What’s the Difference Between Vintage & Estate Jewelry?

You may be intrigued by jewelry that’s not new. Buying vintage jewelry is a great idea, but it’s worth sorting out the confusion – what is antique jewelry as opposed to vintage, retro or estate? You will notice that these terms may be used very loosely and sometimes interchangeably on the internet.

This might be because the author doesn’t really know the difference or is trying to make a jewelry piece more appealing. Leo Hamel Fine Jewelers is your reliable source for the distinctions in these categories. We are San Diego’s largest independent jewelry store for 45 years, with a vast collection of new and like-new jewelry in excellent condition – including antique, vintage, retro, and estate jewelry.

Antique Jewelry

For a piece of jewelry to be labeled antique, it must be a minimum of 100 years old. Right now, it means that jewelry that was made prior to 1924 is antique. However, in the real world, you can find that jewelry close to the age of 100 years is also included in this category. This is often the case with Art Deco jewelry. The Art Deco era lasted from 1920 to 1930, but it started to emerge around 1915. Still, antique jewelry remains jewelry that is at least 100 years old.

Retro Jewelry

Retro jewelry describes jewelry with distinctive characteristics that was made in the Retro era that lasted through the 1940s and 1950s. Saying that an item is Retro determines not just the age of the piece, but also some salient stylistic features. These include lavish amounts of diamonds, symmetry and asymmetry, fluid lines, feminine designs, and a “larger than life” feel. Retro jewelry was greatly influenced by Hollywood glamour.

Yellow gold antique ring and earrings set with emeralds and diamonds.
White gold filigree engagement ring set with a light blue gemstone on a slab on granite.
Vintage pearl strand necklace centered with a blue gemstone pendant.

Estate & Vintage Jewelry

Finally, we come to the estate or vintage category. Saying that a piece of jewelry is estate or vintage tells you that it was previously owned. It might have been originally purchased yesterday, two years ago, or 20 years ago, and may even look brand new. Some pieces from designer brands may be “discontinued” in production and therefore considered collectible.

Estate jewelry may have been part of an estate liquidation. Reasons for liquidations are many: the owner may be deceased, may have become divorced or insolvent, or just decided to sell part of their jewelry collection. Vintage jewelry was probably sold by the previous owner for various reasons. Perhaps it was no longer worn or was inherited, and the style doesn’t suit the new owner. Or maybe the owner was simply in need of cash.

So, browsing estate jewelry returns many results – pieces that could be antique, vintage, retro, or modern (but always pre-owned). Estate or vintage jewelry may or may not be fine jewelry, which is characterized by the use of precious metals and gemstones in its construction, and should be priced accordingly.

Leo Hamel Fine Jewelers is your go-to destination for the largest selection of new and expertly refurbished like-new jewelry in San Diego. Visit our showroom on San Diego Avenue, where our friendly staff can show you a handpicked selection of estate, vintage, Retro, Art Deco, and antique jewelry. Subscribe to our email list today to get notified of the hottest arrivals!

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