If you’re looking to buy an authentic piece of jewelry, there are some useful terms which may help you to determine what you have come across. These terms are ‘estate’, ‘vintage’ and ‘antique’ and are used with reference to the age of the pieces of fine jewelry. Here is some information to help you establish what is considered estate jewelry and what is considered antique or vintage.
Jewelry that is not brand new and that has been used is termed ‘estate jewelry’ which is a more pleasing way to describe ‘second hand’ pieces. It is also a term which can often indicate some significance or importance to a piece of fine jewelry, perhaps a piece that was part of the ‘estate’ of a famous person.
Not all estate jewelry is considered vintage or antique however, as it could be a piece that was recently made and worn by someone who then decided to sell it. An example of this would be a diamond ring sold to a jeweler who would then resell the ring now classified as a piece of estate jewelry.
The term can also be used for a reproduction piece of jewelry. If a dealer describes a piece as “estate” without any other mention of the item's age, that piece of jewelry is not very old at all. For example, an item could be less than a month old and still be considered estate jewelry.
To avoid accidentally buying a reproduction from an unreliable dealer, it is good first to understand how reputable dealers use of the terms “antique”, “vintage” or “estate”.
Reliable antique dealers would not call a 300-year-old cameo ring an “estate cameo” despite it technically being a piece of estate jewelry. Instead, to avoid misunderstanding, a reliable dealer would describe it as an “antique cameo”.
Conversely, an unreliable dealer might describe a brand-new reproduction of a signet ring from the Middle Ages an “estate signet ring” to make the uneducated customer believe the ring is much older.
Vintage jewelry usually refers to anything made after the 1930’s, it includes jewelry from the Mid-Century, the Retro Era, Modern and contemporary periods like the Jacquie Kennedy inspired 60’s and has to be at least 20 to 30 years old. It could be anything made during the 1990s or later and encompasses a large collection of periods when jewelry was mass-produced. The very fact that a piece resembles an item worn by a famous person can increase its value and demand.
Your grandmother's engagement ring from the 1960s would be considered a vintage engagement ring whereas an engagement ring from the 1800’s would be considered antique to highlight just how old the ring is.
Antique jewelry is any piece of jewelry that is about 100 years old or older. However, many art deco pieces from the 1920s are now considered antique, especially those made in the end of the decade.
Generally antique pieces are often very rare and precious and typically have a lot of history associated with them because of their age. They are often characterized by the era such as ‘Georgian’ and ‘Victorian’. When an item is called “antique” by a reliable dealer, you can rest assured that the heirloom is very old.
The term “antique style” - anytime the word “style” is used when describing a piece of jewelry that appears to be old but there is no other mention of the item's age, this could mean the item is a reproduction.
As ever, when in doubt it is always best to contact a trusted expert to help you determine what type of estate jewelry you are dealing with. As styles and trends sometimes repeat themselves it takes a lot of experience, education and finesse to be able to date items correctly.