Most buyers and even dealers of jewellery use the terms ‘antique’, ‘vintage’, and ‘estate’ loosely and interchangeably, but these terms actually have distinct differences. These terms are generally used to date old pieces of fine jewellery, and each of the three terms represents a different time period.
Vintage engagement rings are usually younger than 100 years of age but must be at least more than 20 years old, although some argue that they should be older than 50. It is the most commonly used term of the three and the most popular. Vintage rings are used to refer to jewellery dating back to a particular period, which includes retro, mid-century, modern and contemporary periods.
On other hand, antique jewellery tends to be any piece of jewellery that is 100 years old or older. Jewellery dealers consider antique jewellery to be any piece of jewellery that is from the Art Deco period or earlier, such as the Georgian, Victorian or Edwardian periods. That means that your engagement ring must date from 1920-1935 or earlier in order to qualify as an antique engagement ring. However, this also means that antique jewellery can be so valuable that it isn’t often worn, so if you actually want to make use of your ring without constantly worrying about it, vintage engagement rings are by far the better choice. Beware, though, any rings labelled ‘antique style’ that don’t mention the ring’s exact age. This usually means you are looking at a replica and that it simply appears to be old.
Technically, all antique and vintage engagement rings fall under the category of estate jewellery. The term ‘estate’ simply means jewellery that was previously owned by somebody else, in other words, second-hand. However, while this term can be applied to all vintage and antique jewellery, generally dealers limit this term to jewellery that was made within the last 30 years or so in order to avoid confusion. Estate jewellery can also be known as collectible jewellery, which would eventually turn into antique jewellery when it became old and valuable enough. If you are interested in estate jewellery, sales of this sort of jewellery occur frequently in auction houses and private estate sales.
However, if you’re in any doubt about the exact age of a ring, just ask someone. Regardless of the label used, the beauty of estate, antique and vintage engagement rings is that, unlike contemporary styles, they are not available in vast amounts but are unique and exquisitely-crafted pieces of history.
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