Vintage Jewelry Definitions and Conditions

Definition of Vintage Jewelry versus Antique Jewelry

Vintage jewelry is a term used for an item that is at least 20 years old, while items 100 years old or older are considered antiques. Gathering knowledge about vintage jewelry is a bit like being a historian. There's often an interesting back story tied to vintage jewelry and the people who created the wonderfully artful designs. Learning about vintage jewelry means learning about the time period and event occurring when the piece was made.  Vintage jewelry collecting is a journey and ongoing education. I'm always thrilled to learn details related to the pieces that pass through my personal collection and online shop.

Most vintage costume jewelry pieces were made of a base metal, brass in many cases, with several layers of silver or gold plating applied. Jewelry items with several layers of plating have noticeably better quality compared to those with fewer layers, and are not nearly as prone to tarnishing. While vintage costume jewelry was never originally intended to be worn for more than a season, many pieces have survived past their intended fashionable life.  While today’s women follow seasonal fashion trends, most women are more interested in using fashion in a way that fits in with developing and enhancing their own unique personal style.  Vintage jewelry is a versatile and fun way to create unique, one of kinds looks that compliment today’s fashions.

Like any area of collecting, vintage jewelry values do vary over time with availability, demand or popularity, and geographic location. As example, Sarah Coventry jewelry has begun to garner more interest and value than when I first started collecting years ago, and the Avon jewelry of the 1980s-90s brings nostalgic memories for many persons, promising to be of greater value in the future.

About Your Vintage Jewelry Purpose

Because most vintage costume jewelry has been previously enjoyed by someone else, there will almost always be some light signs of having been worn.  This is an aspect of vintage jewelry that most enthusiasts feel adds to the unique character of each piece. Even pieces coined as new old stock; vintage jewelry that was never sold and may have been in storage for years, may have darkened plating, brittle glue, or weakened cotton stringing, etc.

The other thing to remember is that in most cases, there is no way to discern how many hands a single piece of vintage jewelry has passed through.  Sometimes I’m fortunate enough to actually get the entire history of a piece from the person I acquire it from, as example, it may have been Grandma’s and passed on down to each daughter. But more frequently, vintage jewelry items go on a journey of being enjoyed by many persons over the years as they are rediscovered through flea markets, antique stores, tag sales, thrift stores and online shops like mine. Because of this, sometimes pieces are altered by a wearer; a clasp gets changed, a lost rhinestone is replaced, or a chain is exchanged with another desired length.  Sometimes this is immediately obvious as example;  a newer style or wrong type of clasp will be a noticeable inconsistency, at other times there is really no way to know.

Condition Ratings

A rating of excellent, very good,  good, or for crafts only is generally used to describe the overall condition of vintage jewelry pieces.

Excellent condition -  is described as having little to no sign of being worn at all with no loss or dulling of plating and no missing or discolored rhinestones. There will be nothing to indicate the piece has been altered in any way and it will be deemed to have all original stones and components.

Very good condition -  is described as having some some light signs of being worn, may have very light plating wear upon close examination, and may have had a missing rhinestone replaced, but is still considered quite wearable.

Good condition -  is described as having some noticeable areas of being worn.  This can include light blemishes on some plastics, and finish wear. It includes finish wear that may be visible on the back of a piece, but not visible while being worn, such as the backs of necklaces, bracelets and brooches. Pieces in good condition are great for everyday wear and for use on items like purses and hats where concern over whether the piece may get bumped or rubbed isn’t as much of a concern compared to a piece kept in a collection.

Good for Crafts Only – is jewelry that doesn’t meet a standard as wearable in its current condition.  Normally, jewelry in this condition would be kept for the sole purpose of salvaging the vintage rhinestones, however the popular trend of repurposing vintage jewelry into collage pictures, wedding bouquets, on photo frames, mirrors, hand mirrors, trinket boxes, hair jewelry and for many altered couture creations, means that literally every broken piece can be enjoyed in some way and kept from going into the waste stream a bit longer.

Vintage jewelry finds often result in a lot more categorized as good for craft only  compared to   very good, so I like to occasionally offer “craft lots” for those who enjoy being creative.

Items for sale in the shop have been examined to ensure that clasps and clips are functional and pieces with rhinestones are checked for loose stones. 

Find answers to other commonly asked questions here