Vintage, Antique Or Estate?

January 10, 2017

Vintage, Antique Or Estate?

With the advent of the internet, certain phrases or descriptions have a habit of taking hold and entering everyday usage, despite the fact that the usage may in fact be entirely wrong. Did you know, for example, that email and other “spam” as we know it today isn’t actually spam, it’s velveeta. We’ll let you Google it to find out the details! But whilst most such adaptations and changes are harmless, when sellers and even designers of jewelry use the wrong word to describe their wares, it isn’t quite so innocuous. Describing  a retro engagement ring as vintage - and maybe hiking the price on the back of it - is both misleading and dishonest, and even fraudulent. So what does each phrase actually mean?

Vintage Jewelry

Harry Winston Ruby Earrings

Vintage jewelry is, as you might expect, jewelry over a certain age. There is often confusion generated, sometimes deliberately, when “vintage” (or “antique”, or “estate”) is used to describe any piece of jewelry, and it isn’t helped by the fact that the law doesn’t actually recognize such terms although a piece correctly classified as antique is usually recognized as such. Jewelry is considered vintage when it reaches a certain age. The authorized version of what is considered vintage is something older than 20 years but younger than 100, at which point it would become antique. So, when we talk about vintage necklaces or other pieces in 2017, we are really talking about rings that were made after 1917 but before 1997. There are some who insist that vintage jewelry should be more than 50 years old, but this only risks adding to the confusion. You can see that the term vintage encompasses a huge range of jewelry ages and, by definition, styles. The number of pieces that fall into the category is vast and, like that described as antique or estate, is no indication of beauty or value.

Antique Jewelry

Antique usually refers to any object more than 100 years old and, as a result, antique jewelry is usually far less common than vintage, with the added consideration that current vintage pieces will become antique as they get to be 100 years old, and that the number of antique pieces will increase accordingly.

Indeed, we are currently going through a period in which original Art Deco pieces are coming up to 100 years old, and will go from being vintage engagement rings, necklaces and bracelets to antique. This doesn’t stop them being Art Deco, of course, and the antique qualifier will usually be added to the description as an indication of minimum age.

Art Deco, in particular, is still a much copied style among present day designers, and the best vintage and antique examples are highly sought after by both collectors and individuals alike. Despite what we’ve said earlier about the term not being any indication of quality or value, the fact is that if a ring has lasted long enough to be classed as antique and is in good condition, it’s probably been well looked after for a reason. That reason will usually be that the quality has warranted the extra care taken throughout the decades.

Estate Jewelry

Estate jewelry is the description that causes most confusion and, often most problems when describing jewelry. In  its broadest sense, estate jewelry is jewelry that has reached the market as a result of the death of the owner and a large amount does come from such things but, in reality, the most accurate description is pre-owned jewelry.

It isn’t fair to just leave the description at that, though, or any cheap lump of paste would be called estate jewelry if the original owner threw it away and someone else picked it up. By using the term “estate”, the implication and inference is that the pieces are of high quality, and usually of at least vintage age. This creates the situation where the least specific of the 3 classifications is also the one most likely to reflect the quality of the pieces contained within.

Most estate pieces will be dated pre-1945, but there are many beautiful estate-quality bracelets and other pieces which came after that but which are still of sufficient quality to be described as estate, and so it means this classification is a little less clear cut than vintage or antique, and also means that the description on items for sale should be viewed with some reservation until more is known about its origins.

If we say that vintage and antique jewelry can both be estate, antique can - technically - be vintage, and that estate can also be neither, it shows why some care is needed when viewing and buying jewelry that isn’t new and previously un-sold, but also when looking for older pieces.

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