Updated: Sep 14
Looking to validate your antique jewelry obsession? Always explaining how your vintage jewelry collection is practically saving the world? You are an eco-friendly jewelry trailblazer. Buying and collecting jewelry that was not mass-produced and made of ethically sourced materials makes you an ethical user and conservationist. If you had a label, it wouldn’t say “Consumer.”
It can also be said that vintage jewelry, antique jewelry, and estate jewelry are sold by small businesses and individuals, so you are supporting local, and not big corporations. While that is just one of many benefits, there are other reasons to buy eye-catching jewelry with a storied past. Imagine wearing a piece of estate jewelry, an amethyst ring with a tale that has been passed down through generations of a family. With estate jewelry, you often have the added knowledge of who the first woman was to wear it.
What is the Difference Between Antique, Vintage, and Estate Jewelry?
Antique, vintage, and estate jewelry are common in the world of jewelry, but each has distinguishing characteristics that mostly separate them from one another. Mostly? That can be confusing! Knowing the difference between antique and vintage can be the difference between a good collection and a great collection. Let’s look at some misconceptions about these three major players that a collector should be familiar with if considering adding to any jewelry collection.
Antique jewelry is any piece that is over 100 years old. It is also characterized by the decade it was made. It can also be considered sustainable since the materials used to make these pieces were sourced responsibly in reasonable amounts, unlike mass-produced products. These pieces are often rare and have a great deal of history associated with them due to their age. Antique jewelry can also be categorized as estate jewelry.
Antique jewelry is a real catch. It was made at a time when mass production either wasn’t available or not prioritized. It may be valuable due to its age, but you still need to take a good look at the condition of the piece. It’s over a century old, so while its scarcity may have increased its demand, the reality is that it may not have been preserved well.
Edwardian Era (1871 – 1914)
Edwardian Era antique jewelry is a whole mood. Much like King Edward himself, this style rejected the Art Nouveau jewelry influence and created ethereal and delicate fine jewelry designs, often inspired by 17th-and 18th-century architecture. It is best known for feminine pieces that incorporate the color white – think diamonds, pearls, white gold, and platinum.
Edwardian jewelry has curvy features. Long lines like floral vines, scrolls, and loops are the hallmarks of the Edwardian era in jewelry making. Rings often have elongated oval shapes, and sapphires were a popular choice for a pop of color in Edwardian jewelry. Larger, opulent pieces are what this time is known for, each being a work of art and representing the royalty the Edwardian era is named for.
Georgian Era (1714 – 1837)
The Georgian era ushered in intricately designed and labor-intensive jewelry pieces. It is often difficult to find authentic Georgian-era jewelry for two reasons. First, because maker’s marks and stamps were not enforced until the 1900s, making it difficult to identify. And second, many Georgian-period jewelers melted down pieces they considered out-of-date to make newer fine jewelry pieces.
Ornate metalwork is the hallmark of Georgian fine jewelry. Hand fabrication was the only way to achieve the level of artistry seen in this time. Repousse, a common metalworking technique of this period, involved hammering malleable metal into intricate fine jewelry designs and patterns.
Art Nouveau Era (1890 – 1910)
Art nouveau jewelry was created in a time before the first World War when mass manufacturing got its start. It was a short-lived period and featured women and nature in a way that had never been done in jewelry before. Women were depicted in art nouveau jewelry as lovely and unthreatening or as a fantasy, such as mermaids or fairies. “Scary” women with figures like Medusa were represented on pieces to represent how French men thought about French women at the time – to be revered but also feared!
Antique Jewelry Trends
Vintage jewelry is less than 100 years old but typically greater than 20 years old. Vintage jewelry is a hot trend and a solid investment for your own enjoyment. Fun, flamboyant pieces like large cocktail rings, charm bracelets, and gold hoop earrings are hallmarks of popular vintage jewelry collections. Gold evolved into the metal of choice because of the lack of availability of platinum during World War II.
Vintage jewelry can be estate jewelry and at some point, will age into antique jewelry. Unlike antique jewelry, vintage jewelry is more likely to be worn. Statement pieces from the last few decades make fashionable accessories and give a modern wardrobe a retro vibe.
Vintage jewelry is largely made up of handcrafted pieces. Unlike the mass production of today’s popular trends, handcrafted vintage jewelry has unique, individualized designs that make it more valuable. The difference is in the beauty and craftsmanship of vintage pieces, many of which were made from sustainable materials.
Art Deco (1915 – 1935)
The first era of jewelry currently considered vintage was designed and created in the Art Deco period. Like the Edwardian jewelry of the past, art deco pieces incorporate platinum and antique diamond cuts. However, art deco jewelry designs are strikingly different due to their geometrical and symmetrical lines and shapes.
The roaring 1920s jewelry scene ushered in Art Deco-inspired brooches, seemingly never-ending strands of pearls, gem-studded bracelets, and lariat necklaces with tasseled ends. The femininity of the flapper mixed with her brash, confident style created the 1920s jewelry blend of accessories that went from demure during the daytime to extravagant styles in the evening. Bejeweled headbands and the cloche hat with feathers and gemstones were iconic elements of the 1920s jewelry style, as well as keeping jewels at the forefront of design.
Retro Era (1930 – 1940)
World War II had a tremendous effect on the jewelry industry. It limited the amount of metals available to jewelers and caused a shortage in gemstones, causing them to use synthetic and semi-precious stones, which became the hallmark of retro-era vintage jewelry. Patriotic symbolism and homages to freedom and liberation, like a bird at the door of a cage, were common images incorporated into the fine jewelry of this time.
Mid-Century (1950 – 1965)
Jewelry design in the years following World War II welcomed the return of prosperity and led to luxurious designs that matched the feminine styles of the time. Bold looks with gemstones, voluptuous curves, and whimsical portrayals of animals are signs of the brighter times of the Mid-Century period. Notable brands like Tiffany & Co. and Cartier became popularized in films and magazines, with featured Mid-Century jewelry designs on actresses such as Doris Day and Grace Kelly.
Vintage Jewelry Trends
Gold hoop earrings
Italian gold designs
Estate jewelry is most simply described as previously owned jewelry. The jewelry may be acquired from an estate or be jewelry that has been owned before. Estate jewelry can be antique jewelry or vintage jewelry, depending on the age of the piece that was previously owned.
Estate jewelry is often thought of as pieces in a jewelry collection of an individual who has passed away, but that is not necessarily the case. Estate jewelry can be jewelry owned by someone who is very much alive but wishes to sell a jewelry item or collection. This is an excellent opportunity for an avid collector or environmentally conscious newbie to add a valuable piece to their own collection for a fraction of the price (and none of the guilt of consumerism!).
5 Tips on How to Buy Estate Jewelry
1. Examine the piece closely.
2. Wear and tear is not always a bad thing.
3. Do your research.
4. Buy what you love.
5. Work with reputable vendors.
1. Take your time to look over the piece carefully.
When considering a piece of estate jewelry, take the time to look it over thoroughly. Examine it in bright light so you can see scratches, chips, and other potential damage. Keep in mind these pieces have lived a long life and are sure to have some issues that can be easily fixed by a knowledgeable jeweler.
2. If it was well-loved, it will be well-worn.
Wear and tear is not always a bad thing, and “previously enjoyed” doesn’t always mean “slightly damaged.” Well-made quality pieces are designed to withstand wear. It’s up to you if well-worn metal gets better with age or if you prefer your estate jewelry with that good-as-new look.
3. Put your buying power on display with a well-researched foundation of knowledge.
Simply put – if this is an investment purchase for you, do your research. There are plenty of online resources to provide you with information on the estate jewelry market. If the piece you are considering is being sold at an incredible bargain, that is even more of a reason to take another look at it and do a deep dive into its history.
4. There’s no price too great for a piece you absolutely love.
Well, maybe there is, but the point is – if you love it, don’t worry so much about the re-sale value as the enjoyment you will get from wearing it. If the jewelry is purchased carefully and at a fair price, your beloved bauble will hold its price over time. If it is for your personal collection, buy what you love to wear. If it is for investment, considering that the diamond and gold markets do fluctuate, just remember that you are not guaranteed to make a profit.
5. Buy from a reputable and knowledgeable seller.
Your local antique mall has a wide array of knowledgeable and friendly vendors who are happy to discuss the estate jewelry pieces they have on hand or help you find the exact piece you are looking for. Keep the lines of communication open with vendors such as this, and your estate jewelry collection will be replete with pieces you love and pieces you can re-sell for a profit. Learn how to successfully shop for antique, estate, and vintage jewelry, and you will reap the benefits of a stunning and successful collection.
Is Jewelry a Good Investment?
All things being equal, antique jewelry, estate jewelry, and vintage jewelry are good investments since they hold their value better than brand-new pieces. Antique jewelry and many pieces of vintage jewelry were made at a time when mass production wasn’t available. Or it was not an option due to the intricacy of the jewelry design, making it more valuable and unique.
This is not to say that collecting any kind of antique or vintage jewelry is a good investment. There are a few things to consider when purchasing jewelry for an investment. In addition to doing your research, become familiar with important distinctions that will help guide you toward purchasing pieces that are more likely to increase in value.
Important Distinctions for Purchasing Jewelry
Designer labels and hallmarks
Of course, all investments are at your own risk. That is why knowing your seller and having an ongoing relationship with them is important. Not only can they help you acquire the best pieces for your personal collection, but they can also help educate you and guide you by sharing their own knowledge and enthusiasm regarding antique, vintage, and estate jewelry.
America’s Antique Mall is filled with friendly, knowledgeable vendors who are enthusiastic about all things antique! With miles of aisles to find the perfect vintage find, this local antique mall prides itself on having a great selection of treasures to satisfy your hunt for something special. From antique jewelry to delightfully wearable and highly collectible vintage jewelry and estate jewelry, America’s Antique Mall is a family of antique malls connecting vendors and collectors with a unique shopping experience.