What’s the Difference? A Guide to Identifying Antique, Vintage and Retro Jewelry

Whether it’s the wedding band you wear on a daily basis or the treasured family piece you wear on special occasions, jewelry is something we all have adorned ourselves with throughout our lifetime.

But, do you know how to classify your favorite jewelry pieces? Like furniture and other antiques, jewelry is usually classified by a period in Royalty history (i.e. Georgian, Victorian and Edwardian). With jewelry, however, there are also two other ways in which to identify the pieces – as Art Nouveau (1895-1910) or Art Deco (1925-1940).

Today, we’ll touch upon how to identify your jewelry as antique, vintage or retro – a topic that has caused much debate between antique and vintage jewelry dealers.

Antique Jewelry
For a jewelry piece to be considered antique, it typically needs to be 100 years or older. If it doesn’t meet those requirements, it would be classified as vintage jewelry. Antique jewelry is usually desired by its age, splendor, rarity and even emotional connection.

Jewelry dealer Paul Haig from Haig’s of Rochester explains, “Antique is defined by U.S. customs as over 100 years old, therefore genuine antique jewelry should represent this age requirement. However, in the antique’s market, dealers will many times refer to their items as antique jewelry when they don’t meet this specification, but do show considerable age.”

The term antique also varies its meaning oversees in Europe versus here in the United States because of the age of the country and/or region. Jeff Cohen of N. Green and Sons has experienced this firsthand: “Since I’ve been in the trade and traveled oversees, many English dealers that I’ve encountered don’t consider pieces that are 100 years old as antique.” (England became a unified state in 927 AD whereas European colonization began in America around 1600 and it was declared independent from Great Britain in 1776.) Often times, European jewelry pieces need to be more than 100 years old to be recognized as antique because of Europe’s vast history.

Here are some antique jewelry pieces:

An antique European Guilloché enamel jeweled pin/pendant with diamonds and pearls, circa 1880s. Represented by Haig’s of Rochester.

An antique European Guilloché enamel jeweled pin/pendant with diamonds and pearls, circa 1880s. Represented by Haig’s of Rochester.

A Victorian enamel bangle bracelet Russian, circa 1880. Represented by Jerome Heidenreich.

A Victorian enamel bangle bracelet Russian, circa 1880. Represented by Jerome Heidenreich.

Vintage Jewelry
Jewelry should be at least 20 years old to be classified as vintage. For instance, jewelry from the ‘80s could be called vintage, but jewelry from the ‘90s would not be.

“The term vintage can be applied to most jewelry pieces that are less than 100 years in age. However, vintage has been defined loosely by dealers today because many items can be considered collectible. Basically, it’s a piece that’s not new or modern,” says Cohen. Jewelry from the Art Deco and Mid Century design periods are also considered vintage.

Also to note, vintage jewelry cannot be made. Using vintage parts like beads to create jewelry doesn’t classify it as vintage. This would be regarded as contemporary jewelry.

A few vintage examples:

A vintage 14K yellow gold pendant with a large fine aquamarine stone and accenting seed pearls. Represented by Haig’s of Rochester.

A vintage 14K yellow gold pendant with a large fine aquamarine stone and accenting seed pearls. Represented by Haig’s of Rochester.

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An unusual multi-gem ring of double-head design in alternating fluted chrysoprase and fluted coral each with a diamond and emerald band, diamond beaks and emerald eyes. Represented by Van Cleef & Arpels, Paris 1969.

Retro Jewelry
Retro (or Art Moderne) is a design period that represents colorful and elaborate jewelry. Many of the pieces feature shades of gold and a range of gemstone hues like citrine, amethyst and aquamarine. This jewelry can also be identified is by its larger than life size. Inspired by the glitz and glam of Hollywood, retro jewelry features big cocktail rings, bracelets, watches and necklaces. Charm bracelets are also common.

“Retro is technically any jewelry piece from the 1940s to 1950s, but this can also vary from dealer to dealer. People love to emulate great art (whether that’s jewelry, clothing, etc.) from earlier ages. That’s one reason retro designs have become so popular today,” says Haig.

The resurgence in popularity for retro jewelry can be partly credited towards well-liked TV shows such as Mad Men and ‘50s style icons Audrey Hepburn and Grace Kelly.

Here are some of our retro favorites:

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A French 18K yellow gold citrine, diamond and gold bracelet, signed by Trabert & Hoeffer Mauboussin. Made in France, circa 1945. Represented by Camilla Dietz Bergeron.

 

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A retro 1950s Gold Earrings with Baguette Diamonds. Represented by Tenenbaum & Co.

The advantage of owning any of these types of jewelry is the fact you’re able to accessorize in unique and exciting ways that set you apart from the crowd. Antique, vintage and retro jewelry are one-of-a-kind pieces in world of mass production and will only gain value as they increase in age. This jewelry is highly sought after by the world’s elite including celebrities, socialites and British royalty and are a great additions to any jewelry collection.

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