Generally speaking, there are three types of estate jewelry: antique, vintage, and contemporary.
Are you thinking about selling antique or vintage jewelry? In this article from Diamond Estate Jewelry Buyers, we’ll cover some of the basics regarding how to identify your items, as well as how to get free help. To sell your jewelry now, contact us for a free cash quote.
When referring to jewelry, the terms “estate,” “vintage,” and “antique” all have related meanings. The differences can greatly affect the value of the piece, so it is important to understand the terminology.
Although estate jewelry can suggest a piece that has been passed down through a previous generation’s estate, it more generally refers to any piece of jewelry that has been previously owned, regardless of age. Generally speaking, there are three types of estate jewelry: antique, vintage, and contemporary. Antique is older than 100 years; vintage is older than 40 years; and contemporary is 1980s till the present.
Identifying antique and vintage jewelry can be a challenge, and sometimes only an expert can make a final determination. But there are a few ways to become more proficient at dating and identifying old jewelry, and in the following article, the staff at Diamond Estate Jewelry Buyers will share a few of the most accessible methods.
Identifying Antique and Vintage Jewelry by Style
Jewelry is like anything else in fashion, and reflects popular styles, designs, and colors — even the preferred stones change from era to era. For example, the jewelry of the Edwardian period marked the beginning of the use of platinum, and elaborate, delicate filigree work is highlighted in pieces featuring diamonds, colored stones, and pearls.
Jewelry from the Art Nouveau period features flowing and curving designs, such as women with flowing hair, animals, insects, and flowers — whereas Art Deco jewelry features abstract geometric forms (see photo of bracelet above).
Art Deco jewelry’s dominant usage of platinum and white gold was replaced by pink and rose gold during the Retro period, when rubies became the most popular stone.
Learning the styles of different eras in the history of jewelry can be complicated, so you will need to do some homework. The difference between a Victorian brooch and an Art Deco bracelet might be obvious, but to know what time period a piece comes from takes a bit of specialized knowledge. One way to learn is to watch eBay. Not only can you learn about different styles and periods, but you can begin to get an idea of the market value of some vintage and antique jewelry.
While there are many reference books (see suggestions at bottom of page) and websites that can help increase your knowledge base, there’s really nothing like the real thing when it comes to identifying jewelry. Museums and antique malls are great places to see jewelry from different eras.
Also, try to find reputable dealers and see what they have to offer. Ask questions — many dealers are passionate about jewelry and are happy to help you learn. Remember though that styles overlap, and motifs tend to recur, so style alone is only one clue to consider when trying to identify a piece.
Using Fitting and Findings to Identify Jewelry
Jewelry findings are ready-made parts used to join jewelry components together or attach a piece to the wearer. Findings include clasps, pin stems, hinges, ear wires, ring blanks and the like. Fittings refer to these same parts, but are custom made for a piece. Fittings and findings evolved
over time, and a knowledge of what sorts of components were popular during a certain era can help identify an antique or vintage piece.
Earring clasps are particularly useful for dating purposes, as their evolution is well documented. The screw back clasp for pierced ears first appeared in the 1890s, but the post and butterfly clasp didn’t appear until the 1920s and the omega back not until 1960. Some older style clasps are still used today, though their shapes have been modified in modern earrings.
Fittings and findings on brooches also changed over time, and can provide clues about the piece. Tube hinges are older than ball hinges, for example, and the C clasp is older than a safety clasp. If the pin shaft extends out beyond the edge of the brooch, it is likely to be a piece from the mid-1800s.
Sometimes clasps were modified or replaced. The most common modification was to have a C clasp replaced with a safety clasp. Such changes to the original jewelry can greatly reduce the value of the piece.
Using Hallmarks to Identify Jewelry
Hallmarks are stamps or marks on jewelry that can include purity marks and maker’s marks, as well as other marks indicating retailers, designers, and even patent and inventory information.
A comprehensive study of jewelry hallmarks could fill a small library, but an amateur can use hallmarks to learn a few things about a particular piece of jewelry.
Hallmarks are generally hidden in places like the back of a brooch, the inside of a shank on a ring, or on the inside back of an earring. You will most likely need to use a jeweler’s loupe to find them, and plenty of patience. Once you find a mark on your jewelry, what does it mean?
The most common hallmark is a purity mark, which is an indication not only of what kind of metal your piece is made of, but the relative purity of the metal itself. A mark of “925” indicates sterling silver, which is 92.5% pure. Up until the 1940s however, sterling silver jewelry was usually stamped with “Sterling,” “Ster,” or “STG.”
Gold jewelry may be marked with numbers indicating purity in karats, such as “18K” or the European equivalent “750.” A gold purity mark of “ct” indicates a piece was made in Great Britain.
Maker’s marks, often called “signatures,” can be a great asset when trying to date a piece of vintage jewelry as many companies changed their signatures over time. Jewelry made in the United States before 1955 was patented to protect the design, and may have a patent number or “Pat Pending” mark in addition to the manufacturer’s name. After the law changed, jewelry items were copyrighted and you might find a © along with the name of the manufacturer.
If your piece has a patent number, it’s fairly easy to look up the item on the United States Patent and Trademark Office website. Bear in mind though that jewelry manufacturers also patented clips, clasps, and other mechanisms, and they continue to do so today. Therefore, assuming that a patent number means the piece was produced before 1955 can be incorrect. So you need to be diligent when using signatures and patent numbers to identify your jewelry.
If you are selling your antique or vintage jewelry and need help identifying your items, contact Diamond Estate Jewelry Buyers today for a free appraisal and generous cash offer.
Real Reviews From Customers
When I was thinking about selling a piece of jewelry I had, I looked at several different places. I just kept coming back to DEJB. I called, spoke with Paula & she was wonderful to read more work with. So friendly & knowledgeable. She explained everything to me from the first phone call. She really put my mind at ease. My transaction was quick & easy. Paula & Carl were so easy to work with. I will definitely work with them again. Thank you Paula & Carl for everything!
I worked with Paula the most and she was great. Very patient, very kind; answered all my many questions. Received agreed upon payment extremely fast, as promised. It is scary to send read more jewelry in the mail, but everything worked as I was told it would. I would do this again.
We contacted Carl to sell approximately 25 pieces of estate jewelry. He was extremely responsive and followed up the same day. His secretary was fantastic getting us an appointment read more quickly. Carl spent a long time explaining the pricing, appraisals, value, and process and made us feel very comfortable selling to him. We are extremely pleased with the entire experience and will definitely recommend him to others!
Fastest and most honest experience by far. I tried selling my old wedding ring with other jewelry buyers last year but the process was so confusing and extensive I gave up. I found read more these guys and a few other sites online last weekend and decided to give it another shot. Carl and his team purchased my ring, received my shipment and sent the money (which was the highest and only definitive offer out of anyone) to my account all in less than 4 business days. The communication was thorough, timely, and responsive every step of the way.
Exceedingly pleased and impressed with this service. I worked with Paula who is professional, personal, and accountable. Everything happened as said from beginning to end, which was read more hard to believe at first. I re-read reviews even after I boxed up my items because of the anxiety! Paula helped normalize a sentimental event and held my trust throughout the whole process (which was actually very fast and exactly to description). Highly recommended and would use again without hesitation. Thank you Diamond Estate Jewelry Buyers, especially Paula!
The Best Books on Antique and Estate Jewelry
The world of antique and estate jewelry is a large and complex one. There are many books available to help you sort out this often challenging world. In the brief review below, we’ll take a look at a few of the best.
Estate Jewelry, 1760-1960 by Diana Sanders Cinamon
This generously illustrated book covers antique and period jewelry fashioned in Europe, the United States, Canada, and the United Kingdom over a 200 year period ending in 1960. In addition to including detailed descriptions that accompany over 650 color photographs, the author chronicles the changes in jewelry materials, styles, and construction techniques through the ages.
Ms. Cinamon deftly covers all the major periods, from Georgian through Victorian, Art Deco, and up through the Modern era. As she details the changes in styles, she also notes some of the thematic lines of continuity as styles evolved. Her treatment of the physical art of jewelry fabrication includes how the use of materials changed over time, and covers various designers, and their use of findings, fittings, and particular maker’s marks.
Experts will enjoy the easy to use “values reference section,” and the uninitiated will find an accessible guide to the history of the topic, as well as a thoroughly illustrated jewelry identification guide.
Jewelry: From Antiquity to the Present by Clare Phillips
Clare Phillips has taken on the gargantuan task of covering all of Western jewelry — from the shell garlands of Palaeolithic hunters all the way to experimental developments in contemporary materials in her comprehensive guide Jewelry: From Antiquity to the Present. Her success is based on the narrative nature of her approach, featuring concise descriptions and numerous illustrations.
This concise survey includes analysis of both the changing nature of jewelry materials and the changing of fashions, in both men’s and women’s jewelry. Ms. Phillips also details how individual jewelers and the industry as a whole have historically responded to new sources of gems, whether new world emeralds of the diamonds of South Africa.
Understanding Jewelry by Bennett and Mascetti
Covering all facets of jewelry and jewelry making from the late 18th century to the present, Understand Jewelry is an encyclopedic explication worthy of the moniker “coffee table book.” With over 1,000 photographs, the authors brilliantly link explanations and descriptions with individual illustrations, using straightforward language for the layman. The result is an easy to read, thorough guide to all aspects of jewelry and jewelry making.
Beginning with individual gemstones, the book carefully explains all the aspects crucial to valuing them, from shapes to color to hardness, from diamonds to the most obscure semi-precious gems.
The book then takes a chronological trip through the history of jewelry making, highlighting styles, materials, and techniques popular in each era, along with notes about the most influential jewelers. Bennett and Mascetti, both jewelry experts at Sotheby’s, have succeeded in a producing a guide to jewelry that is both beautiful and educational.
An Illustrated Dictionary of Jewelry by Harold Newman
As a famous collector and writer on the decorative arts, Harold Newman brings the full scope of his knowledge to bear in his Illustrated Dictionary of Jewelry. From the first entry, “AA Pendant” to “Zuni Jewelry,” this indispensable reference work is a must for students, dealers, and collectors of jewelry.
Incorporating terms from jewelry making, descriptions of individual gemstones, and biographical entries of jewelry makers and designers from the Renaissance to the modern era, Newman has succeeded in providing an easy to use and fully comprehensive reference volume. With over 650 illustrations, extensive cross referencing, and a selected bibliography, this book is a must have reference for anyone interested in the subject.
Victorian Jewellery by Margaret Flower
By focusing exclusively on the Victorian period, Margaret Flower is able to place the jewelry of the time in a wider context than most jewelry histories. Her highly readable prose includes not simply descriptions of the materials and jewelry items of the era, but shows how the greater cultural influences affected the decorative arts.
The fashions of the time, including all manner of jewelry items, was determined by complicated interactions between the economics of the time and social living standards. Flower’s comprehensive and informative book includes many examples of staple Victorian jewelry items, including over 115 illustrations of brooches, jeweled tiaras, necklaces, chains, lockets, and earrings.
Answers to Questions About Old Jewelry, 1840-1950: Identification and Value Guide by C. Jeanenne Bell
Answers to Questions About Old Jewelry has been an authoritative and respected resource on estate jewelry for over three decades. In the most recent edition, jewelry expert C. Jeanenne Bell updates her classic reference volume with pertinent historical information that accompanies the many illustrations. Her encyclopedic knowledge of the subject has never been on better display, and the easy to read prose breathes with her passion for the timeless beauty of antique and estate jewelry.
Featuring over 1,000 full color photographs, this new edition covers the most collectible jewelry from 1840 to 1950, and includes values for many selected jewelry items. Featuring jewelry from the Victorian, Edwardian, Egyptian Revival, Art Nouveau, Art Deco, and Retro Modern periods, this volume includes many tips for jewelry identification, including maker’s marks, designer marks, trademarks, and other dating information.
Warman’s Jewelry: Identification and Price Guide
Now in its 5th edition, Warman’s Jewelry: Identification and Price Guide is an even more comprehensive and better illustrated book than the previous editions. This thoroughly researched and well organized work features historical information and stunningly photographed jewelry items, and covers all manner of costume and fine jewelry and from the 18 through the 21st century.
Detailed descriptions and the most current pricing information for all the most popular styles of antique and estate jewelry are included, making this guide an invaluable asset for both the novice collector and the experienced aficionado of fine jewelry.
Vintage Jewelry Design: Classics to Collect & Wear
A truly stunning coffee table book, Caroline Cox’s Vintage Jewelry Design is a mouthwatering look at vintage jewelry from the last 100 years. Beyond being simply a ‘picture book,’ this volume contains not simply stellar photographs, but an explication of the history of jewelry design. Organized by decade, Cox’s book includes historical references that indicate why certain styles, trends, and materials rose to popularity when they did.
From historical notes on well-known jewelry designers like Fabergé, Schlumberger, Tiffany, and Schiaparelli to stunning photos of rare jewelry items from private collections and museums, this book is a compendium of the fashion, style, and beauty of jewelry from the last century. In addition, Cox includes a vintage shopping guide, complete with tips for care of vintage jewelry and how to spot fakes.
The Official Identification and Price Guide to Antique Jewelry by Guy Kaplan
With over 3,000 photographs, Guy Kaplan’s Guide has been a go-to resource for professionals for years. In this newly revised edition, Kaplan’s seminal reference work is even more comprehensive and easier to use, especially for newer collectors.
Featuring descriptions and photographs of jewelry from 1750-1960, this book includes both identification tips and pricing information for all major jewelry periods from Georgian through Modern Retro. Kaplan’s Identification and Price Guide has been hailed as an “invaluable resource for the layman, the appraiser of estate jewelry, or the collector” by Christie’s East.
How to Be a Jewelry Detective: Elementary Clues to Solving the Mysteries of Jewelry by C. Jeanine Bell
As the title suggests, this fun and informative volume shares some of the secrets of identifying and dating antique, vintage, and estate jewelry. In addition to helping sort out the various clues that indicate how to simply tell a new piece from an old one, the author provides information on determining real from fake gems, gold from gold plate, and diamonds from rhinestones.
This book also contains comprehensive lists of designers and marks, including hallmarks, maker’s marks, and marks that indicate purity. Though directed mainly to the newer collector of antique and estate jewelry, How to Be a Jewelry Detective is a great addition to any library of books about jewelry.
Sell Vintage & Antique Jewelry Today
Are you wondering how much your antique jewelry is worth? How much your vintage jewelry is worth? Let Diamond Estate Jewelry Buyers help you today with a free verbal market appraisal and generous cash offer.