There are many different terms used for jewellery which has a history. How do they compare? The most important thing to remember is that all jewellery has the chance to live many lives, and that is what makes it one of the most sustainable items you can purchase and own—not only as a fashion item, but as an investment, which will only grow more rare and more valuable over time.
Jewellery from the past has already lived a full life—sometimes many!—which already makes it repurposed and reused. It’s an excellent way to take part in recycling, regardless of whether you love the piece as is, or have it redesigned to suit your tastes. Diamonds, coloured gemstones and even precious metals are an indelible piece of the natural Earth and can live on forever. It’s one of the most magical things about jewellery and a unique asset that almost no other thing on Earth has, including the seemingly permanent buildings that surround you, your furniture, your car and so on.
When shopping for jewellery, some of the terms used to communicate its age can be confusing. Here are the general definitions to use a guide:
What is Estate Jewellery?
Estate jewellery is perhaps the most general term of all and simply defines any piece that has had a precious owner. However, considering other definitions which allow for more specific time periods, “estate jewellery” is most often used to describe pieces that are less than twenty years old, and therefore not old enough to be considered vintage.
What is Vintage Jewellery?
Vintage jewellery might be the term with the most varied definition, however, a good rule of thumb is that vintage jewels are generally at least twenty years old and cover the span of time until a piece is considered antique. Keep in mind that with these definitions, many pieces can be accurately labelled in multiple ways as they can easily be “estate,” “vintage,” “retro” and even “reproduction” simultaneously.
What is Antique Jewellery?
In general, antique jewels are considered a hundred years old or older. Currently, jewellery and gemstones from the Art Deco period (roughly 1919-1939) are considered antiques. Older examples include Edwardian jewellery (1890-1920), Art Nouveau jewellery (1890-1910), Victorian jewellery (1837-1901) and Georgian jewellery (1714-1837). Remember that culturing pearls was invented during the Art Deco period, so antique pearl jewels usually feature natural pearls—a treasure of the natural world that will soon be impossible to source. Antique jewels also use old cut Diamonds and gemstones, including antique Rose Cuts, Old Mine Cuts and Old Euro Cuts—more beautiful examples of jewellery history which will soon be limited to museum artifacts.
What is Retro Jewellery?
Retro jewellery is generally considered to span from the 1940s-1960s and was affected by gem and metal shortages after the Second World War. It also experienced a renaissance of sorts thanks to mid-century modernism. Learn more about Retro jewellery styles.
What is Reproduction Jewellery?
Reproduction jewellery refers to modern pieces that have been made in the style of a previous era, sometimes even using antique moulds and/or antique Diamonds or other gemstones. These pieces have the benefit of having a unique style without the delicate nature of a piece a hundred years old or more. When the word “style” is used, as in “Art Deco Style” versus “Antique Art Deco” it likely means that the piece is a reproduction rather than an original item from the era.
What is Recycled Jewellery?
All jewellery is recyclable and all estate jewels are considered “recycled.” It is also important to note that all precious metals, including Gold, Silver and Platinum are recycled and often melted down many times in their (infinite) lifespan. The same can be said for gems which can be used over and over again, and even re-polished or re-cut in new designs. Learn more about recycling and sustainable jewellery.