Yard Sale Buyers’ Guide: How to Find Quality Estate Jewelry for Sale

“Estate jewelry” is a term that applies to previously owned jewelry that you purchase secondhand. As the name suggests, you’ll regularly find estate jewelry for sale at estate sales or yard sales. The trick, however, is finding high-quality jewelry. At estate sales, you’ll have plenty of jewelry to choose from, but most of it is cheap, and a lot of it will be dingy, scratched up, or otherwise soiled. So how can you find the best estate jewelry sales online and beyond?

Our Tips for Buying Jewelry at an Estate Sale

Show Up in Person

Some sellers offer estate jewelry sales online, but most of the time you’ll get a lot more bang for your buck if you show up in person. That way you can inspect the jewelry in natural light, hold it at different angles, and feel it in your hands.

Showing up in person takes more time, but remember that estate jewelry for sale is always caveat emptor: “buyer beware.” In other words, all sales are final. No returns! So it’s worth putting in the extra effort to make sure your estate sale items are worth the money.

At Yard Sale Radar, we make it easy for you to browse yard and estate sales in your area. Be sure to check out our listings in addition to the other usual sources, like Craigslist and physical signs on the street. (Running your own yard sale? Post your sale here!)

Heavyweight Jewelry Is Usually Better

One of the first things to look for with a piece of jewelry isn’t something you can’t actually see! It’s the weight. Good estate jewelry for sale should feel heavy, mimicking the heavy metals like silver and gold that make high-quality jewelry. Jewelry that feels surprisingly light suggests cheap materials like plastic or resin.

A woman inspects estate jewelry for sale

The Visual Inspection

In theory, this one is a no-brainer, but, in practice, yard sale shoppers often don’t look closely enough at an item of estate jewelry for sale when they’re thinking about buying it. This is because when you’re at a yard sale, you are in an unfamiliar place, so your brain is subconsciously taking in your surroundings and trying to hurry which makes it harder to concentrate.

So, when you’re exploring potential jewelry buys, make an effort to clear your mind and focus closely on the jewelry itself. Look for:

  • Scratches and Nicks
  • Cracks and Chips
  • Stains
  • Faded or Discolored Materials, Including Any Discoloring in the Stones or Metal

Finding an imperfection isn’t game over, though: You might still like it enough to buy the jewelry anyway. Some forms of damage can be repaired: Many scratches or stains can be polished out. In contrast, cracks or extreme fading in a piece of estate jewelry for sale are usually a deal breaker because these will likely grow worse over time. When buying estate jewelry, a good question to ask yourself is, “Will this flaw get worse over time?” If the answer is “yes,” you should probably give it a pass.

Seeing It With Your Own Eyes Is a Big Help!

The importance of visual inspection is a good example of why it’s so important to show up in person rather than make a purchase from an estate jewelry sales online. When you can hold a piece of jewelry in your hands, and turn it around so that you can see it from different angles of the light, you will get a clear sense of how the jewelry actually looks.

In contrast, online photos of estate jewelry for sale are usually limited in viewing angles, have poor focus, and use indoor lighting that doesn’t capture the true colors and details of a piece.

A silver necklace with green stone pendant rests on a wooden surface

Looking for Value

If it’s financial value that’s on your mind and not just good looks, the first thing to remember is that estate jewelry for sale is not worth a lot of money…except when it is.

That’s the thing! Most estate jewelry has no precious materials, yet there are always exceptions. This is what makes the treasure hunt so thrilling for many people!

So, what should you look for?

  • Gold: Gold does not rust or stain. It is very easy to scratch or warp. It will not react to a magnet. It’s extremely heavy in the hand—even heavier than lead. You might want to bring a small magnet along for reference!
  • Silver: Silver tarnishes but is otherwise fairly resistant to stains and discoloration. Genuine silver often has a tiny number stamped into a discreet part of the jewelry piece, indicating its purity. Like gold, silver is soft and bendable, and it will not react to a magnet. Fake silver often has a rough texture and a sulfurous or unnatural smell.
  • Pearls: Real pearls are fairly heavy, quite gritty, and feel cold to the touch as if you were touching a stone. Pearls are a mainstay of estate jewelry for sale, and they are easy to fake. The biggest sign of a fake pearl is often that it looks too perfect! Real pearls have flaws.
  • Gemstones: Do your research on this one, as there are a lot of different rules for testing the validity of gems.

Estate Sale vs. Yard Sale

Many people are fuzzy on the difference between an “estate sale” and a “yard sale.” We even tend to use the terms interchangeably ourselves! But there is an important difference.

Yard sales are usually just a case of folks downsizing or decluttering their homes. They’re not going to put precious jewelry up for sale in a setting like this. They’ll sell the pieces individually. Every once in a blue moon you will discover finds worth more money, usually in the case of a family member selling jewelry that they didn’t personally own. This is rare, but it does happen.

Estate sales, on the other hand, usually occur when somebody has died, and their family or executor is liquidating their belongings (i.e., turning assets into cash). In these situations, with how an estate sale works, there often will be high-value estate jewelry for sale. However, you can expect that it will be marked with fairly high prices and closely monitored by the people running the sale. Also, you sometimes will find estate jewelry sales online. However, we still recommend buying in person unless the descriptions on the website are very thorough.

Nevertheless, estate jewelry for sale is often a great buy. You can expect to score some dazzling pieces on the cheap, either for personal use or future resale value. So go ahead and give it a shot! You never know what you’ll find.