What is the difference between estate, antique & vintage jewelry? Some of the most common questions asked about jewelry revolve around those terms. What do they mean and what is their definition?

Antique Versus Vintage Jewelry


There can be a great deal of confusion and no wonder, as in many cases, even jewelers apply the terms for different things. But there are generally accepted definitions to use as benchmarks and it's all about dating a piece of jewelry, according to when it was made. Just remember the 25 / 100 rule.

An antique piece of jewelry was created at least 100 years ago. Most experts, appraisers and dealers apply the term antique to a piece of jewelry from that date or later. Vintage pieces are at least 25 years old. Two easy to remember numbers.

Let's look at the term vintage. The most commonly accepted definition by those in the know refer to jewelry created at least 25 years ago or older as vintage.

Estate jewelry is usually defined as any jewelry that is sold, then resold and comes back into the marketplace. It could have been created last month, last year or up to 25 years ago. Estate engagement rings, for instance, might have been bought last year, sold and then resold.

But what about the terms reproduction or repro for short? To answer that question, it's still all about when it was made, but its style plays a role. For example, take an Art Deco engagement ring. If you are considering the purchase of a ring with this description, it should be created in the Art Deco period (1925-1935) and original. If it is created anytime later but made to resemble that style, then it is a reproduction.

But is it vintage? It may be. If it was designed and created in 1950, but looks similar to the style of the Art Deco period, then yes, it is vintage. Any reputable jeweler should clearly label their offerings with either the date it was created, or the era.

If you see the words, style, inspired, or look, for instance, “Edwardian Style”, or “Art Nouveau inspired” check to find out when it was actually made. Most of these words equate to reproduction or repro jewelry.

There is nothing wrong with something made in a style of, as long as it is clearly labeled and dated. If you are out there in a buying mood, you know exactly what you are purchasing. In fact, much of the jewelry produced (and fashion) borrows styles and elements from previous eras, so there could be just as much value in something made later to mirror an earlier style.  

Antique Vintage Ring Examples

Some of the most desirable eras of jewelry to purchase are the Victorian, Edwardian, Art Nouveau, Art Deco and Retro periods. Curious about what sets these eras apart? First remember that no style of fashion or jewelry starts at one moment and stops at a precise boundary or date. The date ranges below are guidelines.

Let's look first at the Victorian period from 1840-1890. It encompasses a broad range of designs, with some characteristics such as the use of yellow gold or silver and, in the later part of the 19th century, rose gold. Due to the discovery of large and plentiful diamonds mines in the middle of the 1800s, diamonds in antique jewelry flourished.

Antique engagement rings were often set with diamonds, including the original cluster or halo ring, the three stone and the five stone designs, or those with center stones and smaller accent stones. Tiffany & Co. first introduced the patented solitaire setting for diamond rings in 1886 that is still sold today.

The Edwardian era from approximately 1890-1915 often conjures up visions of diamonds and more diamonds with heiresses in splendid long dresses draped in glittering necklaces, tiaras and bracelets. Edwardian rings and jewelry often used platinum, something new in the jewelry world at the time. It allowed for lacy, delicate jewelry that showcased diamonds and gemstones with a minimum of metal showing. Yet given platinum’s inherent properties, the pieces are strong and durable.  

Much of the finer jewelry, often termed “high jewelry," maintained a neutral palette, often created with diamonds, platinum or pearls. In more everyday jewelry, yellow gold and rose gold as well as gemstones can also be found.

For vintage jewelry, one of the most popular styles still today is the geometric inspired Art Deco era. Dating to about 1920-1935, the jazz age brought color back into the jewelry palette. Often those shopping for jewelry think the perfect ring will look similar to the designs of this period.

Inspiration ranged from a variety of exotic sources to those closer to home. The Russian Ballet Russes to patterns and colors from India, the Middle East and jazz music all influenced this colorful and energetic period. White gold first came into use around the 1930s as well as the airy and delicate looking filigree rings that are so popular today.

Vintage engagement rings often take their cue from either the Edwardian era or the Art Deco period. Both these time periods brought a more traditional “white on white” or platinum or white gold and diamonds to the bride to be.

From the later 1930s to about 1950, the Retro period of jewelry design brought significant changes to the world of wearable accessories. With World War II came a ban on the use of platinum and a scarcity of diamonds and precious gems. Women entered the workforce like no other time in history. Jewelry became bold and powerful, symbolizing this new-found active role in our economy. TOften designs utilized rose gold and large, chunky and less costly semi-precious gems. This vintage era often took on a Hollywood flavor. All the jewelry from this period is considered vintage.

Any jewelry produced prior to about the mid 1990s is now considered vintage. So mid-century, modernist, opulent 1980s, all fall under that umbrella.

In the end, it's all about what's important to you and trust. Trust who you buy from and their knowledge, whether online or in a store. Ask good questions and remember, they should be the experts.