Vintage jewellery is handmade jewellery that has been capturing hearts for decades. Today's fashion jewellery often reflects aspects of bygone eras but for the jewellery lover who values original designs it will be the vintage costume jewellery that's a must.
What is Estate Jewellery and Vintage Jewellery?
Estate Jewellery is usually between 30 - 100 years old and is also known as vintage jewellery. The styles range from Victorian, Edwardian, Art Nouveau, Art Deco, 1940's to 1980's for both women and men. Generally 'vintage jewellery' will cover both costume jewellery and precious jewellery designs while 'estate jewellery' will exclusively mean precious jewellery - pieces made from precious metals like gold and platinum and gemstones such as diamonds.
The term 'vintage' has shifted meaning in the last few years to cover more costume jewellery than it ever has before so some reputable jewelers will still use the term in it's more traditional context to include real precious jewellery. The celebrity culture is using 'vintage' much more loosely.
While 'estate jewellery' comes from the fact that the pieces have belonged to others over the years - they have come from their estate. Even when you inherit jewellery it has come from an estate. Usually it is the high end jewellery that is shared between the rest of the family with the costume jewellery often going to either the young girls or someone particularly into jewellery within the family.
For me it was inheriting my great aunties' enamel jewellery as a child that started my love affair with the vintage designs. As with most vintage costume jewellery pieces they aren't particularly valuable but they are made very well and have beautiful designs.
The Types of Jewellery
Estate and vintage jewellery can include rings, necklaces, bracelets and bangles, brooches and pins, cufflinks, tie pins, money clips, shoe clips, hair clips, barretts, hat pins, buckles and clasps as well as pendants and earrings. It will also vary depending on the time period - hat pins might be making a come back but they were far more popular before World War 2 than now.
Vintage Jewellery Design
For many the most enjoyable experience of wearing quality vintage jewellery is the pleasure from being complimented by friends and even strangers on the beauty of their jewellery.
Many of the Victorian to 1940's designs are particularly appealing over the decades and have a very high standard of craftsmanship.
There are some beautiful vintage silver jewellery and vintage gold jewellery featuring the designs of some of the best jewellery designers of the last hundred years, including Georg Jenson who thought of silver as moonshine.
Vintage Wedding Jewellery
Antique vintage jewellery can be a great choice for bridal jewellery, creating an elegant and timeless look. Vintage wedding jewellery can also have a strong family connection with vintage necklaces and earrings from grandmothers, mothers and aunties - bridging gaps and sharing one of the most important events in life between generations.
Often family estate jewellery includes vintage gold jewellery or vintage silver jewellery that can be the main feature of your wedding jewellery collection with new bridal jewellery pieces reflecting the style and design of the family pieces.
Quality of Vintage Jewellery Design
The quality of the vintage costume jewellery tends to be higher than today's designs both in design and components. Initially costume jewellery was created so the wealthy elite could take copies of their favourite jewels traveling with them while the originals were safely looked up at home - no use loosing the family jewels on the Titanic when fabulous copies could be made and enjoyed.
This meant than the first copies of the costume jewellery made for the middle classes were based on high end jewellery - setting the benchmark high and keeping it there for some time. It wasn't until the middle classes grew enough to be a strong market for burgeoning businesses to design and make solely for them that original costume jewellery designs came about.
Just as the high end jewellery had created and followed the fashions of it's time so too did costume jewellery, so each period (usually roughly a decade) a new costume jewellery style evolved.
Until now today it can be created by crafts women and men or massed produced in factories and sold cheaply. The same rule applies through time, the cheaper it is made and sold the cheaper it looks - it still comes down to components. Good and bad quality components always show their true qualities.
Where to Find Vintage High End Jewellery and Costume Jewellery
For me searching for vintage jewellery is great fun. It can be found in a whole host of different places and when friends and family know that you have a passion for jewellery you'll even be given bags of it - some you'll love, some you'll rehome elsewhere.
Here are 6 great places to find vintage jewellery:
1. Markets are a great place to find costume jewellery including vintage, estate and new designs by local designers. Prices are generally more affordable at market than elsewhere but, as with anything, it's better if you have an idea about realistic prices when buying the high end vintage and estate pieces. I've seen some stalls have amazingly good prices while others are pitched at typical retail prices.
2. Op Shops use to be a fantastic source for exciting bargains but most have cotton on now and have help with their pricing. While I think charity shops should get the right price for their goods I still enjoy finding beautiful little treasures in them.
3. Independent jewelers will often have a display of estate high end jewellery that has been lovingly cleaned and given a fresh new life. This can be an ideal way of finding that perfect design that no one else has.
4. Vintage and Antique shops often have jewellery display cabinets full of tantalising treasures of antique vintage jewellery to make any girl's heart sing. With the jewels set in surroundings that show their period perfectly it's very easy to see where the style and design influences have come from.
5. The Internet is a great place to find wonderful jewellery designs and quickly compare prices before shopping online. I've really enjoyed places like etsy for finding unique designs (like my little silver tea cups from Alaska!) from craftswomen around the world. If shopping from a US or overseas site make sure you have the correct shipping cost details as some online shop owners have very little idea about using sensible shipping services to Australia (such a foreign land, ohh ahh!).
6. Cash Converters and hock shops also carry a range of jewellery that varies in age from vintage to current. Usually prices are quite cheap but there's no guarantee that you'll be getting the real thing when buying the high end pieces. A girlfriend of mine bought a stunning gold and diamond ring from a hock shop with her casino winnings on holiday and loves it - easy to see why with the great design. So it is entirely possible to get great finds here too.
Looking After Vintage Jewellery
Often vintage costume jewellery can be a little bit fragile and needs careful looking after. Jewellery display stands and boxes are great for making sure the costume jewellery is kept out of harms way and off surfaces where it might be accidentally knocked to the ground.
Often a gentle wash with mild soapy warm water helps to clean costume jewellery, just be sure to pat try carefully so moisture isn't left to cause harm.
High end estate jewellery often needs a good clean too but when it is gold with gemstones you can use gin as a cleaning agent. Simply have a small dish of gin and place the gold jewellery in it for a couple of minutes, remove and rinse with water and clean with a cotton bud. While gold doesn't mind water it is still best practice to pat dry any jewellery.
Be careful of older settings as this can be the weak point of estate jewellery. I have a family ring with small diamond chips as part of the setting. The claws holding the diamond chips are worn and there's one little bit that always falls out. As the claws are quite hard to replace I just live with having a missing chip as it's barely noticeable. I recommend treating the settings very carefully. While gold and diamonds might be quite strong settings often aren't.
Telling the Story of Estate Jewellery
One of the things I love about estate jewellery are the personal stories it carries with it - just watch the 'Antique Roadshow' to learn about the family stories of strong women and generous husbands that are connected to the stunning earrings. Granddaughters come along with photos of the earrings being worn, tell of their grandmother's character and the value is in the story of the jewellery, the story of women.
So with your favourite pieces make sure there's photos of you wearing them and a note about why you love the design, it will be a great story for you family to have as well as having the practical advantage of having a record for insurance.
Enjoy Your Unique Jewellery Vintage Designs
Jewellery is meant to be enjoyed, so make sure you collect designs that make your heart sing, look after them and display them so you see them more (as well as keeping pairs together).
Displaying your jewellery so you can see it easily lets you show case the beautiful designs as well as making it easier to see what you have and wear it more often. There are a range of creative display stand options that are charming in their own right while jewellery rolls and wraps are great ways to take your jewellery on your travels.