Collecting vintage and antique jewelry
One area of collecting antiques that has always been popular is jewelry. Whether it is costume or fine jewelry, vintage and antique is a great way to collect pieces of the past without taking up a lot of room.
All jewelry that is not brand new is considered estate jewelry, but not all estate jewelry is considered vintage or antique. Antique jewelry and vintage jewelry are defined by when the jewelry was made.
Estate jewelry is any piece of jewelry that is used. This term encompasses all second-hand jewelry, regardless of whether it can be defined as antique or vintage. It could be less than a month old and can still be considered estate jewelry. For example, maybe you got engaged a few years ago but decided to call off the wedding. You finally decided to sell off that ring. The jeweler you sold it to would classify it as a piece of estate jewelry.
Instead of describing all used pieces as estate jewelry, dealers usually limit this term to jewelry that was made within the last 30 years. Anytime this term is used to describe a piece of jewelry that may look like it’s much older than this, inquire to verify the exact age with the seller. The term “estate” can sometimes indicate an item is a reproduction so be careful when looking at estate jewelry.
Jewelry has to be at least 20 to 30 years old to be considered vintage. This could be anything made during the 1990s or earlier. Vintage is probably the most common term of the three since it encompasses a large collection of periods when jewelry was mass-produced. An engagement ring from the 1940s would be considered vintage but one from the 1800s would be an antique.
Antique jewelry is any piece of jewelry that is about 100 years old or older. Many art deco pieces from the 1920s are now considered antique, especially those made in the earlier part of the decade. When an item is called “antique” by a reliable dealer, you can be sure that the heirloom is very old. Just beware of the term “antique style” which is another reproduction indicator. 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.
Sometimes the use of the terms “vintage or “estate” can be misleading, so it is very important to understand how reputable dealers can use these terms and how unreliable dealers use them so you can avoid accidentally buying a reproduction.
When in doubt, contact an expert you trust to help you figure out what type of estate jewelry you are dealing with. Sometimes styles and trends repeat themselves, so it takes a lot of finesse and education to date the item correctly.