What Is Estate Jewelry and How Is It Different from Antique and Vintage Jewelry?

Is There Even a Difference?

Indeed, there is quite a significant difference between antique, vintage, and estate jewelry. The difference lies mainly in their age, but also in how they acquired their titles.

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The Difference Between Antique, Vintage, and Estate Jewelry

The terms estatevintage, and antique are easily and readily confused – especially when it comes to jewelry.

What is Vintage Jewelry?

Vintage jewelry is generally defined as a piece of jewelry that is at least 20 years old, but less than 100 years. Most jewelers do not consider this a hard and fast rule, though.

When looking at specifics, for example, the Art Deco style period falls within this category. But if an Art Deco ring is part of your family member’s estate, then it can also qualify as vintage estate jewelry.

The Retro Modern Era (1945 – 1960) also falls within the vintage period and marks the start of true Hollywood glamor. The pins, necklaces, gold bracelets, cocktail rings, bold gemstones, and overall colorfulness of the period are all considered vintage jewelry.

The late 1960s ushered in jewelry inspired by Jackie Kennedy. By the 1980s, there was more contemporary gold jewelry inspired by a flare for the dramatic. These are also considered vintage. Furthermore, vintage jewelry tends to be more robust than antique jewelry, so it can be worn more often.

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What is Antique Jewelry?

Antique jewelry is more than 100 years old. It might include pieces from the Art Nouveau Era (1890 – 1910), the Arts and Crafts Era (1894 – 1923), The Edwardian Era (1901 – 1915), the Victorian Era (1837 – 1901) and the Georgian Era (1714 – 1837). This means that a Victorian-Era ring or an Edwardian-style broach is considered antique. But if you are inheriting it, it can also be seen as an antique estate piece.

You will also find that antique jewelry is often made from higher-quality materials than modern pieces. However, these jewelry pieces are often considered too valuable to wear due to their rarity and age.

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What is Estate Jewelry?

Estate jewelry refers to previously-owned pieces that were included in a last will and testament. In other words, the pieces were left for inheritance after the original owner’s death. Estate jewelry can be vintage jewelry or antique jewelry. But not all estate jewelry is vintage or antique.

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What is Heirloom Jewelry?

The other category that we would like to mention here is heirloom jewelry. This is usually a piece of jewelry that has been in a specific family for generations or one that is intended to be kept for generations. This intention can be for a number of reasons. Usually, it is largely sentimental: a family member kept the piece because it was special to them. They then gave it to their children, etc. While the original sentimentality might have been lost, it will likely remain a sentimental piece of jewelry simply because it has been passed down. Another reason why some jewelry might become heirloom pieces is due to their rarity or monetary value. Second-hand jewelry usually does not fetch the same price as new pieces. So, when a family gets their hands on something special, they might want to hang on to it.

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Second-Hand Jewelry Industry

We also have to differentiate between second-hand jewelry and antique or vintage pieces. A second-hand piece is not necessarily considered antique or vintage, depending on its age.

A reliable dealer who spots a piece of special value might hang on to it and take care of it until it becomes vintage or antique, in which case its value will be much more than if it had been sold immediately. Conversely, an unreliable dealer will likely want to sell the piece as quickly as possible, which means that a savvy collector could potentially save quite a bit of money by investing in unique second-hand items.

Estate jewelry is not generally considered ‘second hand’, especially if the previous owner is a family member. Unlike antique jewelry, a second-hand piece is less than 20 years old and loses some of its value due to resale. If your piece is considered estate jewelry, then you might need to date older pieces to get a more precise idea of their value in a formal sense. Estate pieces can fetch a pretty penny, but only under the right circumstances.

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What is Replica Antique or Vintage ‘Inspired’ Jewelry?

Due to the popularity and demand for vintage and antique jewelry, you can often find modern pieces made in antique and vintage styles. Antique engagement rings are becoming increasingly popular, for example, but they are usually unaffordable for most people. This has led to a market for replicas of antique-style rings.

Vintage or antique jewelry replicas refer to pieces that share characteristics with their genuine counterparts. However, these pieces are not ‘authentic’, even when made with the right materials. When a jeweler makes a piece of jewelry in a specific style, it does not necessarily mean that it meets the age requirement.

Thus, potential buyers should confirm with the jeweler that the antique piece they are considering actually meets the age requirement. Estate, antique, or vintage replica jewelry also has specific characteristics that have an effect on their value. A piece cannot simply be considered antique if it is only a few months old, but has been made with certain materials. The same counts for vintage jewelry. Both antique and vintage jewelry require specific style elements and materials, but most importantly, the right age. For example, pieces made during the Retro Era are vintage.

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Frequently Asked Questions

Is a vintage engagement ring a good choice?

While vintage jewelry fetches quite an impressive price, and is a great investment, you might find that they are not suited to everyday wear. So, if you intend to wear your vintage ring daily then you might want to consider a replica as it will be more robust than the real thing.

Are all cameos antiques?

While cameos have largely gone out of fashion, do not assume that each piece is an antique cameo while shopping. You are more likely to see an estate cameo among your grandmother’s possessions than in a modern-day jewelry store, but not all of the cameos in existence can be classified as an estate antique piece. Some are replicas.


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