Vintage jewelry is gorgeous - colorful and flashy pieces of the past; reminders of the journey our grandmothers experienced, and indicative of the fashions and design styles of their time. EvenUnsigned necklaceCredit: Cattie Coyle Photography though many pieces may still lie forgotten in drawers and boxes, their value has never ceased. In fact, they are more valuable than ever and definitely worth collecting, both as memoirs of history and as an investment. But vintage jewelry in certain materials and by certain designers can be pricey, and if you are a new collector, you may want to start with inexpensive pieces until you have broadened your knowledge and developed an eye.

Inexpensive vintage jewelry does not necessarily have to be of inferior quality - it can just be that the pieces are unsigned or perhaps not the most sought after items right now. Fashions change; vintage cocktail rings, for example, used to be very inexpensive and easy to find, but after they were seen on many runways one season, they have become incredibly popular.

With today’s technology, the easiest and most convenient way to shop for cheap vintage jewelry is on the Internet. The best vintage shops online offer a wide range of genuine pieces, and can give you expert advice. There are also auction sales online, but it requires a lot of patience scouting around on these sites. And one huge drawback to shopping online is that you obviously can’t touch and scrutinize the jewelry closely, so before purchasing, ask plenty of questions and request a letter of authenticity.

Good "offline" shopping options are estate sales and consignment shops. While not always the least expensive options, you can still find bargains. If you enjoy rummaging through piles of things, go for bargain shopping at flea markets and yard sales. It is a bit time consuming but you never know what you might find. A seller who doesn’t care or knows much about jewelry might be selling an old signed designer necklace for a few dollars. You may also find pieces with blemishes, loose or missing stones, small damages and odd pieces like charms from broken  bracelets. When shopping at any of these types of places, always ask for discounts - they may be “junk” to others but not necessarily to you.

Unsigned vintage setCredit: Cattie Coyle Photography

Before buying, always check the condition of all pieces. Look at the clasp and make sure it works; check for scratches and obvious repairs. Turn them over and inspect every little nook and cranny. Finding small fixable issues can also work to your advantage - sometimes stones are loose, but a small drop of jewelry glue can do the trick, or a rickety clasp can be tightened.

To be able to correctly identify the authenticity and value of these pieces, familiarize yourself with the trend history, designers, and telltale signs from certain time periods. Read up in books and go online for information on distinguishing marks. Check out sites like Collector's Weekly, Illusion Jewels, Charms Guide, Morning Glory Jewelry, etc. to learn about materials, designers, hallmarks, etc. Signatures and maker's marks provide a clue as to who created a piece and what era it is from, however, there are unsigned pieces that are designer originals as well, and this is where you can make the best bargains, as long as you know what to look for.

Collecting vintage jewelry can be a very engaging hobby. For some, they are simply good  investments and for others, they are heirlooms that can be passed on to coming generations. You may start with one piece and before you know it, you have an entire collection.