Antique vs Vintage Jewellery: Whats The Difference?

You may never have thought about it before, but what exactly is the difference between antique and vintage jewellery?

Many people use the two terms interchangeably, so are they not just the same thing? In fact, they are actually two completely different things, although the definitions can be a little confusing.

However, an items description can have a big impact upon its value, so its important that as a customer, you have a basic understanding of these labels.


The word antique is commonly growing in use, with anything of a certain age being referred to antique.

For example, place a Windows 95 desktop computer in front of a teenager of today and youll likely be told youre looking at an antique!

In fact, in the jewellery trade the word is much specific, and generally refers to any piece which is over 100 years old.

This definition can vary sometimes, and some traders may define an item of 80 years old as being antique as this covers two (40 year) generations, but the 100-year rule is the most common and the best to stick to.

Its also important to note that the condition of an item might come into play when defining a piece as antique.

While it is acceptable to repair and restore antique pieces, they must retain some semblance of their original character and in fact, US Customs state that they require an item to be less than 50% restored to be considered an antique.

Antique items are also usually too old and valuable to actually be worn.

While these definitions may seem a bit black and white, technically speaking this means that a piece from 1916 may not be considered antique, while a piece from 1915 may.

Of course, an antique piece of jewellery is bound to be more expensive due to its age, and the fact that it has to have been fairly well made to have survived so long.

Having said this, as time goes by, more and more pieces will come to fall under the definition of antique.


So what is vintage? Older than 50 years? 75? Well, there are actually a number of different definitions for the word vintage, not all of which are as clear cut.

In a very loose sense, vintage can refer to a piece that was popular in another era. (It doesnt even necessarily have to be from that era, it may just mimic it, which can cause a considerable amount of confusion and disagreement).

The more specific definition which is used by many to try and bring vintage in line with antique is that it refers to pieces older than 50 years old, but younger than 100, at which point it becomes antique.

Vintage may also refer to the year or era when an item first became popular. For example, using the Windows 95 example from earlier, a vintage desktop computer would refer to a computer from this period.

All of these definitions make vintage trickier word to nail down than antique, and it isnt as strictly defined, although as more jewellers come to describe their pieces as vintage, a stricter definition may need to be imposed.

While vintage pieces are never going to be as valuable as antique ones, some of them can still be very expensive.

What About Estate Jewellery?

Another term you may hear used is estate jewellery. This term just refers to any piece which has been previously owned, so almost every antique or jewellery piece can be considered estate.

The True Value Of A Piece

Of course, the true value of an item can be very subjective, and largely comes down to the value that the buyer or seller places on it personally.

However, as jewellers there needs to be some kind of standard and consensus, and these labels allow us to determine some form of commonly held valuation.

As such, any items with the terms antique or vintage will automatically have added value to them, so its crucial that these terms are used correctly, so as not to falsely overvalue a piece.

Generally speaking, when shopping for jewellery it should be fairly easy to figure out whether a piece fits the definition of antique.

However, things get a little more difficult when it comes to pieces labelled vintage and you should always take these pieces with a grain of salt.

Understanding that the word can have multiple definitions is key, and knowing as much as possible about the term and the jewellery trade in general will leave you best placed to ask the right questions to get the right value.

Make sure you check out online product descriptions and images and if possible ask to see any jewellery before buying it.