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Separating the Terms Vintage and Antique Jewelry

When it comes to the word “antique,” there seems to be confusion as to what it actually means. People and some businesses toss the word around without providing a specific definition. Sometimes, it is used interchangeably with another term “vintage.” Yet in the jewelry trade, antique jewelry is a distinct category from vintage jewelry.

Antique Jewelry

In the trade for a piece of jewelry to be antique it does have to be old although what constitutes old differs significantly in Europe from North America. In fact, a piece of jewelry is considered antique in the United States and elsewhere in North America if it is a minimum of 100-years-old. This is the standard held by most credible and reputable jewelry dealers, antique shops and pawn shops such as T. N. Donnelly. Yet, all jewelry that qualifies as being antique is not necessarily valuable.

In order for an antique item of jewelry to be worth more than its original cost, it needs to be

  • Desired by a particular collector
  • Be composed of precious materials such as gold, silver, precious and semi-precious stones
  • Be by a specific designer
  • Be rare
  • Be collectible
  • In excellent condition. The better it is the more it may be worth

Overall, someone may treasure antique jewelry because of sentimental value, its elegance, its rarity or even its very uniqueness. It may be appreciated but, because of its value and even style, rarely worn. It is often only brought out for those very special occasions or events.

Vintage Jewelry

The classification of a piece of jewelry as vintage is less than scientific. The experts tend to agree that it must be at least 20 years old. It must also be less than 100 years. A vintage piece of jewelry may, over time become antique but a piece of antique jewelry is not vintage except in the sense it represents a specific period.

Vintage jewelry, while not contemporary, tends to be more current in style and still, with certain exceptions, eminently wearable. Vintage jewelry, like antique jewelry, can be very collectible. It can also be very inexpensive the two types also have something else in common – they are pre-owned and not new. This, makes them both “estate’ jewelry. This is a term that refers to a piece of jewelry that has previously been owned by someone.

Whether you have a preference for one or the other, vintage and antique jewelry can increase in value over the years. Although condition does matter, there are other factors that will determine whether you the piece gains or loses value over the years. If you plan to collect or sell pieces of either kind, be sure you talk to credible experts, such as those at TN Donnelly, about their actual and potential worth.