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What is the difference between Antique and Vintage?

What is the difference between Antique and Vintage?

When is an Antique not an antique but more correctly: Vintage?

If you catch a glimpse of today’s tv programmes dedicated to antiques; you will have heard the terms: vintage, antique, even mid century modern - here they may apply to all kinds of objects from diamond necklaces to sideboards to teddy bears.

But what is it that defines these categories and how can we learn to recognise them and make a distinction? Most people agree that to qualify as an ‘antique”; an object must be over 100 years old.

The term Vintage is a little more fluid - generally accepted as an item made anywhere up to 100 years ago but may be as recent as the 1970s, 1980s etc but usually not made within the last 20 years- for eg a vintage car may be from circa 1930 whereas a vintage handbag may be from a much more recent time. For many of us the term Vintage may also perhaps hint at an element of collectability rather than age such as a “vintage” mobile phone.

When it comes to jewellery - and we’ve been happily adorning ourselves with ‘gems’ since pre-history - there are some telltale signs - as well as hallmarks and makers marks; once you know what to look for - you can train your eye to spot clues such as design motifs, styles and choice of gems and precious metals - even types of fasteners can be a giveaway.

How do we identify antique jewellery? 

Antique jewellery characteristically incorporates pieces from the Georgian, Victorian and Edwardian eras as well as the various movements influenced by the Arts such as Arts & Crafts, Art Nouveau, Art Deco.

Victorian jewellery was substantial and ornate. They favoured particular shapes such as the crescent moon, targets and arrows - snakes represented interpretations of eternity and swallows had symbolic meaning as they were exchanged as a token of betrothal or loyalty. The Victorians especially liked amethysts (which were much rarer in those days), and were often set together with tiny seed pearls. Heavier darker coloured gems were employed: jet, onyx and garnets in particular. Also typical were sentimental jewels: designs featuring hearts, lockets and mourning jewellery (often constructed with human hair as a memento of a loved one).

Brooches were indispensable in line with the reserved dress code of high necklines - notably Cameos made from shell or hard stones such as Carnelian or agates. Pins on mid 1800s jewellery often extended beyond the simple C shaped catch - examining these simple mechanisms can help you to date a piece. Look out for push in “barrel shaped" clasps on necklaces which were typical of this era.

Chains - frequently plain curb links - which secured a pocket watch from a waistcoat were referred to as ‘Albert’ chains in reverence to Queen Victoria’s consort.

The Edwardians however preferred finer set jewels - lighter pieces with intricate metalwork- often with “filigree” fine wirework or “millegrain” fine bead detailing. Diamonds and pearls set together were beloved, opals were popular and specific designs such as ribbon bows, swags and garlands. They favoured the use of platinum (a tougher white metal which could be fashioned more finely) and a trend for longer length necklaces emerge. As necklines changed from the more conservative Victorian times. Jewellery referred to as “Belle Epoque’ figured from this period - stylish shaped necklaces such as the festoon and lavaliere design became popular during this era which were more intricate but still appeared fine and delicate.

Nostalgia for ancient history featured by way of the Egyptian Revival period which spanned these two eras; resulting in jewels featuring more exotic gemstones such as Turquoise and brightly coloured enamels and included design motifs such as palm trees, lotus flowers, outstretched wings and scarabs. This ‘period’ jewellery remains ever popular with collectors.

How do we identify vintage jewellery?


"Vintage jewellery" is typically items from circa 1930 onwards

In between the wars fashions changed quickly and some jewellery from this period had to be made with more affordable metals and materials.

Brooches were mass produced often in low carat gold or silver as these were
relatively inexpensive - allowing more people other than the gentry to enjoy jewellery.

Dress clips became fashionable between 1920-1950 and were considered very versatile jewels to own - these were made of both precious and base metals to appeal to all budgets

Animal designs became popular and highly regarded jewellers such as Cartier & Tiffany often introduced a new design which went on to become a classic design such as Cartier’s panther ring from 1935.

Jewellery from the mid century - the ever popular Scandinavian designers such as Danish brand Georg Jensen whose designers created iconic bold very stylish pieces around this time - often with striking brushed finishes - such as the Splash brooch (still in production) by Henning Koppel in 1946.

A modern day interpretation might include early pieces from contemporary designers such as Boodles, Marco Bicego, Theo Fennell.

In 1979 Paloma Picasso’s Graffiti Kiss design for Tiffany was inspired by graffiti on New York buildings, Fashion houses such as Gucci, Vivienne Westwood, Alexander McQueen have all produced jewellery - even early costume jewellery such as by Dior is avidly collected.

Bright coloured - often large - gemstones were on trend and jewellery incorporating alternative materials such as feathers and glitter abounded.

Instantly recognisable are pieces from the 1960s & 1970s with the distinctive “bark” like or textured finish to the gold from makers such as Brit Andrew Grima - very much sought after today. Sovereign set jewellery, charm bracelets, heavy curb chains and dressy necklaces known as “collarettes” are also typical of this era - with gold now commanding such a premium - these pieces are once again very desirable.

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