The terms antique, vintage and estate are used to help determine the age of older fine jewelry. So what is antique jewelry, and what is antique? This is a common question, and the answer is different from the way we classify vintage cars or old houses.
All jewelry that is not brand new is considered real estate jewelry, but not all real estate jewelry is considered retro or antique. Antique jewelry and vintage jewelry are defined according to the time the product was manufactured.
Estate jewelry is any jewelry used. This term covers all second-hand jewelry, whether it can be defined as antique or vintage. The item may be less than a month old and can still be considered estate jewelry.
For example, say you got engaged four years ago with a brand new diamond ring, but you decided to call off the wedding. Last week you finally sold your ring to a jeweler. When reselling the ring, the jeweler would classify this ring as a piece of estate jewelry.
Dealers usually do not describe all used items as estate jewelry, but instead limit them to jewelry made within the last 30 years. Any time this term is used to describe a piece of jewelry that looks much older than this piece of jewelry, you need to verify the exact age with the seller.
Sometimes, the term “estate” can be used as an indicator of reproduction. It is safe to say that whenever the dealer says “estate” without any other mention of the age of the item, that piece of jewelry is not very old at all.
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.
Would engagement rings from the 1800s be considered old fashioned? Technically, yes. Although instead of categorizing rings as years, most dealers refer to rings as antiques so that they can highlight the age of the ring.
How about your grandmother’s engagement ring since the 1940s? That would be considered an old-fashioned engagement ring.
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 rest assured that the heirloom is very old.
Beware of the term “antique style”, which is another indicator of reproduction. Whenever the term “style” is used when describing a piece of jewelry that looks old, but there is no other mention of the age of the item, it may mean that the item is a reproduction.
“Estate jewelry” can be misleading
Sometimes, the use of the term “vintage” or “estate” can be misleading, so it is important to understand how reputable dealers use these terms and how unreliable dealers use them, so that you can avoid accidentally buying copies.
For instance, a reliable antique dealer would not call a 300-year-old cameo an “estate cameo” even though it technically is a piece of estate jewelry. Instead, a reliable dealer would only use the words “antique cameo” to avoid any confusion.
An unreliable dealer might call a brand new reproduction cameo that looks like the 300-year-old cameo an “estate cameo” to make the uneducated customer believe the cameo is much older than it actually is.
If in doubt, please contact an expert you trust to help you determine the type of estate jewelry you are dealing with. Sometimes, patterns and trends will repeat, so it takes a lot of skill and education to correctly date the product.