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Been searching for antique jewellery to buy on eBay lately? Have you been more than a little suspicious over the sheer number of items available at rock bottom prices? Don’t some of those bargains look just too good to be true? OF COURSE they do!

Just a couple of mouse clicks into eBay’s jewellery category and you are confronted with an ever increasing, bewildering array of ‘rare’ ‘estate’ jewellery propping up the ‘genuine antiques’ section which have probably fallen off the back of a Chinese factory assembly line to be there.

But how do you separate the good from the bad; the new from the old; the real from the fake; the bling from the bong, etc..? Here are some top tips from one antique jewellery seller trying hard to avoid being tarred with the same phony brush:

Read the wording very carefully: Common phrases to watch out for are ‘vintage inspired’ and ‘antique style’ which usually mean they’re about as old as Hugh Hefner’s latest acquisition. Currently there are at least two successful UK based eBay sellers which advertise their jewellery internationally in the ‘genuine antiques’ category under titles such as ‘Rare estate’ or ‘English estate’ jewellery. It takes a lot of meticulous reading to spot the ‘antique/Victorian style’ giveaway clue that, despite the attractiveness of the pieces, nevertheless means they are totally new. A quick email to each seller confirmed this. ‘Gold filled’, ‘GF’, ‘GP’ or ‘rolled gold’ also mean that the item is not made of solid gold, although it could still be an antique. ‘Simulated’ is another term used for fake gems, such as diamonds, which are unlikely to be found in authentic antique jewellery.

Have a look at the seller’s other items: If they’re selling lots of uncannily similar items then the one you’ve taken a shine to is unlikely to be the one-off piece that a genuine antique should be.

Check the location of the item: If it’s Thailand then the chances are it’s not going to be a priceless Lalique. Remember if the item is located overseas, you run a greater risk of it being lost or damaged in the post. Plus, depending on the country it’s coming from, you may not be able to get a refund if you’re unhappy with it.

Does the seller offer returns? If an item turns out to be not as described, you should be entitled to return it for a refund anyway. But if they offer a cooling off period then not only are they obviously keen to maintain good customer relations, but they are probably quite confident that you’ll be happy with the purchase

Most importantly, check the seller’s legitimacy: Look at the details of their feedback comments – are they mainly buyer or seller comments? If there aren’t many comments it may be because the seller hasn’t been established on eBay for very long. That could either mean that they have had to start over with a new eBay account for dubious reasons or it could simply mean that this is a new venture – in which case they will be keen to earn a good feedback rating. If they display links to their website then, even if they are not yet an established business, they at least have nothing to hide.

Email the seller if you still aren’t sure: They are required by eBay to give an accurate description of their items for sale. So ask the seller how old the piece is; if there are any scratches or flaws; if the stones or gems are real or simulated; whether there are any hallmarks (although many genuine antiques are not hallmarked) and, if not, how they can tell that the item is the age they say it is.

On receiving the item, if you discover the seller has misled you or the item isn’t as described in the listing, you are entitled to return it. Always remember that it could be a genuine mistake by the seller who may well be mortified by the prospect of receiving bad feedback and will offer a full refund right away if you contact them first. If however their response is to be somewhat elusive you can of course report it to eBay.

Buying antique jewellery on eBay sounds like a complete minefield. The bad news is – it is. The good news however is that it can be a lot of fun. Not only can you pick up the sort of bargain you won’t find in a bricks and mortar store and browse in your own time without an over anxious salesperson breathing over you, but you can also find some truly distinctive and exclusive treasures that nobody else will have.