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What is the difference between Estate, Antique and Vintage Jewellery?
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What is the difference between Estate, Antique and Vintage Jewellery?

What is the difference between Estate, Antique and Vintage Jewellery?

Vintage jewellery. Antique Jewellery. The terms often seem interchangeable but when it comes to shopping for jewellery, there are important differences. Old jewellery generally falls into one of three categories - estate, vintage or antique. These three terms, while common to professionals in the jewellery industry, are often mixed up or misused.

Art Deco Jewellery

Vintage Art Deco Jewellery:

We thought we’d take the time to set the record straight and explain what the differences are between them. We’ll start with the lesser known category of estate jewellery. 

Estate Jewellery

To many people, this may be an unfamiliar term. Its meaning is quite simple, but it isn’t strictly to do with age. Estate simply means that the piece of jewellery has had a previous owner. It could be centuries old or had an owner for just a month or so, but it still counts as estate jewellery if it has been previously owned. Simple, hey?

However, many jewellers will use the term estate to describe jewellery that is 30 years old or less. While most vintage and antique jewellery can, of course, be described as ‘estate’, jewellers and dealers will often use the term as shorthand for most jewellery that falls outside of the bracket of vintage or antique.

A common misconception is that the word ‘estate’ relates to the personal possessions of someone who has passed away and whose ‘estate’, including their valuable jewellery, has been left to beneficiaries in their last will and testament. While of course, this does happen, estate jewellery doesn’t have to have a deceased owner to be described as such. The owner could still be alive and may have simply decided to sell the piece.

For example, if a person is engaged but the wedding is called off, one party may choose to sell the engagement ring. One famous example of this is the singer Mariah Carey, who is believed to have sold her 35-carat diamond engagement ring after her relationship with Australian tycoon James Packer ended in 2017. The ring was understood to be worth around $10 million, but it was sold by the singer for just $2.1 million to an unnamed Los Angeles jeweller. It will be sold on as estate jewellery, but the jeweller in question has reportedly signed a confidentiality agreement preventing them from revealing the particular celebrity provenance of the piece.

Vintage Jewellery

Many people will call any old jewellery ‘vintage’, but the word actually refers to a particular time period. As a rule, if a piece is anywhere between 50 and 100 years old, it can be considered vintage. Some jewellers will class anything made over 20 years ago (but under 100 years) as vintage. There is no hard and fast rule but around fifty years seems to be the most common benchmark.

To complicate matters further, the term ‘vintage’ is also linked with the style of the piece. Unlike antique pieces which tend to be more fragile and valuable due to their age, vintage jewellery is often more wearable. Depending on the style, vintage designs are more likely to pair with modern looks – especially as many trends have proven to be cyclical and have come back into fashion again.

Vintage jewellery includes these notable periods:
  • Art Deco Era from 1915 to 1935
  • Retro Era (with Hollywood-inspired jewellery) from 1935 to 1950
  • Modern Era from the 1950s to the present, including the Jackie Kennedy, inspired 1960s period and even the 1980s.

Notable examples of some of the best and most popular vintage jewellery designers include Cartier and Boucheron, known for their Art Deco designs, as well as Chanel, Andrew Grima and Van Cleef & Arpels in the 1960s.


While fine vintage jewellery are often valuable, some rare vintage pieces by famous designers of the period can be worth a small fortune.

Antique Jewellery

As with vintage jewellery, the term ‘antique’ is used to designate age. Generally speaking, a piece can be described as antique if it is over 100 years old. Of course, as time marches on, jewellery that was once called vintage is now edging into the antique category. Because there are no hard and fast thresholds delineating the age of antique jewellery from vintage, the lines can often become blurred with jewellery being described by some as vintage and others as antique.

There are some key differences though. Antique jewellery pieces tend to have been made with a much higher level of craftsmanship and quality, although of course, this isn’t always the case. Due to the age and the relative scarcity of finding genuine antique pieces, they tend to be quite valuable.

Some of the most valuable pieces of jewellery in the world are antique. They include the Wittelsbach-Graff Diamond, which was first heard of back in the 18th century in Vienna. It was eventually sold by English jeweller Laurence Graff to a prominent Qatari Emir for an eye-watering $80 million in 2011.

Another world-famous example with a jaw-dropping price tag is the 1912 Cartier Devant-de-Corsage Brooch, made from diamonds mined in South Africa in the 1870s and eventually selling for $20 million when auctioned in London.

Antique jewellery tends to be worn less frequently due to its age and precious nature. The older a piece, the more fragile and vulnerable to breakage or damage it can be. Certain antique pieces are so valuable they are often best kept in a safe, alarmed display cabinet, or even a museum if they have historical significance.

If you adore vintage and antique jewellery, then you’re in the right place, so why not take a look at our fabulous collection here at Lillicoco. If you’d like to discuss a particular piece then you can always give us a call on (+44) 0117 925 4798 or drop us an email.

1 comment on What is the difference between Estate, Antique and Vintage Jewellery?

  • Riverside Jewellers
    Riverside JewellersSeptember 26, 2019

    Really loved the Boucheron Art Deco buckle featured in this informative post! Being a jeweller at a small jewellery store in Ballina, I believe that apart from understanding the difference between vintage, antique and estate jewellery, it is also important to understand that people must remember to retain the original packaging of their jewellery items so that if God forbid, they have to sell their jewel, they can get a good value.

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