What is vintage versus antique?

What do the terms ‘Estate’ ‘Contemporary’ ‘Vintage’ ‘Antique’ ‘Period’ really mean?

I have been asked this question countless times through the years. However, it is a question I am always happy to address with a slightly different and hopefully clearer approach.

‘Estate’ by definition: Originating in Middle English, from Old French and Latin roots; the word estate implies the sense of ‘status, state, condition’ pertaining to property or possessions, particularly as it relates to the legal position or status of an owner.

As land is known as real estate, anything that is not land is broadly defined as “personal property.” Jewelry, Fine Arts, Clothing, Automobiles, Tools and Equipment, Livestock… you get the point. So, from here, we are discussing personal property. Specific to this discussion, gems and jewelry is a subset of personal property.

Within jewelry industry jargon, the terms Estate, Contemporary, Antique, Vintage and Period are often used seemingly interchangeably, and can be confusing. While these terms are interrelated, they do have differences. Bearing in mind that there are no inarguable truths on the subject, I offer the following overview.

Estate Jewelry

Estate jewelry is a term used primarily in secondary market retail or resale, very often part of the ‘estate’ of a decedent. More correctly it is any jewelry that is ‘Pre-Owned’, ‘Second-Hand’, ‘Used-to-Market’. Estate jewelry can be any genre or a combination of genre – Modern, Contemporary, Antique, Vintage or Period.

Contemporary and Vintage:

In many cases, the separation between “Contemporary” and “Vintage” jewelry is vague. “Contemporary” is typically defined as ‘of the [present] time’, but is often supplanted with ‘Modern.’ “Vintage” is generally deemed to be at least 20 to 30 years old. However, one can still recognize many “Mid-Century-Modern” (1950 to present) design influences in contemporary jewelry, art, fashion and architecture!


In nearly all free-market countries, any item of jewelry sold or traded as “Antique” must be approximately 100 or more years old. But many items made in the 1920’s are now considered close-enough to be antique.

Period by definition:

A length or portion of time in the life of a person, nation, or civilization characterized by the same prevalent features or conditions.

Culturally, a “Period” may be defined as a specific span of time, in which particular, distinctive styles and aesthetics emerge, trend and flourish for a time in popularity before yielding to the next change. Each of the various periods defined its unique culture through art, architecture, fashion and jewelry.

Period Timeline

Obviously, the period timelines overlapped and coexisted. The dates are approximated, as there were no hard start-stop dates. Much historical information is exists describing the unique characteristics of each period, and with many varying accounts of important features, people and events. For brevity, I have not included that information here.

The following is a simple list of the most recognized periods.


Georgian Period (Approx. 1700’s – mid-1830’s)

Victorian Period (Approx. 1837 – 1900)

Arts and Crafts Movement (Approx. 1885 – 1923)

Art Nouveau Period (Approx. 1895 – 1915)

Edwardian Period (Approx. 1900 – 1915)

Belle Epoche Period (Approx. 1901 – 1914)

Art Deco Period (Approx. 1920 – 1935)

Retro Period (Approx. 1940 – 1950)


Thank you for reading!

– Quenton Elliott, Jr., G.G.