What makes jewellery antique?

As a rule of thumb, 100 years is what it takes for a piece of jewellery to become antique. But identifying when exactly a piece of jewellery was made – and therefore how valuable it really is – can be difficult.


Objects of the past are growing in popularity, and terms such as ‘antique’ and ‘vintage’ are increasingly thrown around. Often, these terms are used in the mainstream marketplace to simply indicate that something has value because it’s old.

In the jewellery trade, however, ‘antique’ and ‘vintage’ are technical terms with specific and distinct meanings. They are used to identify when a piece of jewellery was made (rather than when it’s particular style was fashionable). This avoids confusion around modern reproductions, which can be poor quality and are often made without the authentic techniques and materials from the era in question.

Anytime the word “style” is used when describing a piece of jewellery that appears to be old but there is no other mention of the item’s age, this could mean the item is a reproduction.

For example, beware anything that claims to be “Art Deco style” – it is not likely to be an authentic Art Deco piece!

So what is considered antique jewellery and what is considered vintage?


Antique jewellery

Any piece of jewellery that is 100 years old or older is antique. Currently, jewellery made around 1920 or before is technically antique. Again, beware of the term “antique style” which is a sign of reproduction.


Vintage jewellery

Vintage jewellery is harder to pin down, as definitions can vary from dealer to dealer. Some say it’s anything older than 20 years, while others claim a piece must be more than 30 years old to be considered vintage. Vintage is an increasingly common descriptor since it covers periods of time when jewellery was mass-produced.

Since fashion is cyclical, vintage jewellery will always be on trend. You can easily incorporate it into your own style, and it can be a real jaw-dropper. Just remember when you look for that perfect vintage piece that it cannot be made! If a piece is described as “vintage style” or “vintage-inspired” what it means is that it’s new. If your jewellery is made of components of a vintage piece, this also means the piece itself is not vintage.


Estate jewellery

Estate jewellery is any piece that is used. It covers all second-hand jewellery, regardless of whether it could be defined as antique or vintage. The item could be less than a month old and still be considered estate jewellery. For example, imagine you got engaged three years ago with a brand new diamond ring, but you called off the wedding. Last week you finally sold your ring to a jeweller. When reselling the ring, the jeweller could classify it as a piece of estate jewellery.

Sometimes the use of the term “estate” can be a reproduction indicator. It is safe to assume that whenever a dealer says “estate” without any other mention of the item’s age, that piece of jewellery is not very old at all. An unreliable dealer might call a new reproduction cameo ring that looks like a 300-year-old cameo an “estate cameo” to make an uneducated customer believe the cameo is much older than it actually is.

If you’re unsure, contact an expert you trust to help you work out what type of estate jewellery you are looking at. Styles and trends often repeat themselves, so dating an item correctly can take finesse and training.


Restored or repaired jewellery

The general rule of thumb (and in some cases, the law) is that antique or vintage jewellery that has been restored or repaired must still be at least 50% original to retain its label of ‘antique’ or ‘vintage’.


Need advice?

We are committed to providing independent, accurate and affordable jewellery valuation services that you can trust.

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