What is the definition of estate, antique, and vintage jewelry? Are they all the same?

You may have asked yourself this question many times, as it can be confusing. These three terms all sound as if they mean “pre-owned.” In other words, any jewelry that is not brand new.

That is technically correct, however, there are distinct differences between the three which are important to know. They all refer to the age of the jewelry, in one sense or another.

What is Estate Jewelry?

Estate jewelry has been preowned by someone and passed down as part of their estate after their death. You may have inherited a bracelet or a necklace from your grandmother as part of her estate, for example, hence the term estate jewelry. Estate jewelry can be any age, even recently made, but it must be preowned to qualify as estate.

What is Antique Jewelry?

For jewelry to be considered antique, it must be over 100 years old, so anything made prior to 1921 is termed antique.

This includes the Georgian Era (1714-1837) Victorian Era (1837-1901), Edwardian Era (1901-1915) Arts & Crafts Era (1894-1923) and Art Nouveau Era (1890-1910).  For example, if you have inherited a Victorian Era ring, it qualifies as an antique estate piece.

The Art Deco (1920-1945) and Retro (1939-1950) Eras are not considered antique as they do not include jewelry that is more than 100 years old, although the beginning of the Art Deco period is almost there.


What is Vintage Jewelry?

Given the above definitions, what then is vintage jewelry?

The definition of vintage jewelry is generally accepted to be a piece that is less than 100 years old but more than 20-30 years old. Some jewelers consider this a loose definition and there is not a hard and fast rule. The ever-popular Art Deco period falls within this category. Perhaps you were given an Art Deco ring as part of a relative’s estate. This qualifies as a Vintage Estate piece.

Retro Modern Era (1945- 1960) jewelry is also considered vintage, and it was largely inspired by the emerging glamor of Hollywood. It includes colorful, bold gemstones, cocktail rings, gold bracelets, necklaces and pins.

The 1960’s saw Jackie Kennedy’s inspired jewelry choices and in the 1980s came the more contemporary, dramatic, gold jewelry, so typical of the times. All are termed vintage.


What is Heirloom Jewelry?

Heirloom jewelry is an item that you have inherited, usually from a family member, which you intend to pass on to your children or other family members. It usually has a special significance or commemorative value within your family. The jewelry may not necessarily be worth a lot, but it likely has a sentimental value for you, creating a direct connection to your family history which you want to maintain.

What is Replica Antique or Vintage “Inspired” Jewelry?

We must now take a look at replica vintage jewelry, reproduction vintage or antique “inspired” jewelry.

What does this mean?

Replica vintage or antique jewelry means that the characteristic look or design from a vintage or antique piece has been reproduced. It is not an authentic piece from that era; it is inspired by the era or replicates the look of the era and should be sold at a much lower price than the real thing. As long as the retailer tells you that this is a replica or reproduction piece, there is no problem with buying this type of jewelry, but a problem arises if you are told it is authentic and you are charged full price as if it were real. This type of jewelry may well be made with authentic gemstones and precious metal however it is still a replica and should be priced as such to the buyer.


Antique, vintage, estate, heirloom, and replica jewelry all have their special characteristics and values. At Dover, we buy and sell estate, antique and vintage jewelry on a regular basis, and we are considered international experts in their valuation and re-sale at top market pricing.


If you have inherited vintage or antique jewelry you would like to sell, let us take the headache out of marketing and selling it on your own – by handling all the details for you.


We look forward to welcoming you to the Dover family.