Antique, vintage, and estate jewelry are all terms used to date older pieces of jewelry. Every piece of jewelry that’s been previously owned is considered estate jewelry, but not all estate jewelry is vintage or antique.
When shopping for estate pieces, it’s important to know the exact definition of estate jewelry and to familiarize yourself with other relevant jewelry terminology, including “antique” and “vintage.” Informing yourself before you step foot into a jeweler’s will prepare you to make the best decisions and can keep you from being deceived by unreliable or dishonest dealers.
So what is estate jewelry? What is considered vintage, and what’s antique? Keep reading to find out.
Estate Jewelry Defined
Estate jewelry is any piece of jewelry that has had a previous owner. The previous owner could be alive or deceased.
While the past owners of much estate jewelry have in fact passed away, the vitality of the previous owner has nothing to do with whether or not a piece of jewelry is considered “estate jewelry.”
Second-hand jewelry, regardless of whether it's antique or vintage, is considered estate jewelry.
The age of a piece of jewelry is also irrelevant when it comes to defining estate jewelry. Even a six-week-old piece of jewelry can be considered estate jewelry if it has had a previous owner.
On the opposite end of the spectrum, there are some pieces that may be 100 years old or older that can still be classified as “estate jewelry.” However, experienced and reputable jewelers will typically limit the usage of the term “estate jewelry” to pieces made within the past 30 to 50 years.
The difference between estate, antique, and vintage jewelry
Although all vintage jewelry is estate jewelry, any piece older than 30 to 50 years is considered vintage. The exact date of what is considered “vintage” might vary a bit from jeweler to jeweler. Vintage pieces, unlike antique jewelry, are usually worn and displayed.
A piece of jewelry is usually considered “antique” if it’s 100 years old or older. Generally speaking, antique jewelry is usually made from higher-quality materials and crafted with superior craftsmanship compared to modern pieces.
Before buying jewelry, it’s important to understand how reputable and non-reputable dealers use these terms so you can avoid buying counterfeit pieces.
For example, a reliable dealer wouldn’t call a 200-year-old cameo an “estate cameo” though it technically is a piece of estate jewelry. To avoid confusion, a reliable dealer would refer to the 200-year-old cameo as an “antique cameo.” A dishonest and unreliable dealer might refer to a newly manufactured cameo that looks like the 200-year-old cameo as an “estate cameo” to deceive the inexperienced into thinking that the cameo is older than it truly is.
Reasons to buy estate jewelry
Price. Because estate jewelry is always pre-owned, it is usually sold at a better price than newly manufactured pieces. Even though a piece of estate jewelry might be identical to a new piece, estate pieces might be priced decently enough for even the most modest of consumers. Previously owned pieces can go for 20 to 40 percent less than a similar or identical newly-manufactured piece.
Environmentally friendly. There is less of a demand to produce new jewelry if people are more interested in purchasing pre-owned pieces. Purchasing estate jewelry means less mining and less air pollution. It helps preserve things like water, fuel, and forests. It also keeps waste out of the water and preserves wildlife habitats.
Purchasing a part of history. When you buy estate pieces, you get the chance to purchase a piece of the past. The same cannot be said for newly manufactured jewelry. Older pieces of jewelry were often hand-crafted using skills and techniques that no longer exist. Also, each piece of estate jewelry comes with its own past and story. Who knows who may have worn your jewelry in the past?
Create your own personal style. Though estate jewelry is usually 50 years old or younger, these pieces tend to have special characteristics. When you purchase estate pieces, you can find jewelry that’s so unique that no one else has them. Not only do they make a fashion statement but they’re great conversation starters and can compliment your unique sense of style.
Exceptional quality. If you’re buying estate jewelry, you know that the piece has stood the test of time. Estate pieces have been worn yet are still in good condition. Otherwise, you wouldn’t find them online or in-store. When you purchase a piece of estate jewelry, you know you will get the pleasure out of owning it.
So there you have it. Although the terms “estate,” “antique,” and “vintage” jewelry are often used interchangeably, the terms are actually quite distinct. If you’re interested in purchasing estate pieces, it’s a good idea to equip yourself with the proper knowledge and information to help you make the best decision possible. We hope this helps you on your quest to finding your next piece of estate jewelry.