Antique, Vintage, and Estate Jewelry Defined

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The terms antique, vintage, and estate are used to help date older pieces of fine jewelry. So what is considered vintage jewelry and what is considered antique? This is a common inquiry, and the answer varies from how we would classify vintage cars or old houses.

All jewelry that is not brand new is considered estate jewelry, but not all estate jewelry is considered vintage or antique. Antique jewelry and vintage jewelry are defined by when the item was made.

Estate Jewelry

Estate jewelry is any piece of jewelry that is used. This term encompasses all second-hand jewelry, regardless of whether it could be defined as antique or vintage. The item could be less than a month old and it could 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.

Instead of describing all used pieces as estate jewelry, dealers usually limit this term to jewelry that was made within the last 30 years. Anytime this term is used to describe a piece of jewelry that may look like it's much older than this, inquire to verify the exact age with the seller.

Sometimes the use of the term “estate” can be a reproduction indicator. It is safe to assume that whenever a dealer says “estate” without any other mention of the item's age, that piece of jewelry is not very old at all.

Vintage Jewelry

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 an engagement ring from the 1800s be considered vintage? Technically speaking, yes. Although instead of classifying the ring as vintage, most dealers would call the ring antique so they can highlight just how old the ring is.

What about your grandmother's engagement ring from the 1940s? That would be considered a vintage engagement ring.

Antique Jewelry

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 reproduction indicator. Anytime the word “style” is used when describing a piece of jewelry that appears to be old but there is no other mention of the item's age, this could mean the item is a reproduction.

"Estate Jewelry" Can Be Misleading

Sometimes the use of the terms “vintage” or “estate” can be misleading, so it is very important to understand how reputable dealers use these terms and how unreliable dealers use them so you can avoid accidentally buying a reproduction.

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.

When in doubt, contact an expert you trust to help you figure out what type of estate jewelry you are dealing with. Sometimes styles and trends repeat themselves, so it takes a lot of finesse and education to date the item correctly.