add a unique, personal touch to any outfit.
"Second-hand jewellery is more than just a fashion statement. It's a nod to sustainability, a connection to history, and a celebration of individuality," says jewellery historian and collector, Vanessa Bell.
Benefits of Second-Hand Jewellery
Sustainability Reduced environmental impact
Historical Connection Link to past eras and styles
Uniqueness Distinctive pieces with unique details

Investing in second-hand jewellery: What to look for and what to avoid

The Allure of the Antique 

Second hand jewellery has a charm that's hard to deny. From delicate Victorian lockets to bold Art Deco rings, each piece is a small window into the past. It's not just the beauty of these items that draws us in, but the stories they tell - tales of love, loss, celebration, and everyday life. 

Choosing Wisely 

When shopping for second hand jewellery, it's important to have a discerning eye. You'll come across a great variety of designs and materials, some more valuable than others. Here's a quick guide: 

  • Gold: Always a good investment, but make sure it's real. Look for hallmarks and consider having questionable items tested by a professional.
  • Silver: More affordable than gold but still valuable, especially if it's antique or designer.
  • Gemstones: Value can vary greatly. Research before you buy and be wary of fakes.
  • Designer Pieces: Can be worth a lot, especially if they're from a well-known maker or in excellent condition.
Remember, the value of second hand jewellery is not just in its materials, but in its history and craftsmanship.

The Drawbacks of Second Hand 

While there's much to love about second hand jewellery, it's not without its potential issues. One of the biggest is condition - older items may have been worn or damaged, and repairs can be costly. It's also harder to verify the authenticity of second hand items, so it's important to buy from reputable sources. 

Advantages Drawbacks
Unique designs Potential for damage
Historical value Difficult to verify authenticity
Often more affordable May require repairs

The future of second-hand jewellery: Trends and predictions

Second-hand jewellery, with its rich history and timeless beauty, has been capturing hearts for centuries. But what does the future hold for this niche market? Let's explore the upcoming trends and predictions. 

Embracing Sustainability 

As more consumers become aware of the environmental impact of mining new gold, the demand for second-hand jewellery is expected to rise. This shift towards sustainability isn't just a passing trend, but a fundamental change in consumer behaviour. 

"The future of second-hand jewellery is intertwined with our growing commitment to the planet. It embodies the 'reduce, reuse, recycle' principle, making every piece a symbol of both style and sustainability."

The Rise of Online Platforms 

The digital revolution has not left the second-hand jewellery market untouched. The convenience of browsing, comparing, and purchasing jewellery from the comfort of home is a trend that we predict will continue to grow. 

Year Online second-hand jewellery sales (% of total sales)
2019 30%
2020 35%
2021  40%

Appreciation of Craftsmanship 

In our fast-paced world, there's a growing appreciation for the time and skill that goes into creating fine jewellery. Heirloom and vintage pieces, often showcasing exceptional craftsmanship, are becoming highly sought after. 

  • Art Deco: Known for its geometric shapes and bold designs, Art Deco jewellery from the 1920s and 30s is back in vogue.
  • Victorian: The intricate designs and romantic motifs of the Victorian era continue to captivate modern buyers.

The future of second-hand jewellery is bright, shaped by changing consumer attitudes towards sustainability, the rise of online shopping, and a renewed appreciation for craftsmanship. As we journey into this exciting future, we carry the past with us, one beautiful piece at a time.

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