Antique Jewelry Guide

What is Antique Jewelry

Antique Jewelry means a piece that's at least 100 years old. But nowadays, many jewelers stretch the word to include the 1920s and 1930s, too – in casual conversation, at least.
If a jewelry piece doesn’t meet those requirements, it would be classified as vintage jewelry.

Antique Jewelry

Antique jewelry is usually desired by its age, splendor, rarity and even emotional connection. Jewelry dealer Paul Haig from Haig’s of Rochester explains, “Antique is defined by U.S. customs as over 100 years old, therefore genuine antique jewelry should represent this age requirement. However, in the antique’s market, dealers will many times refer to their items as antique jewelry when they don’t meet this specification, but do show considerable age.”
The term antique also varies its meaning oversees in Europe versus here in the United States because of the age of the country and/or region. Often times, European jewelry pieces need to be more than 100 years old to be recognized as antique because of Europe’s vast history.

Vintage Jewelry

Jewelry should be at least 20 years old to be classified as vintage. For instance, jewelry from the ‘80s could be called vintage, but jewelry from the ‘90s would not be.
The term vintage can be applied to most jewelry pieces that are less than 100 years in age. However, vintage has been defined loosely by dealers today because many items can be considered collectible. Basically, it’s a piece that’s not new or modern. Jewelry from the Art Deco and Mid Century design periods are also considered vintage.
Also to note, vintage jewelry cannot be made. Using vintage parts like beads to create jewelry doesn’t classify it as vintage. This would be regarded as contemporary jewelry.

Estate Jewelry

Estate Jewelry usually refers to jewelry that was previously owned. Contrary to popular belief, estate jewelry does not necessarily come from the estate of the deceased, and is not always antique.

Periods of Estate Jewelry

Estate Jewelry's collection of antique luxury jewelry comes from many time periods. The most popular time periods are: Georgian, Early Victorian, Mid-Victorian, Late Victorian, Arts and Crafts Era, Edwardian, Art Nouveau, Art Deco, Retro, and Art Organique.

Georgian Jewelry (1714–1837)

Georgian-era jewelry is handmade and rare. This era often featured nature-inspired designs, such as leaves, birds, and precious stones. Memento Mori was a style of jewlery very popular at the time. The phrase signifies "remember that you will die" and the style is characterized heavy usage of skull and coffin motifs.

Early Victorian, romantic jewelry (1837–1855)

Early Victorian-era jewelry also featured nature-inspired designs, similar to jewelry of the Georgian era. Frequently, these designs were delicately and intricately etched into gold. Lockets and brooches were popular in daytime jewelry during the early Victorian era, whereas colored gemstones and diamonds were worn during the evening.

Mid-Victorian, grand jewelry (1856–1880)

Because the Grand or Mid-Victorian era corresponded with the death of Queen Victoria’s husband, many jewelry pieces have solemn, somber designs. Known as mourning jewelry, the pieces feature heavy, dark stones. Jet, onyx, amethyst, and garnet are frequently found in jewelry from this period. Compared to previous periods, Mid-Victorian-era jewelry feature highly creative, colorful designs using shells, mosaics and gemstones.

Late Victorian, aesthetic jewelry (1885–1900)

During the Late Victorian or Aesthetic period, jeweler used diamonds and feminine, bright gemstones such as sapphire, peridot, and spinel. Star and crescent designs as well as elaborate hat pins were also popular. Some scholars believe the aesthetic era began sooner, in 1875, and ended as early as 1890.

Arts and Crafts jewelry (1894–1923)

Due to the Industrial Revolution, many jewelry designers rebelled during the Arts and Crafts movement, returning to intricate jewelry designs and handmade craftsmanship. It was common for jewelry of this era to be simple in pattern and made of colorful, uncut stones.

Art Nouveau jewelry (1895–1915)

Art Nouveau jewelry features natural designs such as flowers and butterflies and were generally considered "romantic." Art Nouveau was a style popular from about 1895 until World War I. The style actually began around 1875 in Paris, and its influence went throughout the western world. The style died out by the end of World War I but has often been revived. Art Nouveau jewelry follows curves and naturalistic designs, especially depicting long-haired, sensual women, sometimes turning into bird-like or flower-like forms. Art Nouveau vintage jewelry is still a source of inspiration and popular among many collectors; in particular collectors of the work of Rene Jules Lalique and Louis Comfort Tiffany.

Edwardian jewelry (1901–1915)

The Edwardian period began upon the death of Queen Victoria, when her son Edward became King. During this period many of the Edwardian-designed pieces incorporated more expensive gems such as diamonds, emeralds and rubies in elaborate designs.

Art Deco jewelry (1915–1935)

A stylized design which was named after the 1925 International Exposition of Modern Industrial and Decorative Arts, held in Paris, France. Much Art Deco design was a transition from the earlier Art Nouveau and, as with the Art Nouveau epoch, was inspired by the art of the indigenous peoples of the Americas and by ancient Egyptian, Greek and Roman architecture. Art Deco jewelry motifs are characterized by geometric designs, diverse combinations of color, and abstract patterns. In 1922, the opening of Tutankhamen's tomb in Egypt inspired another Egyptian revival. Influences from cubism as well as African, oriental, Persian, Islamic, and Jugendstil designs were common in Art Deco jewelry. The early 1920s' interest in Cubism and Dadaism as a new art form greatly influenced the Art Deco period. Additionally, the mysteries of the pyramids and a continuing revival of astrological studies lent themselves to Art Deco designs, which in turn were incorporated in the Art Moderne period following 1930. Art Deco style in other European countries was largely derivative, like the Italian G. Ravasco's diamond-studded geometric creations or Theodor Fahmer's later jewels. Some London jeweler, like Asprey and Mappin & Webb, produced Art Deco-style confections, but these are largely unsigned, so the designers are unknown. Some British design jewellers, however--like Sibyl Dunlop, Harold Stabler and H. G. Murphy, known primarily for their Arts and Crafts pieces--produced decidedly modern jewelry. George Jensen's firm in Copenhagen continued to produce silver jewelry in the Art Deco era, adding sharp geometric forms to its repertoire of stylized motifs; these in turn were imitated by a host of European jewelers. Art-deco jewelry is one of the most sought-after jewelry categories, as demonstrated by auction results.

Retro jewelry (1945–1960)

Inspired by Hollywood, Retro jewelry is colorful, bold and elaborate. Most commonly worn were large cocktail rings, bracelets, watches, necklaces and charm bracelets.

Art Organique jewelry (20th century - )

A nature-inspired and more abstract geometric design within the art of jewelry design inspired by the sciences, especially ecology, structural biology and mathematics. The style is characterized by continuity, flow, and movement as expressed in distinctly three-dimensional forms. According to the philosophy of the style, art should reflect man and nature. The goal is to understand nature’s underlying ‘spirit’ rather than merely copying natural form.


- What’s the Difference? A Guide to Identifying Antique, Vintage and Retro Jewelry,
- Estate Jewelry,
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