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Difference between antique and vintage jewelry

Lady wearing hat brooch

If you are confused or unsure of the differences among  AntiqueVintage and Estate items, you are not alone. The three are confused and misused quite often. But here is a quick analysis of the difference among three categories: estate, antique, and vintage jewelry. You’ll no longer be confused.

Estate Jewelry 

This one is really easy. If an item has a previous owner it is considered “Estate”. However, that does not mean it’s vintage or antique. Or, necessarily unique or valuable. Nor does it mean the previous owner is deceased. While the previous owners of a considerable percentage of estate jewelry have passed away, that status should have nothing to do with the value of the “estate.”   Therefore, while many estate pieces on the market today may be 50, 100, even 150+ years old, age is not a determining factor when it comes to classifying estate jewelry. You shouldn’t ignore these estate sales if you are a collector. There may be a genuine antique awaiting you. Or, just a simply a beautiful, collectable piece of jewelry or objet d’art. But you should know the differences between antique and vintage jewelry before you make a purchase.

Antique Jewelry 

What’s the difference between antique and vintage jewelry? A piece of jewelry is considered “Antique” if it is a 100 years or older. In general, you’ll find antique jewelry is crafted with a superior level of craftsmanship. That includes higher-quality materials compared to modern pieces found on the market today. However, due to the relative scarcity and sheer age of jewelry by the time it can be classified as “antique”, the majority of antique jewelry is too valuable to be worn or at times even displayed. But many pieces are in excellent condition and can be worn with pride. In order to determine whether or not an item is antique, you’ll have to do some research to make sure it isn’t a fake.

All about Vintage Jewelry

On the other hand, a piece of jewelry is considered “vintage” if it is between 50 years old and 100 years old.  Vintage pieces are often worn and displayed, as they are more likely to be in excellent condition. Vintage jewelry designs are also easier to incorporate into fashion-forward outfits to create unique statements—as vintage jewelry designs are relatively current, easily paring with today’s hottest trends while adding an extra flair to any outfit! But if you have a great antique piece and it’s in good condition, wear it by all means! What a great conversation starter.

Along these lines, read our blog about the difference between Art Deco and Art Nouveau.

If you would like to learn more about gemstones, go the the education section of GIA.

Read all our blogs about jewelry/objet d’art

Also, you might like to check out our Vintage Costume Jewelry collection. The pieces are gorgeous. How about our Objet d’Art collection. Exquisite.

Whatever you purchase from Regency Jewelry can be trusted to be as we say. Our items are appraised by an independent, certified appraiser. 


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Jet Jewelry: A brief history

Jet Jewelry

A brief history 

Well, you may not have been thinking long and hard about jet jewelry. But we think you will be intrigued and surprised to learn about this ancient gemstone. This article may not tell you everything, but it will tell you more than you know now and refer you to sources of information.

As a stone of good luck, Jet Jewelry was believed to make a great gift for someone starting a new job or beginning a new business pursuit. It has been said that Jet can bring clarity to a confusing situation.  Those who are struggling through multiple trials and tribulations will appreciate Jet’s supportive powers. That’s what they say and many have believed. For more about the lore, here’s an article.

That’s the lore about Jet Jewelry.

Jet is also called “Mourning Jewelry.” Queen Victoria popularized jet jewelry after her beloved husband, Prince Albert, died. She insisted that everyone in the royal court wear jet (mourning) jewelry, which they did for three years.

Whether it’s a good luck charm. A means for protection. Or for mourning, much of the jewelry carved from the stone are unique and beautiful.

Jet Jewelry: The protector of man

According to Helen Muller, a Jet jewelry expert and author, “Jet has been used as a jewel and talisman for over

four thousand years.”According to Ms. Muller, Jet is a type of brown coal, a fossilized wood of an ancient tree similar to our present day Araucaria. These trees flourished in the Jurassic period about 180 million years ago. How they are converted to Jet is too lengthy to cover here. But trust Ms. Muller, through a series of evolutionary steps, Jet gems emerge.

Jet: first gem to be discovered.

Coincidentally Jet was discovered during the stone age. Primitive man used it as an adornment, and, because it had electrical properties, they would also use it as a protector or potent talisman.

Germany has unearthed jet artifacts that have been dated to 10,000 years B.C. They are mostly small, primitively carved amulets in the shape of animals. Other ancient pieces of Jet have been found, in a variety of forms from simple to intricate, in France and England.

When the Romans invaded Britain they found high-quality hard jet, which impressed them. By the 3rd

Jet stone carved stone
A Roman jet pendant/medallion (3rd or 4th century) showing a man and woman in relief.

Century A.D. they were hard at work producing rings, bracelets, necklaces, pendants, dagger handles and dice. These artifacts have been uncovered during excavations of areas in Britain.

Workshops have never been found in Germany (although Jet pieces have been unearthed), it is assumed that they were brought in from Britain (York).

In the 7th Century AD… 

Christianity arrived in Yorkshire and for the next thousand years or so, jet was mainly used for ecclesiastical jewelry. Rosaries, rings and crosses were made for the monks.

St James Jet statue
A 16th century statuette of St. James.

In Spain, Jet was discovered in three provinces. The Moors wore a jet phallic hand to protect them from the evil eye and this practice      continues in Spain today.

From the 9th Century AD…

Jet was used to make souvenirs for the pilgrims to the shrine of St. James. From the 13th Century there was a successful jet trade, with workers organized into the Brotherhood of Jet Workers. The trade declined in the 17th century and very little work is being performed today.

While very common on the Continent, in America jet is found only in Utah and Colorado. Pueblo Indians used it in their jewelry, often combining it with turquoise and shell.

The rediscovery of  jet Jewelry.

It is said that the introduction of the lathe in 1800 was the start of the Whitby jet industry in England. Of course, other changes in the world, such as the railroad, helped spread the demand for jet jewelry around England. With the start of the Regency period, with heavier, darker dresses, the larger, dark jet jewelry was perfect. The history that follows jet into the 19th century is very interesting. Of course, Queen Victoria insisting that Jet be worn into the court, helped with its popularity, even among those not in the court.

Regency Jewelry’s sale of Jet Jewelry.

We have a large collection of antique jet jewelry in our showroom. We have also put selected items on sale at 50% off in our online catalogue. Or, in-store during the month of September. If you want to learn more about the history of jet gemstones, you can purchase Helen Muller’s book on its history at Ms. Muller is a respected historian especially about the Jet gemstone.

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Antique or Vintage Jewelry

antique ring

How to identify Antique or Vintage Jewelry

If you are interested in older (vintage) or antique jewelry, an important issue you have is  how to identify antique or vintage jewelry.  After all,  just because someone tells you it’s antique or vintage, doesn’t make it so. You need to know how to look for tell-tale signs that the piece is actually what they say.

Here are five ways about how to identify antique or vintage jewelry:

  1. Look at the findings and fittings on earrings
  2. Identify the findings and fittings on brooches
  3. Determine the material
  4. Use color to guess the time period
  5. Check out the marks and hallmarks

We will discuss each point below.

 1: Fittings and Findings for Earrings

The invention of different earring findings will help date your jewelry. Jewelry findings are ready made pieces that jewelers use such as clasps, pin stems, hinges, etc. Fittings refer to the parts that can be custom-made for a piece.

The drawing below shows the styles when they were introduced into the market. In order of date, the styles are named as follows: shepherd hook, image two is not named, kidney wire, screw-back (pierced), lever back, screw-back, post & butterfly, spring clip, and omega back. 

Earring posts

Brooch backings

 2: Fittings and Findings for Brooches

 First of all, most answers to understanding jewelry can be found by looking on the backs or undersides. Brooches have evolved over one hundred years, and the backs provide much of the information we need to date the piece. Again, the drawing above shows the different types of clasps used on brooches or pins with the approximate date as to when they first appeared.

Sometimes you will notice lumpy solder on the backside of a brooch. This can mean it was altered or repaired. It doesn’t mean it’s not an older piece, but it could be a newer piece altered to appear like a vintage or antique brooch.

But there’s more. Now onto a popular material, black jewelry.

 3: How to Identify the Materials of Black Jewelry

Black jewelry can be found in abundance at flea markets, estate sales, and antique stores. For you to Identify what the black material is can make a big difference in determining when it was made and how much it could be worth. Black jewelry most likely made of one of the following: plastic, glass, stone, jet, gutta-percha, crepe stone, bog oak, and bakelite. There are ways for you to test each one of these materials to determine what it is.

  • Color of stone: Vintage and Antique JewelryPlastic is the most obvious of all materials to decipher. Plastic is very lightweight and you can tap it on your tooth to hear a “click” sound. Use your loupe to look for a mold line. A mold line will go all around the piece splitting in two.
  • Glass will be heavier and reflects light. Holding it in your hand will warm up the material.
  • Stone would remain cold if you held it in your hand.
  • Jet is as light as plastic, and hard and coal-like in material.

And there are more ways to test:

  • Gutta-percha can also be black. It is made from the sap of a Malayan tree. It was used primarily in the Victorian Era. Running this material under hot water will cause it to emit a strong burnt rubber smell.
  • Crepe stone is another black material and is made of glass. It was introduced in 1883 by the Fowler brothers in Providence, Rhode Island. It was called English Crepe Stone and has a very distinctive look.
  • Bog oak is also another black material that is very easy to identify because it is oak wood that has been preserved in the bogs of Ireland. This jewelry is visually identifiable because of the Irish motifs.
  • Bakelite can be made black, but not all Bakelite is black. A good test for Bakelite is to put 409 bathroom cleaner on a cotton swab and touch a small hidden area. If the cotton swab is yellow after touching the surface of the tested piece then it is Bakelite.

 4: Using Color to Date Your Jewelry

Colors: Vintage and Antique JewelryThe use of color gemstones and enamel correlates to architecture and decorative art of the times. For example, color in the Renaissance was almost gaudy, while the use of color during the Victorian Era was somber because the death of Prince Albert caused Queen Victoria to declare an extended period of mourning. After the Victorian Era, the period of Art Nouveau utilized soft and delicate colors with rich gold and silver metals. This was short-lived as the Art Deco era moved to the forefront with its use of bolder colors and geometric designs. A devil-may-care attitude influenced the look.

Color palettes dominated different time periods throughout history. Knowing which color gemstones were predominant at certain times in history goes a long way in helping to date a piece of jewelry.

 5: Marks and Hallmarks

Hallmarks and markings are an important clue to help date a piece of jewelry. Most often these marks are hidden on the inside of a shank on a ring, the inside of a bracelet, or on the inside back of an earring. Using your loupe, you will often find some kind of mark identifying the jeweler, designer, retailer, or manufacturer. If you bring this to a jeweler, they may be able to date the piece based on the marks.

These marks can also make a tremendous difference on the value and collectability of the jewelry. Remember that the value is not always about the intrinsic value. The trademark can also provide information about when and where a piece was made.

Resources to show you how to identify vintage or antique jewelry

Good sources for this information can be found at: Researching Costume Jewelry History and the Online Encyclopedia of Silver Marks, Hallmarks & Makers’ Marks  Plus this article appeared in By: Karen Malzeke-McDonlad, October 18, 2016. We borrowed it, with edits, so that you might learn from their thorough piece.

Of course, if you purchase antique or vintage jewelry from Regency Jewelry, you can rest assured we have done the research for you. You can trust it is antique or vintage if that’s what we tell you. Come in to our showroom to see our collection of beautiful antique and vintage jewelry and giftware. Our address, phone number, email and store hours can be found here. Can’t do that right now? Check out our antique and vintage jewelry on our website