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What's the Difference Between Estate, Vintage, and Antique Jewelry?

What's the Difference Between Estate, Vintage, and Antique Jewelry?

If you want to expand your jewelry collection, you might be wondering, what's the difference between estate, vintage, and antique jewelry?

We'll take you through the differences, and a little more information about each one.

Estate, Vintage, and Antique Jewelry: What's the Difference?

Estate jewelry means second-hand jewelry of any age, vintage means jewelry that is older than 20 years, and antique jewelry means the piece is more than 100 years old. That's the simple answer.

We'll go into each one in more detail, but that's the basic difference between them, although there is some debate about the term 'estate jewelry'.

Estate Jewelry

Estate Jewelry

There are a few different opinions about the definition of estate jewelry. Traditionally, estate jewelry refers to jewelry passed down via somebody's estate after they pass away. If you inherit a ring from a great-aunt, for example, that can be considered an estate piece in the traditional sense.

Most people now use the word 'estate' just to mean 'second-hand'. So the person in question passing it down can still be alive, and it will be considered an estate piece.

Estate jewelry isn't limited to a particular time. It can be almost brand new or it can be 50 years old. The main point is that it has previously belonged to someone else and has now been passed along either as a gift or sold to someone new.

Vintage Jewelry

Vintage Jewelry

Vintage jewelry is commonly known as jewelry that is at least 20 years old. So at this point, we're looking at jewelry from the '90s and early '00s. These pieces can be classed as the youngest 'vintage' pieces.

Vintage pieces are lovely to wear. You can often find something unique and interesting that nobody else around you has, and you can pick a time period that suits your aesthetic.

Many vintage pieces are just classic, always in style, but others reflect the trends of the time. Sifting through these to find some unusual rings, necklaces, or bracelets can be a fun way to find something that suits your style.

However, once you reach the 100-year mark, jewelry is no longer considered vintage. It moves onto being 'antique' at this stage, and is often worth more because the pieces are rarer.

Antique Jewelry

Antique Jewelry

Antique jewelry refers to a piece that is at least 100 years old. So at the time of writing, pieces that are from the early 1920's are considered the youngest antique pieces.

Antique jewelry has a kind of rarity that makes them very special. You can find some truly stunning pieces from over 100 years ago, from delicate Victorian rings to stunning art-deco gold earrings.

These pieces tend to be more expensive. The older they get, the more some pieces rise in value. You can usually find antique jewelry online or at auctions.

Wearing antique jewelry is interesting because you can imagine how many people wore it before you did. It could have been passed down through several generations before it reached you, which is really interesting.

On the other hand, older jewelry may have obtained some damage over the years, and could require some extra gentle care. The more delicate the piece, the more you'll have to look after it, especially if the piece has gone through some wear and tear and is starting to age.

Some antique items might be too delicate to wear. People like to collect these pieces to own and look at but they are so fragile that it's not worth the risk of actually wearing them, which is understandable.

Estate, Vintage, and Antique Jewelry: Which One Is Right For You?

Really, it depends on what you're looking for:

  • Estate Jewelry - may be accessible in terms of price, and you can find some very recent pieces that have only been gently worn
  • Vintage Jewelry - hits the middle point between estate and vintage. Offers some interesting styles, but may be more hard-wearing and generally wearable compared to antique pieces
  • Antique Jewelry - stunning and possibly rare pieces that are truly special, but require a lot of care

If you want something easy to wear that you can wear with a lot of different outfits without worrying too much about wear and tear, go for estate jewelry or vintage jewelry which will be able to withstand daily use. 

If you want something rare that you can bring out for very special occasions, you could check out antique jewelry for a stunning piece.

How to Care for Older Jewelry?

How to Care for Older Jewelry

If you're looking at buying an older piece, for example an older vintage piece or an antique item, you may be wondering how to care for it.

Gold is generally easy to care for. All you need is a soft cloth, some mild dish soap, and some warm water. A gentle clean is all that is needed. Just take your time and make sure that you leave them to dry thoroughly before you wear them again.

You can also use a very soft toothbrush to get into crevices, particularly around settings for diamond rings, for example. You just need to go carefully.

If you're worried about cleaning your antique pieces, you can take them to a jeweler to be cleaned instead, which is useful because it takes the job out of your hands and onto an expert instead.

It's also worth taking note of the karat. High-karat pieces have a higher percentage of gold in the mixture. This means that they may be a little more prone to becoming dull and you will need to give it a gentle wipe with a soft cloth to bring them back to their original gorgeous color, which doesn't take long but is worth doing.

How Can I Tell How Old My Jewelry Is?

This can be hard to do if you're not a jewelry expert. Your best bet is to look for hallmarks, which can help to identify the karat and possibly the maker. You can read our guide on How to Read Identification Marks on Gold Jewelry which will give you an idea of what to look for. It's tough because hallmarks can become unreadable over time.

If this is the case, or if your piece doesn't appear to have any identifying marks, you could take it to a jeweler to have it professionally evaluated. They will be able to narrow it down to a certain time period and may be able to tell you what the karat is, as well as the type and condition of any diamonds or gemstones that the piece might have. It's useful information to have if you're not sure.

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