Antique, Estate and Vintage Jewelry. What’s the Difference?




With so many terms floating around in the market, if you’re confused, you’re not alone! I have to define these terms for people in my store every day it seems, so I thought I’d try to clarify them in a blog.

Antique Jewelry is the most easily defined, so let’s start there. Antique Jewelry is defined as jewelry that is 100 years old or more. Victorian jewelry falls into this category, as does Edwardian jewelry. Art Deco jewelry is the time period starting around 1920-1925, so in 3-8 more years, Art Deco jewelry will be considered antique, but not just yet!



The term “vintage” has been applied to everything from collectibles to farm tools. The word itself is most often applied to wine. It’s the year or season that a particular wine was made. When it comes to everything else, it is very much the same. Vintage objects relate to a year of origin, like a vintage 1932 violin. There is no block of time specifically related to the word “vintage” like there is with the word “antique.” People in the jewelry business use the term to suggest different things. It was used to mean “jewelry that is about 50 years old” when I first started in the business. In more recent years, I’ve noticed that people use it to indicate jewelry that’s about 25 years old or more. For example,, which is the world’s largest curated online venue for vintage & antiques, defines vintage as 20 to 99 years old.  If you go into jewelry stores, salespeople will say “vintage jewelry” for everything that wasn’t made by a particular designer yesterday! Even then, you can still hear things like, “vintage David Yurman” in a lot of stores. To make matters even more confusing, the term vintage means different things in different places. My friend, who moved to England several years ago, said it means “costume” jewelry there. I do see the word vintage used in that context more and more here in the States, too. It seems to be a catch all word for ANY estate jewelry.

The last term, Estate Jewelry, is more easily defined. It’s pretty common to think that it all came from auctions or someone’s inheritance. While estate jewelry can and does come from both of those sources, the truth is that the word just means “any jewelry that someone else wore.” It does not have to be from a certain period in history, and it does not have to be a certain age. It simply means that if you buy it today, wear it home, and sell it tomorrow, it’s estate jewelry.

Before I got into this business, I used to go into stores that had estate jewelry and see things that looked modern and think,” Interesting… I didn’t know those styles were made back then.” Granted, I wasn’t exactly sure when “then” was, but I knew it had to be long before I was born. It was almost a let-down when I realized what estate jewelry was. Now I like to think of it as “pre-loved.” Estate jewelry is just jewelry that someone else loved before me!

I hope that helps to clear up these terms for you. Just like everything else, it’s more fun to “talk the talk” when you know the language!

Do you want a coffee table book that’s visually stunning AND has useful information? If you answered “Yes!” to that question then GEM: The Definitive Visual Guide is for you. It’s a book about the Smithsonian’s gem collection. As such, it’s nothing short of spectacular. If you don’t have easy access to the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, D.C., this book is an impressive substitute.

I’m lucky to live close enough to go to the Smithsonian, so you’ll be seeing some of my own pictures of their collection in this blog too.
This book REALLY is the definitive visual guide. It’s got everything. I mean EVERYTHING. The pictures are blow-your-mind fantastic, but instead of being just a pretty picture book, it’s got really useful information in it too, both technical and historical.

There are enough satisfyingly nerdy specifications in it to keep a gemologist turning the pages, but instead of being dry and dull, it’s presented in a strikingly visual way. The book gives you amazing images AND cool fun facts presented in an easy-to-digest format. It’s a great book whether you are a beginner collector or a gemstone dealer. You can spend an amusing five minutes with the book or delve into it for a five hour study session. There’s something in it for everyone.

The book covers every gemstone from the Big Three (Ruby, Sapphire and Emerald)…

…to organic and semiprecious stones.

It has every phenomenal stone in it from August’s semiprecious birthstone, Labradorite…

…to Opal and everything else in between. Do you want to see color change gems? Gems with asterism? Gems with cat’s eyes? Pleochroic gems like Tanzanite and Andalusite? They’re all in the book!

Star Trek fans, do you like minerals that look like crazy, crystal Tribbles? They’re in the book!


Do you want to see particolored Tourmalines having a big party? They’re in the book!

What if you want to read about tiaras? There are some in the book along with crowns and the famous Royals who wore them.

There’s information on gold and silver and other metals used in jewelry through the ages.

Your Significant Other will also find useful information in this book!

There are pages filled with gemstones contained in antique jewelry and modern jewelry alike. You can see something made by Cartier on one page and Verdura on another.

You will gasp at ancient jewelry along with the up and coming designers of today. There are fantasy cut gemstones by modern gem cutters and rough material as it came out of the earth.

It’s all in this one grand book and it needs to be on your coffee table!