Vintage, Estate, Antique and Costume Jewelry: What’s What?

vintage pile jewelry


To the trained eye, vintage, estate, antique and costume jewelry are easily differentiated. If you are less familiar with these terms and the eras and styles that they represent, however, the task may be much more difficult. Before shopping for vintage jewelry, you should understand the meaning of these commonly used terms.

Read over Gold Unlimited’s basic breakdown of the prevalent terms used to help date older pieces of fine jewelry.

Antique Jewelry

The U.S. Government defines ‘antique’ as a valuable that is over a century old. This term is sometimes inaccurately associated with costume jewelry, but antique pieces are actually previously owned heirlooms that are highly valued.

Timeline – 1920s and older

Gold Unlimited piece
Gold Unlimited piece

Vintage Jewelry

Pieces that are younger than 100 years old, but are usually older than 50 years are referred to as vintage. Vintage Jewelry is considered to still be recent enough to be in style.

Timeline – 1980s and older

retro pendant

Estate Jewelry

Refers to jewelry, often masterpieces, which are part of the ‘estate’ of another person. These pieces are second-hand or pre-owned and are considered significant pieces that may be either antique or vintage.

Timeline – Past or present


Costume Jewelry

Jewelry designed to wear with current fashions, usually made of inexpensive materials. Its imitation gems and sometime gaudy appearance mark this ‘of the moment’ jewelry.

Timeline – Past or present

costume jewelry earrings



Because of age, almost every vintage or antique piece is considered estate jewelry. Fine antique and vintage pieces are collected as keepsakes or investments, whereas costume jewelry is sometimes passed off as vintage jewelry. Antique and vintage jewelry pieces are usually made of high-quality materials that were able to stand the test of time. These pieces fetch high prices due to the level of workmanship and the purity of their stones.


For a fantastic selection of estate jewelry, stop by Gold Unlimited today. Our knowledgable professionals will you assist you in choosing the perfect custom or estate piece that will leave you breathless.

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Old World Charm With Vintage Elegance

A vintage piece of jewelry is timelessly beautiful, ecologically sound and fiscally practical. If you enjoy standing out from the crowd and are looking to make a statement that is authentic and meaningful, a vintage engagement ring, pendant, locket, brooch or avant-garde earrings may be perfect for you. Choose something completely unique with enduring allure.

The only question left to answer is – which era matches your personality?




Art Nouveau

Time: 1890-1910

Meaning: French for “New art”

Characteristics: Soft, mystical, romantic

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Soft, arched shapes inspired by plants and feminine curves were prevalent during this era. Jewelers utilized free flowing lines known as “whiplash” lines that communicated a romantic style with breathtaking detailing like hand-forged filigree. Nature-inspired motifs were combined with an intense use of color and mixed metals. Stones such as agate, moonstone, garnet and opal were incorporated and a variety of enameling techniques were used.



Time: 1901-1920

Meaning: Named after King Edward of Britain

Characteristics: Embellished, extravagant, delicate

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Graceful and elegant, some pieces from this era are so detailed that it appears the gemstones are set in lace. Designs saw an abundance of diamonds and are extremely feminine in appearance. Milgraining (a technique creating a row of tiny beads along the edge or boundary of a section of jewelry) was used extensively during this period. The extravagant and sophisticated reign of Edward VII were reflected in the high society jewelry of this period.


Art Deco 

Time: 1920-1935

Meaning: Name taken from The Exposition Internationale des Arts Décoratifs et Industriels Modernes, held in Paris in 1925 (Decorative Arts and Architecture)

Characteristics: bold, geometric

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This style continues to be a source of inspiration in art, fashion and jewelry design today. The use of sharp lines, clean shapes and large gemstones was influenced by the architecture of Egypt, Greece and Rome. There was a strong desire to eliminate the flowing lines reminiscent of the Art Nouveau period, thus eradicating seemingly unnecessary ornament. The association of art and modern industry was illustrated in plentiful Cubism and Fauvisim-inspired pieces. Advancements in cutting techniques during this time also allowed for diamonds to sparkle brighter than ever.



Time: 1935-1950

Meaning: Surrogate royalty / Art Moderne

Characteristics: Bigger, bolder, glitz, glamour

retro jewelry

Jewelry from this era saw yellow and rose gold pieces return to heightened popularity and transitional cut diamonds were common. Set against the drab realities of World War II, these pieces incorporated the fantasy and glamour of Hollywood. Cocktail jewelry, as it is sometimes called, became bolder, brighter and more lighthearted. Popular gemstones included aquamarines, topaz and citrines as well as rubies and sapphires. Huge rectangular cuts, oversized bracelets and patriotic-themed color combinations were popular.



Time: 1950-Today

Meaning: Contemporary, a break from the traditional

Characteristics: Flashy, dramatic designs

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Following the 1950s, jewelry designs underwent radical changes as customers sought fresh styles to distance themselves from the tumultuous past. Atomic designs reflected the nation’s focus on space exploration. Textured gold, Florentine finishes, twisted rope and braided wire were heavily used techniques. Economic growth and prosperity from this era is reflected in dramatic designs and a focus on diamonds. Other popular stones included amethyst, turquoise, coral and cultured pearls. Platinum, yellow gold and silver became the metals of choice.


At Gold Unlimited, we showcase a wide variety of vintage jewels in excellent condition. Explore the possibility of acquiring a show-stopping vintage piece to add to your collection.

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