It was my birthday last week (36!) which naturally has me thinking bout presents. One of my favorite presents ever is the antique locket my parents gave me for my 30th birthday. We don’t do a lot of gifting in my family, but when we do, we actively avoid surprises. It’s better to get something you know will be loved than to waste money on an unused gift. So, by “gave me” I mean, I spent many, many hours searching on Etsy for the perfect locket and then sent my mother a link.
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I ended up going with this pretty rectangular gold locket with a pretty heart motif and I haven’t ever regretted it. Still, from time to time I can’t help but browse a little again. So, I’ve gathered together a bunch of my current favorites and my tips on searching for you below. I’ve also got a running favorites list on Etsy, if you need more options because all of these have sold through.
Availability of Antique Lockets
Every time I run a search for “antique locket” or “vintage locket” on Etsy I end up with many, many results. There’s a very large number of lockets out on the resale market at any given time. This means that there’s a lot of choice if you’re searching and also that most of the time lockets take a little while to sell. So, if you’re on the fence about one, I’d recommend taking some time. I can’t guarantee it will still be there, but generally, it’s safe to take some time to think.
Speaking of price, these can vary wildly. I’ve seen nice looking lockets for less than 15$ and as much as $16,000. I generally find nice lockets for between $40 and $200. The price varies based on all of the factors below including condition, materials, size, design, and age.
All sorts of other factors can effect the price of an antique locket. Sometimes it’s a reflection of the local, rather than the global, market. Other times the seller calculates the price based on what they need to make a profit. Sometimes there is a sentimental attachment. Collectors may highly value a specific maker or technique. If a piece is just out of my budget and it’s been on the market a while, I’ll sometimes email the seller asking for a discount. It doesn’t always work, but occasionally you can get them to knock 10%-20% off. My general opinion is that, if you love the piece and can afford it, don’t worry too much about the exact price. Remember, you’re looking for something that you can love and wear for years, not an investment.
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Condition is an obvious factor to consider when buying a locket. better condition are often more expensive. A less expensive locket might have a lot of scratches in the surface or not close quite right. Many cheaper lockets are missing small pieces of glass used to hold pictures in place. Another thing that can have an impact is the chain. An original chain in good condition will drive the price up. Often the chains that come with these lockets aren’t original, so if the seller includes a higher quality chain, they may charge a bit more.
Materials used in Antique Lockets
Antique lockets are most often made of solid gold, gold-filled (a thick layer of gold around a core of cheaper metal), gold plated (a very thin layer of gold over a cheaper metal), or silver. Solid gold will usually sell for a higher price than gold filled or gold plated. “Gold tone’ is any gold-colored jewelry without real gold in it. Silver lockets are also pretty common and will usually be a little less expensive than solid gold, but more expensive than gold filled.
In addition to the metal base, other materials are often used in these vintage lockets. Price points for enamel lockets range from affordable to very expensive. Diamonds are the most frequently used stone and the good news is a single small one usually doesn’t effect the price much. However, larger or numerous diamonds do have an impact. The same goes for pearls and other precious stones. The size and quantity largely account impact the price.
Most lockets will be empty, however, sometimes inside will be a photograph or lock of hair. It’s generally hard to know if these are really from the original owner. However, since there is little added value, it’s generally assume that the sellers aren’t adding them in themselves.
Size and Shape
Lockets vary a lot in both size and shape. Small lockets can be only half an inch wide, while large ones well over an inch. Oval, circle, rectangular, and heart shaped lockets are the most common, but hexagons, shields, and other creative shapes turn up regularly too. I really love book shaped lockets. Larger lockets are usually more expensive than similar quality smaller lockets, but in less expensive materials this doesn’t have a big impact on price. With more valuable materials, however, size will usually have a measurable impact.
Antique Locket Design
Design can also have an effect on price. An antique locket with a really detailed design is sometimes, but not always, more expensive than a simple one. This is especially true in hand-engraved lockets, rather than those mass-produced using a cheaper method. However, what’s in fashion can also have an effect. Sometimes fluid art nouveau styles sell better than intricate Victorian lockets. Sometimes, the reverse is true. You can get a great deal if you fall in love with something that’s out of fashion, or you may need to pay a lot for an antique locket that’s currently popular. If the chain that comes with the locket is unusual in any way that also can also have an upwards influence on price.
Age has some impact on pricing, but because dating isn’t usually very exact it usually isn’t much of an issue. Frequently, lockets are listed as vintage or antique when no precise date is known. Most of the time vintage is used for lockets less than 100 years old and antique for over 100 years old, but these are not hard and fast definitions.
There are several reasons for this. First, is that to most consumers the exact date doesn’t matter very much. It didn’t to me. Second, precise dating can be time consuming and requires significant knowledge of jewelry history. This is a lot to expect from a seller, particularly at the lower price points. There are no markings on most lockets, so those can’t be used as a starting point for research. Last, many of the techniques used to make the lockets and popular styles don’t change very quickly. This means that it’s hard to use the characteristics of a given locket to pinpoint the date.
Common Eras and Styles for Lockets
The least expensive lockets are from the mid to late 20th century. They usually are mass-produced and not made using solid gold. These can still be pretty charming though! I especially like the ones that use different colors of gold for decoration.
A significant portion of the antique lockets I’ve found are labeled as either Victorian (1837-1901) or Edwardian (1901-1910). Traditional stylized floral designs and other natural motifs are very common. The style and level of decoration can vary widely, which isn’t surprising given the over 70-year time frame. As mentioned above, take these terms with a grain of salt, as precise dating is generally not a priority, or even possible.
Another term that comes up often is Art Nouveau. This artistic movement was popular from about 1890 to 1910. Flowing organic shapes and natural motifs are characteristic of this style. Art Nouveau lockets can be very beautiful in a way that is completely different from the other jewelry produced during the late Victorian and Edwardian eras.
Art Deco is another artistic movement that’s frequently used in locket descriptions. This style was popular from about 1910 to 1930, though it’s most often associated with the post-WWI decades. Deco shows up in antique lockets in the bold lines and stylized florals popular in this movement
How to Buy Antique Lockets
There are a lot of different factors that go into the pricing and availability of antique lockets, but really, the most important thing is finding something that you like and connect with. It took me a while to find one that I loved enough to actually purchase. There were many open tabs on my browser for weeks before I made a final decision. In the end, I chose my locket because I loved the heart and flower motif on the front and didn’t care that it’s a little scratched up. I was happy with the length and quality of the chain. It also was within the budget.
I highly encourage you to take the time to find just the right one, whether this is for yourself or for a gift. A good gold or silver locket can become a signature piece or a family heirloom.
Let me know in the comments below or on Instagram if you get one! I’d love to see how you style it too!