If you’ve considered buying or selling older pieces of jewelry, you’ve likely encountered the terms vintage, estate, and antique. Sometimes, people seem to use all of these terms interchangeably, but others may have specific definitions for each. What exactly is the difference, and does it really matter that much?
Estate jewelry has a very simple definition: it’s any jewelry that has been owned by others. It’s simply called estate jewelry because it’s often purchased at estate sales and is generally fairly old. If you’ve inherited jewelry from your mother, it’s technically estate jewelry even though she may have purchased it brand new. Items that are classified as estate jewelry may also be vintage or antique. That depends on their age.
If an item is classified as vintage jewelry, it was likely made between the 1930s and the 1980s. However, “vintage” as a time period is always changing. Anything that’s 100 to 30 years old often falls into the vintage category. Some even consider pieces made as recently as 1999 to be vintage already.
These pieces of jewelry are not yet old enough to truly be antiques, but these pieces aren’t new enough to be considered modern. Vintage jewelry may have more value than some modern jewelry, but it’s usually not as valuable as true antiques.
For anything—jewelry, furniture, artwork, etc.—to be classified as a true antique, it must be at least 100 years old. These pieces are often the most valuable, especially if they’re in very good condition. Again, antique jewelry can also be estate jewelry, and some of the older vintage pieces will become antiques over time.
If you’re uncertain about the age of a piece of jewelry you own, you can take it to an appraiser. These experts will be able to use the marks on the piece as well as their own experience to help you determine whether it’s vintage or antique.