Most kids are expected to help around the house by tidying their room or helping with dishes, but Tenisha Light-Caba was not most kids. Her chore was to polish her grandmother’s jewelry at the tender age of 8. In many ways, this formative experience was the seedling that led to her career in buying and curating vintage jewelry. From weekend pop-ups to collaborations with Topshop to finally opening her own store, Brooklyn Bleu, in the World Trade Center, Light-Caba has come far from the rummage sales she used to host for her family’s jewelry in New York. Her passion for finding great pieces is what lead her to curate a personal collection any fashion girl would envy, but her taste is what attracted the likes of Lady Gaga and Zendaya as repeat clients. And if you weren’t sold by those casual name drops, let Light-Caba’s expertise floor you. Ahead, you’ll learn more about not only Light-Caba’s story but also how you too can buy, curate, and care for a collection of vintage jewelry you love—and even score the same earrings as Zendaya. But first, a little more about the entrepreneur…
What started as a passion project on the weekends for Light-Caba quickly became her full-time obsession, leading her to quit her job and launch Brooklyn Bleu in 2009. Since then, she has hosted pop-ups around the country and, more recently, established her online and brick-and-mortar presence. As someone who has spent her life selling, caring for, and buying vintage designer and non-label jewelry, she’s got a treasure trove of tips that will change your accessory game.
Light-Caba’s first tip for anyone just starting to accumulate items is to invest in minimalist pieces you can wear to work every day—like a good pair of hoops. Everyone should own pieces they feel comfortable in and not just double down on the latest trends.
“So many people shy away from statement pieces, but don’t be afraid to take a risk,” she explained. “It’s a good thing to feel fierce in a bold statement necklace from the ’90s, so make sure you have that one piece that makes you feel amazing.”
As Light-Caba told us, “If you see a great Dior or Chanel piece, buy it and make the investment. Those pieces are incredibly rare and hard to find, and you can’t assure you’ll see another version again, because you just won’t. And even if you decide later you no longer love the piece, vintage designer jewelry has an incredibly high resale value, so it’s worth your bang for your buck.”
Whether you’re shopping for vintage jewelry or secondhand clothing, the key to finding amazing pieces is taking your time. Light-Caba said she cannot stress this enough: “Don’t let anyone pressure you into making a decision, and make sure you’re comfortable with your purchase. You’re going to spend some money, so take the time to make sure what you’re buying is worth the investment and that it isn’t going to just take up space and never be worn.”
Possibly the most important part of curating a collection of jewelry is making sure you actually love what you’re buying. As Caba told us, “Don’t be afraid to take a risk and to claim the feeling of loving what you’re wearing. When you love your jewelry, the compliments will come. And of course, you’re not buying Chanel for the compliments; you’re buying it for you.”
The key to a great collection is actually investing in pieces that will still be intact years from now. Caba’s rule of thumb is to try to avoid pieces with a lot of metalware (as they can tarnish over time), and to make sure, again, you take your time to inspect before you commit to purchasing the piece. The better the condition, the more confidence you’ll feel in your investment and the more you’ll actually wear what you bought.
One of the biggest things you want to check for is the weight of the piece. Light-Caba explains, “If you’re going to a consignment store, they typically have great things. But when you’re out thrifting or at a flea market and a gold piece feels really lightweight, I’d suggest passing on it. Even if it’s in good condition and it feels really light, that’s a sign it may be aluminum, and over time, those pieces are harder to care for as the metal starts to wear, or if you feel like you want to replate it, you can’t, as most platers don’t work with aluminum. Most good gold or silver vintage jewelry has a little weight to it.”
In addition to checking the weight of the piece, Light-Caba says, “You also want to see if the piece is signed or has a trademark. While it’s not the only key factor, right away, if it’s signed, that is a very good indication it could be higher-quality materials. Anything pure gold or silver should be signed and marked silver, sterling silver, or 0.925 or 18-karat gold (for instance). If it’s not marked, you should pass, unless it’s tested on the spot by the collector, you trust the source, and know what you’re buying.”
“If you are buying anything with crystals or stones, please take your time to inspect the piece to make sure no stones are missing in prominent places, and if it claims to be a specific type of gem, test its authenticity. If the piece is missing a small gem in the back, no one really notices that, but if it’s in the front, that could become a problem, especially when most vintage pieces are final sale,” she says.
In addition to the weight and authenticity of the piece, the price can be a great indicator of whether the piece you’re buying is authentic or not. As Light-Caba said, “a heavier vintage silver necklace is going to cost you, but you’ll know it’s real.”
Whether you’re shopping for silver or gold, it’s important to understand that most vintage pieces are actually composed of mixed metal. Most pieces will be gold- or silver-plated and rhodium-plated—and they’ll come in a variety of colors. Because of this, Light-Caba suggests when shopping for gold that you know what kind of gold you’re looking for—as the color varies from 14- to 22-karat gold.
For 100% silver, another trick to check its authenticity and coloring is rubbing it with your finger. It should shine. If it's doesn’t, then it’s rhodium-plated—which is not a bad thing—but it means taking care of the piece will be a different process. In a nutshell, it’s important to know what kind of metal you’re looking for for your collection. None of them is bad; it’s just about what you want.
Cleaning your jewelry properly is the way to not only celebrate the beauty of the pieces but also ensure their longevity. As Light-Caba told us, there are different ways to clean each type of metal.
For gold- and rhodium-plated pieces:
As Light-Caba suggests, “You want to use rubbing alcohol—it works like a gem. People make the mistake of thinking they need water or need to drop it into a cleaner, and that’s just not the case. Other abrasive cleaners can strip the gold; rubbing alcohol just polishes the gold. Just make sure you use a T-shirt–like material to clean your pieces.”
For silver pieces:
“You want to use a dry cloth; you don’t want to put it in a liquid because it will be too shiny. You just want to lightly polish it without water to give it the perfect shine,” says Light-Caba.
For crystal pieces:
Light-Caba says that you can use water, but she likes to use a dash of Windex on a T-shirt cloth to have the stones shining like diamonds.