What is Vintage Jewellery?

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From sparkling engagement rings to treasured family heirlooms, most of us build up a collection of jewellery over our lifetime. Although we have no doubt that our jewellery is precious, many of us don’t know how to classify it. Establishing whether jewellery is vintage, antique, or retro can be tricky, especially if we didn’t buy the piece first hand. In this article, we discuss this topic further and find out more about vintage jewellery.

What is Vintage Jewellery?

As a general rule, jewellery must be at least 20 years old to be considered ‘vintage’. However, some people believe there is a second definition of the term, too. While many jewellers consider this incorrect, some people classify any second-hand jewellery as vintage.

Vintage jewellery does not sell for as much money as antique pieces, but that doesn’t mean it’s less desirable. In fact, many people prefer to collect vintage pieces – particularly those from an interesting time period. During the 1940s, a surge in mass manufacturing caused a direct effect on the types and quality of the jewellery produced. With this in mind, many people enjoy collecting vintage jewellery from this time period.

While some people consider any ‘used’ jewellery as vintage, the official definition is anything that is aged, but not yet old enough to be classed as antique. Essentially, this means that any jewellery created after 1920 should be considered vintage.

When it comes to pricing vintage jewellery, it’s important to know the difference between fine jewellery and costume jewellery. Regardless of its age, fine jewellery will attract a larger price due to the quality of materials used. Typically, fine jewellery is made from materials including gold, silver, diamond, and other precious gemstones. Costume jewellery, on the other hand, is crafted from lower quality metals including gold or silver plated brass or sterling silver.

While fine jewellery holds more value, costume jewellery boasts its own charm and attraction. Many collectors search for beautiful costume jewellery, especially pieces that can be sold as vintage, retro, or estate jewellery. Below, we explore the differences between the three classifications.

The Difference Between Vintage, Antique, and Estate Jewellery

Vintage Jewellery

Any jewellery that is at least 20 years old can be considered vintage. Essentially, this means that the term can refer to any jewellery made during the 1990’s or earlier. Out of the three classifications, vintage is probably the most common since it includes a large collection of periods when jewellery was mass produced.

For some people, the confusion comes when referring to pieces that are over 100 years old. Technically, jewellery from the 1800’s could be considered vintage; however, most dealers would classify the piece as an antique, instead. This is so they can highlight exactly how old the jewellery is. With this in mind, you can assume that any item sold as “vintage” is more than 20 years old but less than 100.

Antique Jewellery

Any jewellery that is at least 100 years old can be considered antique. Today, many pieces from the 1920’s are described as antique, particularly those from the first half of the decade. If a reliable dealer describes an item as “antique”, you can be sure that the piece is very old. However, beware of the term “antique style”. Instead of describing the age of the item, this term is used to describe the appearance. For instance, an antique style bracelet could appear to be old but have no real history of the item’s age. Often, this could mean that the jewellery is a reproduction and does not hold the value of a true antique piece.

Estate Jewellery

The term ‘Estate Jewellery’ can refer to any piece of jewellery that is used. The term includes all second-hand jewellery, regardless of when the item was made. Technically, an item could be less than a week old and still be considered as estate jewellery – providing that it has been worn by a previous owner.

For instance, say you got married 2 years ago but decided to file for a divorce. A few months later, you choose to sell your wedding ring to a jeweller to make some money. When reselling your ring, the jeweller would classify the item as a piece of estate jewellery.

As jewellers sell a large amount of second-hand pieces, some decide to limit the use of the term ‘estate jewellery’. To do this, they only use the term on jewellery that was made within the last 30 years. Generally, any older pieces will be classified as vintage or antique, instead. If the jewellery is more than 30 years old, the dealer will usually include the item’s age. If the term ‘estate jewellery’ is used without any mention of the item’s age, it’s safe to assume that the piece is relatively new.

In Summary

To be considered vintage, jewellery must be at least 20 years old. Most jewellers will class any jewellery less than 100 years old but more than 20 as vintage. Typically, anything over 100 will be classified as antique, instead. Some dealers may describe the piece as “vintage estate jewellery”. In this case, the jewellery is older than 20 years old and also second-hand.

When selling vintage jewellery, it’s important to know whether your item is fine jewellery or costume jewellery. If the piece is made from a good-quality metal such as gold or silver, it’s likely to be fine jewellery. If the item is made from a cheaper material such as silver-plated brass, it will probably be classed as costume jewellery. Although costume jewellery holds less value than fine jewellery, it is still popular amongst collectors for its charm and attraction.

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