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What’s the Difference Between Antique, Estate, and Vintage Jewelry?

Written by Anna Currell
August 7, 2023

If you’re a jewelry collector or enthusiast, you’ve probably heard of antique, estate, and vintage jewelry. But do you know the real difference between them? While these categories of jewelry are similar, knowing their distinct characteristics will make a difference to your shopping experience. In this article, we’ll define these three jewelry categories and discuss where to shop for each one. Let’s take a closer look at vintage, estate, and antique jewelry!


How to Define Antique, Vintage, and Estate Jewelry

Although these terms can sometimes overlap, antique, vintage, and estate jewelry are all technically different. Let’s take a closer look at the definition of each type of jewelry:

Antique Jewelry

Antique jewelry is any piece of jewelry that is over 100 years old. An antique is often recognizable by its unique style and characteristic traits from the era it was created in; art deco, art nouveau, and other older styles made over a century ago will look different than most modern and contemporary designs. Nostalgia often plays a big part in antique jewelry, so many people keep antique jewelry as family heirlooms that they can pass down from generation to generation. 

Vintage Jewelry

Vintage jewelry is typically categorized as jewelry that is between 20 and 100 years old. This is a wide age range, which means that you could call a lot of different styles “vintage.” As trends change from season to season and decade to decade, you’ll likely even see some antique and vintage jewelry styles come back around as current fashion trends. Right now, there are all kinds of vintage jewelry styles that are on trend — chunky chain necklaces, layers of pearls, and cocktail rings, just to name a few. 

Estate Jewelry

Technically, estate jewelry is any piece of jewelry that was previously owned. It doesn't matter if the jewelry is one year old or 100 years old — as long as the jewelry had a previous owner, it can be described as estate jewelry. Since this is a broad category, the characteristics of estate jewelry can vary from very modern to ancient. And this is where some pieces of jewelry can fall in multiple overlapping categories — if you find a ring that was made over 100 years ago and also owned by someone else, it qualifies as both antique and estate jewelry. 


How to Shop for Vintage, Estate, and Antique Jewelry

Now that you know the differences between these categories of jewelry, let’s explore some of the best ways to shop for new (or new to you) pieces:

Where to Find Antique Jewelry

A great way to find antique jewelry is to visit an antique store. Look for local antique shops with special jewelry sections or local jewelers that specialize in antique jewelry — they will often maintain a curated collection of pieces from various historical periods.

There are also all kinds of antique fairs or auctions you can attend. Check online for fairs in your area — these events can provide fun opportunities to explore and purchase interesting pieces of jewelry you can’t find anywhere else.

You can also find plenty of online marketplaces and websites that specialize in antique jewelry. Be sure to research the seller's reputation and thoroughly examine the item's description, photos, and condition before making a purchase.

Where to Find Vintage Jewelry

One way to find vintage jewelry is to seek out boutiques that curate pieces from specific eras or styles. Boutique shops usually have knowledgeable staff who can guide you through their inventory and help you find what you’re looking for. Since vintage jewelry is especially on-trend right now, you’ll be able to find a lot of variety at these types of stores.

There are also some online vintage stores that curate specific types of vintage collections from different eras. These sites are great for shoppers who are new to collecting vintage pieces because they provide a wide variety of pieces from all over the world.

You can also check out local thrift stores, flea markets, or garage sales; although you may have to sort through bins or shelves to find them, there are often hidden gems tucked away in these spots. You never know what you’ll find, but be prepared to spend time searching and then examining each item closely before you make a purchase.

Where to Find Estate Jewelry

One of the best ways to find estate jewelry is to attend estate sales or auctions in your area. An estate sale is an event where most of a person’s belongings are sold — estate sales often happen when someone passes away or is moving. Check any local community groups to see if there are any nearby, or search for sites dedicated to locating estate sales. Estate sales can offer a wide variety of pre-loved jewelry, like antique, vintage, and contemporary pieces.

Another tried and true place to search for estate jewelry is consignment shops — a consignment shop is a second-hand retail store that sells used clothes, accessories, and jewelry on behalf of the customer (which means the owner only gets paid once the shop sells their piece for them). These shops often have a rotating selection of previously owned jewelry pieces since they’re always getting new pieces in the door. You can also look for estate jewelry on reputable online marketplaces or consignment websites like Poshmark

Now you’re equipped to embark on your journey of collecting jewelry from different eras. Once you’ve found some winners, be sure that each of your new pieces is in great working condition — if you need a cocktail ring resized or a clasp replacement for a very old (but very cool) necklace, our expert jewelers are here to help.

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