Antique, Estate, or Vintage Jewelry?

Posted on Monday, March 24th, 2014 at 1:39 pm by John


Antique jewelry is usually defined as being over 100 years old, but there is no age requirement for Estate or Vintage jewelry.  Estate simply means previously owned.  Often the previous owners simply changed their lifestyle and decided to sell their jewelry.  The term Vintage has been defined as “of lasting interest or importance; classic” or as “coming from a specific time period.”    

There are accepted periods or eras of jewelry design during which particular styles of jewelry and specific precious metals and gemstones were most popular.  Below is a brief description of those periods, along with illustrations for some.  Note that the eras often overlap and the dates are approximations.

 Victorian: 1830-1900

 A diverse period in jewelry history.  In England, Queen Victoria’s husband, Prince Albert, died in 1861.  Victoria remained in formal mourning until her own death in 1901.  Black was “in”.  Black enamel and jet jewelry were the fashion statements of the day.  At the same time, goldsmithing was at its highest level of achievement.  Magnificently crafted granulation in intricate detail was introduced, largely based on Etruscan Revival motifs.  Sentimental motifs were popular:  flowers, hearts, clasped hands, locks of hair.  The industrial revolution was under way toward the end of the 19th century – yet jewelry was still for the elite.


Art Nouveau: 1895-1905

A very important period esthetically and artistically.  Unfortunately very little jewelry was made in this lovely, sensuous style. The characteristics were the use of flowing, asymmetrical lines using natural motifs such as flowers, vines, women (full-figured with long tresses and very sensual), and delicate colors in both gems and enamels.


Belle Epoch: 1890-1910

The Gay Nineties produced another distinct style, Belle Epoch.  Belle Epoch was opulent, full-blown, and almost garish.  The big diamond jewels worn by Lillian Russell characterize the feeling.  It was a far cry from both the Victorian mourning jewelry that preceded and the tailored, lace-like looks of Edwardian that was to come.

 Edwardian: 1901-1915

Diamonds were discovered in South Africa.  New cutting methods made them more brilliant than ever before.  The new incandescent light bulbs made them shine even more.  Platinum was available for fine delicate workmanship.  Diamonds set in light airy jewelry were in vogue in the early 1900’s.  Finely crafted lacework patterns with strong use of diamonds immediately identify jewelry of the Edwardian period.


Art Deco: 1920-1940

The Roaring 20’s generated a strong look in jewelry that was also evident in architecture.  Clear, bold, symmetrical geometric lines and contrasting stone colors defined the feeling.  Jewelry was widely worn and worn in profusion.  Egyptian revival styling was also strong.  Again, it was characterized by bold contrasts in color:  onyx, coral, jade, pearl, and especially diamond.  Art Deco jewelry was revived in the 1990’s and the genuine article commands a very high price.

 Retro: 1935-1955

Reacting to the rigid styles of Art Deco, Retro was soft and asymmetrical.  Where Deco used platinum and white gold, Retro used pink and rose gold.  Ruby was the dominant stone. Long out of favor, Retro is now “HOT”again.


The Opulent 1950’s

After World War II, the United States dominated the world and the jewelry world as well.  Big was good and bigger was better.  Harry Winston popularized jewelry literally dripping with diamonds.  Rings with large stones or many stones, whether expensive or inexpensive, were in vogue.  By 1950 jewelry was certainly for everyone. 



Fashion was truly international.  The United States continued to dominate fashion, but jewelry was made throughout the world.  While America might not have been the innovator, if a look did not succeed here, it did not last.  Yellow gold that could be worn both in the daytime and evening took over.  Casual was important at every level of society.


Platinum and white gold came back, but some still prefer the look of yellow gold.  Jewelry is much more a matter of personal taste, taking into account an individual’s style, complexion tones, and hair color.  Vintage looks are popular.  Art Deco and Retro styles are being replicated.  Period pieces of every description are in demand.

Diamonds continue to be the most popular gemstone but tastes are broadening.  There is a new interest in colored diamonds, including yellow, blue, pink, and green.  Black diamonds, along with “chocolate” browns are strong in fashion jewelry.  The classic Sapphire, Ruby, Emerald, and Pearls are ever popular.  And even more stones are in favor – from Tanzanite to Tsavorite, from inexpensive Blue Topaz to lush, rare Imperial Topaz.  Aquamarine, Opal, Garnet, Citrine, Jade...the list seems endless.

The modern woman’s tastes are varied and constantly changing.  She may tend toward classic, tailored looks such as diamond stud earrings, pearl strands, and chunky gold bracelets; she may want more sophisticated looks with intricate diamond necklaces, chandelier earrings, pave & color diamond rings, and wide bangles; delicate or bold; “goes with everything” diamonds, deep blue sapphires, or bight yellow-green peridot.  She may wear a few classic pieces every day, change her jewelry with every outfit, or collect a new jewelry wardrobe for each season.  In today’s fashion world, truly anything goes!