Estate, vintage, and antique jewelry has grown in popularity in recent years. You might love the idea of owning a treasure from decades past, of owning something with history and story behind it. Or you may love the environmental benefits of owning something that has already been crafted with care and doesn’t add to the demand for additional mining of precious metals and gemstone excavation. Or you may simply like the styles of eras past better.
Whatever your reason for seeking out estate, vintage, or antique jewelry, it is an exciting journey of exploring hundreds of years of design, fashion, and luxury. It can be thrilling to finally find that perfect peace that is truly one of a kind.
But as you’re shopping for estate, vintage, or antique jewelry, you may notice that those terms are often thrown around interchangeably… Even though they don’t all mean the same thing.
So before you start shopping for estate, vintage, or antique jewelry, make sure you understand what each of those terms actually mean.
What Is Estate Jewelry?
Basically, “estate jewelry” is a nicer term for “used jewelry.” It doesn’t always mean that the jewelry is “old,” “vintage,” or “antique.”
If someone gets divorced and sells a wedding ring they bought 5 years ago, that ring could be sold in a jewelry store’s showcase as an “estate” piece. 5 years is relatively new. It’s not vintage or antique, but it is considered a “estate jewelry.”
This term is also used if someone dies and their jewelry is left to family or friends. It doesn’t matter how old the jewelry is, it is used, or “previously owned,” jewelry from the “estate” of the person who passed away.
What Is Antique Jewelry?
The general rule of thumb is: Antique jewelry is jewelry that is at least 100 years old.
As of this writing in 2018, that means that anything from 1918 or before is widely considered “antique” by jewelry experts. It’s worth noting that this is not a legally binding term and you will sometimes hear jewelry that is 50+ years old referred to as “antique.” So if the time-frame matters to you for a particular reason, be sure to ask the seller and do your own due diligence to make sure you’re getting what you really want.
Also keep in mind that it’s possible for a piece to be antique without being “estate,” at least not estate in the same way described above where it simply means “previously owned.” For example:
There are times in history where new jewelry or gems are lost in transit when a ship sinks and is unrecoverable. That ship is then found, 100+ years later, through modern search and recovery methods. These treasures are then sold as antique, but they are not necessarily coming out of someone’s personal estate, and they were never worn and used like many estate jewelry pieces.
To some degree, this is splitting hairs, but it can be helpful to know the specific definitions as you shop.
What Is Vintage Jewelry?
“Vintage” is the most slippery term of them all. You’ll hear some people say it means that the jewelry is over 20 years old, but under 100. You’ll hear some say that it has to be from a specific decade or time period. Some people use it to describe newly manufactured jewelry that is “vintage style.”
This term, more than the other two, is one you need to ask for clarification on if a salesperson or advertisement is using it.
Often, you’ll see it paired with a specific time period, as in: “Vintage Art Deco Earrings.” But even with this description, you should ask for clarification from the seller.
Are they selling earrings that were actually made in the mid-to-late 1920s or 1930s, in the art deco style? Or are they selling “art deco style” earrings that were made more recently?
“Vintage” is the term you should be most careful with and suspicious of when buying estate, antique, or vintage jewelry. It’s thrown around the most casually, and is usually not well defined.
To be a savvy shopper, ask for specific clarification of what they mean by “vintage,” and it is a buyer beware situation if documentation is not available or you’re not buying it from a trusted jewelry appraiser.
Understanding Estate, Antique, and Vintage Jewelry: Wrap Up
I hope this guide was helpful for you in better understanding the terminology around the jewelry treasures of yesterday.
If you’re reading this during or before July 2018, be sure to join us for our massive Estate Jewelry Sale. Shop previously owned jewelry, antique treasures, and jewelry from iconic periods in history.
Learn more about the sale HERE.