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What Is The Difference Between Vintage, Antique and Estate Jewellery?

Vintage and antique are two terms that are now used almost interchangeably to describe jewellery from years gone by – but there are differences in the meanings of the words that could be important to you, should you make a purchase.

When speaking to professional jewellers, using the correct terms will help you to ensure that you can understand everything that is being said. Although over time, a lot of these words have become interchangeable, this blog details the words’ original definitions.

What is vintage jewellery?

Most people refer to ‘vintage’ jewellery as pieces that are between 50 and 100 years old. Certain eras with distinct styles may be referred to as vintage even if the jewellery from that time isn’t yet fifty years old. For example, jewellery from the 1980s has mass appeal due to the recent style renaissance of that era. Because of this, it has been loosely accepted as being vintage and might often be described in this way.

To complicate things further, ‘vintage’ is also used to describe the style of a piece of jewellery. Vintage jewellery, which includes vintage engagement rings, often works well with modern clothing looks, as trends tend to be cyclical. It’s also often a great talking point and ideal for everyday wear or events, as well as for discovering classic engagement rings.

Vintage jewellery collectors commonly seek out examples from some of the best-known vintage designers, such as Cartier, Tiffany, and Boucheron. You can discover the epic story of Cartier vs Tiffany in our dedicated blog post about the two legendary jewellery houses.

Vintage jewellery can currently be defined as pieces from the Art Deco Era (1915-1935), Retro Era (1935-1950), and Modern Era (1950s-1980s), although some purists would believe that Art Deco jewellery is actually antique. We’ll let you decide after reading our blog on the most influential Art Deco designers of the 1920s. 

What is antique jewellery?

The word ‘antique’ is also used to indicate a certain age. A piece of jewellery should be described as antique if it is over 100 years old. As jewellery passes over the 100-year age mark, it technically becomes classified as antique as opposed to vintage, but as we have learned already – it’s common for the lines to be blurred, especially with unique engagement rings.

Due to the age and scarcity of finding genuine antique pieces, they tend to be very valuable. Some of the most expensive jewellery in the world is antique. The Hutton Mdivani Jadeite Necklace was sold to Cartier for $27 million in 2014.

Popular antique jewellery eras are The Edwardian Era (1871-1914), The Georgian Era (1714-1837), and the Art Nouveau Era (1890-1910).

What is estate jewellery?

As well as ‘antique’ and ‘vintage’, ‘estate’ is another word that’s often used to describe old jewellery. However, ‘estate’ has a different meaning to the previous two words.

Estate jewellery simply refers to a piece that has had a previous owner. However, many jewellers use it to describe jewellery that is less than 30 years old, as the assumption is that those pieces will have been owned previously.

A common misconception is that estate jewellery refers to the jewellery of someone who has died, but estate jewellery doesn’t have to have a deceased owner to be described in this way.

Why is it important to know the difference?

Understanding the difference between these terms could potentially save you a lot of money in a variety of ways. If you see the terms used incorrectly, it’s a great warning that something is amiss. Vintage jewellery buying hinges strongly on trust and education, and if something is wrong with a jeweller’s terminology, you might need to doubt their trustworthiness.

It will help to build your confidence as a buyer if you know what you are talking about. You will be able to make purchases with conviction, and reassurance that you are getting a good deal.