The Actual Difference Between Antique, Vintage, Period, and Estate Jewelry

And tricky sales approaches to avoid!


The legal definition for antique is anything over 100 years old, that is in place for import and export tax purposes. Most countries do not charge duties on imports for antiques.


The term vintage has been borrowed for generations in other industries, especially wine, and lately has found its way into the fine antique jewelry world. Jewelry that used to be characterized as antique or period is now being described as vintage. How did that happen?

In the last decade, with millennial's growing infatuation of all things "old", antiques have reemerged in popularity. However, now the same jewelry that would once be deemed "antique" is called "vintage". Perhaps it sounds more fashionable than antique? Maybe antique feels too grandma. Nonetheless it's a term that is here to stay without any real definition that one can apply so precisely.

So how do we define "vintage" at Erstwhile? We deem engagement rings from the 1920s to the 1970s as vintage.


Estate jewelry is easy to define - anything pre owed from any time period.


Period is also somewhat loose as far as defining. Period jewelry is defined by its distinctive place in time with characteristics that exemplify those times or periods, hence the name. For example, to describe a ring as a period piece from the Art Deco era it would have to have clear design characteristics that showcase that period. Think the Chrysler building. Hard masculine geometric lines that are balanced.

Things to keep in mind when buying antique, vintage, and estate jewelry.

All four of these terms have been loosely interchanged by jewelers. The one to look out for the most is the term "estate". One can resell a reproduction Art Deco ring that has been worn for five years as estate. Giving the illusion that it is antique because the word estate gives that impression. It can be very misleading.

Sometimes brand new reproductions are described as “in the manner of Art Deco" or "in the style of Art Deco”. Again rather misleading language which a layperson may misinterpret.

The best way to avoid these tricky sales tactics is to ask a lot of questions. But keep in mind no amount of questions will give you the right answer if the jeweler themselves doesn't know! Working with a jeweler you trust is ultimately the best way to shop for authentic antique and vintage jewelry.