Vintage & Antique Jewelry

Enjoying Antique Jewelry 

Vintage reproductions are popular for costume parties, and having all the family together for events makes it a great time to show off the diamond on that vintage engagement ring.

Jewelry has always been a popular choice for both gift-giving and dressing up. Naturally, fine jewelry is a part of that, from rings and earrings, to necklaces, and that one unique piece that dates back to the Victorian era or before. The sparkling light of diamonds and other gems bounce helps draw peoples attention just where the wearer wants it.Part of the beauty of antiques is that they provide a physical window into the past that you can touch.

The Basics of Jewelry

One thing that makes jewelry both desirable and collectible is its beauty; another is the staggering amount of variety available. A quick look through eBay can show you thousands of new and pre-owned necklaces, rings, bracelets, and other pieces. Among metals, you can find gold, platinum, and sterling silver. For stones there are everything from diamonds and sapphires to rubies, emeralds, and tourmaline. Terms like antique and vintage can apply to all of them, because they refer to the age rather than type or materials.

How Do You Differentiate Between Antique and Vintage Jewelry?

When it comes to anything other than brand new jewelry, words like used, and refurbished are rarely if ever used. The jewelry industry has its own terminology and while some people may use terms like estate, antique, and vintage jewelry almost interchangeably they are not quite the same thing. Each carries its own specific meaning:

  • Estate Jewelry: All antique and vintage jewelry is also estate jewelry, as the term simply means pre-owned. That being the case, the term estate is most commonly applied to jewelry that is previously owned but is not old enough to be considered antique or vintage.
  • Vintage Jewelry: Vintage applies to jewelry that is more than thirty years old, which is most twentieth century jewelry. Vintage and vintage-inspired jewelry is very popular.
  • Antique Jewelry: Once jewelry hits the century mark its described as antique, so the term can apply to pieces even thousands of years old, though most at that age are in museums.

How Do You Categorize Jewelry Pieces?

While the simple three-way breakdown into vintage, estate, and antique is easy enough to understand, its not really enough to cover the full range of jewelry available. For that its better to break things down by eras, with each reflecting a different period and style. One thing to be aware of is that different eras do overlap, with some covering the same periods of time:

  • Georgian: The bold designs of Georgian jewelry were produced from roughly 1714 to 1830; it features symmetrical designs often surrounded by gold bows.
  • Victorian: With her reign stretching from 1837 to 1901, Victorian jewelry encompasses a range of styles including mourning jewelry as well as items that reflect deepest antiquity. 
  • Art Nouveau: Largely contemporary with Edwardian, Art Nouveau was popular from 1895 to 1915 and featured strong influences from both Japan and the natural world. Many items are asymmetrical and show off flowing curves.
  • Edwardian: Popular from 1901 to 1915, Edwardian pieces feature a striking white-on-white flair in cut diamonds and platinum. Platinum was particularly popular in this period because its strength enabled jewelers to focus on very fine detail that would have been impossible with softer metals.
  • Art Deco: Moving toward vintage pieces created between 1915 and 1939. Hallmarks of the period were bold designs in linear and geometric shapes. Both platinum and white gold were popular.
  • Retro: Enamel came to the forefront during the 1940s with the outbreak of war. Curves and animal figures were used to offset the reduced availability of gemstones and precious metals.