The terms antique and vintage are commonly used to define older pieces of fine jewelry. However, we often find ourselves trying to distinguish between the two. A common question we hear is, “What makes a piece of jewelry antique or vintage?” Not all jewelry that is handed down or old is vintage, therefore, it could get a little confusing.
The term “antique” was used in a wide variety of ways between American, European, Asian, and African traders. The word has a different meaning to different groups of people. Americans called an item, such as a gun, that was about 40 years old an antique while Europeans referred to items that were over 200 years old as antique. So, what is the true definition of something that is “antique”?
The 1930 US Tariff Act determined 1830 was the last year that mass production was introduced; hence “antique” was defined as an item manufactured at least 100 years prior to signing of the legislation. Since then, most industries use the word “antique” exclusively for items 100 years of age or older.
As for the word “vintage,” the wine industry is recognized for coining the term. A vintage wine is generally viewed as “a(n) (extraordinary) yield or crop from a specific harvest or year. Many industries adopted the term and use it when they are referring to a specific year, or the characteristics of a certain year or design era. While the term is increasingly used for more descriptive, merchandising and marketing purposes, many professionals will use the term to describe a collectible item 20 to 30 years of age or older.
Antique jewelry is any piece of jewelry that is about 100 years old or older. Many pieces from the 1920's are now considered antique, especially those made in the earlier part of the decade. When a reliable dealer calls an item “antique”, you can rest assured that the heirloom is very old. However, keep in mind that there are many pieces of jewelry that are considered to be “antique style” which is another reproduction indicator. Anytime the word “style” is being used to describe a piece of jewelry, it most likely means the item is a reproduction and not an actual heirloom.
For a piece of fine jewelry to be considered vintage, it has to be at least 20 to 30 years old. Vintage is probably the most common term of the two since it encompasses a wider set of age ranges in regards to jewelry.
There you have it! Hopefully this cleared up some confusion for those of you that have had trouble distinguishing between these two words that are often (and mistakingly so) used interchangeably. The terms antique and vintage are commonly used to define older pieces of fine jewelry. However, we often find ourselves trying to distinguish between the two. A common question we hear is, “What makes a piece of jewelry antique?” Not all jewelry that is handed down or old is vintage, therefore, it could get a little confusing.