Jewelry School: Antique & Vintage Jewelry

How to identify antique and vintage jewelry: Jewelry  School

Do you love antique jewelry? For centuries, we women have adored wearing elegant, beautiful jewelry to add a little embellishment to our fashionable clothing. I love and wear antique jewelry every day. Some of it has been “re~purposed” by local jewelry artists and designers whom I admire and want to support. There is so much to learn, know and love about jewelry and its history, I will focus on what we love here at FrenchGardenHouse, and answer some of the many questions I get every week from all of you about what is antique? what is vintage? and what does “estate” mean when pertaining to jewelry? 


1. Antique Jewelry. I follow the antique industry standard that in order for jewelry to be called Antique…it needs to be 100 years old, or more. {There are many dealers who count jewelry over 75 years antique, most jewelry book authors tend to consider anything dating before the 1930’s as antique.}


The jewelry I love most is either Georgian {1714 ~ 1830, often extended to include the reign of William IV, which ended in 1837}, or Victorian {Alexandrina Victoria, crowned Queen Victoria of England, held her subjects in thrall from 1837 ~ 1901.}

Georgian Jewelry: 1714 ~ 1830

Most of the Georgian pieces are extremely costly, and seldom come in a price range I can afford to purchase for the shop, since most were made with diamonds, rubies and other gemstones, and 18 kt. gold, jewelry was made for the very wealthy only during this period. Pieces include those beautiful Eye portrait brooches, hand painted portrait necklaces and brooches, and woven hair mourning pieces set with pearls.

Victorian Jewelry: 1837 ~1901

Queen Victoria wore jewelry every day, abundantly!  Her court was lively and filled with all sorts of balls, luncheons, teas, dinners and other events. She had a great love for jewelry, as a girl, gifts to her on special occasions were almost always of jewelry and accessories.  Even many of the Crown Jewels and treasures from prior generations of royals were re~designed and re~set to suit Victoria. The Queen set the standard and trends for fashion, her image was in the papers, in periodicals, printed on medallions, ribbons, and other souvenir type items. Victoria’s fashion, and her jewelry, influenced the world.

reginaDuring Victoria’s reign, the finer jewelry continued to be made, but for the {moving to} upper and middle class society, slightly more affordable jewelry was created. Made from 12 kt, 10 kt, or 9 kt gold, or rolled gold {a thin sheet of gold attached to another metal} pieces were set with semi~precious gems such as amethyst, garnets, and pearls. These beautiful pieces were much beloved and worn by almost every lady, on a daily basis.

Even the less monied ladies {and gentlemen} were able to purchase jewelry for the first time ever. Base metals made to look like gold {pinchbeck, invented by London clockmaker Christopher Pinchbeck} allowed ordinary people to buy “gold” within their budget and was set with glass stones.  Imitating the more expensive jewelry pieces, this jewelry, too, was meant to last and be handed down to the next generations.
The Victorians were extremely sentimental, their life expectancy was quite a bit shorter than ours today, and their children often died in childbirth or from diseases while still quite young. They attached great importance to most everything about their families, and wore mementoes of their loved ones in heaven on a daily basis close to their heart.  Favorite pieces were lockets, brooches with hidden areas to keep a loved one’s lock of hair, friendship bracelets and charms, and mourning pieces made of jet, bog oak, vulcanite and {very, very rare to find!} gutta percha.vulcanitejewelry

Watch Fobs were used mostly by gentlemen, but also by ladies, to hold their pocket watches.  Made of everything from 18kt. gold to gold filled and sterling silver, they were personalized for the wearer by the addition of seals for wax impressions, fobs, and charms. Wonderful to find today, they are easily worn as unusual bracelets to compliment your most elegant outfit. Wearing a bit of history is a lovely way to accessorize!


There is a wide range, in a variety of price points, of Victorian jewelry. Every “class” level is highly collectible, and each one is a joy to wear! {more about that later} Many times I will have a beautiful antique pendant or locket made into a one of a kind necklace by an artist for your enjoyment. These are either pieces with a hand made chain, or an “assembled” piece with the addition of newer beads, chains and other design elements to bring these treasures from long ago into your today to wear and enjoy.

art nouveau locketArt Nouveau Locket:  The Art Nouveau movement {1890–1910} favored free flowing lines, that were meant to suggest movement, and was the interpretation of shapes and lines found in feminine curves, a lady’s face, flowers and plants, everything that flowed, moved and undulated in nature.


These are all examples of true antique watch keys, lockets and fobs, made into wearable art pieces of the past by adding an artisan made necklace or chain.


1. Vintage Jewelry. Currently jewelry from 1916 and on. Most jewelry collectors consider that vintage jewelry needs to be at least 25 years old. Of all the vintage jewelry we sell here at FrenchGardenHouse, it is the pieces from the Art Deco era that I love best.

Art Deco: 1920 ~ 1940

Distinctly modern, Art Deco was known as “the style between the wars” and dates from 1920 ~ end of 1930. Geometric, and streamlined, it was a complete departure of the Art Nouveau style with its flowing lines. Elegant, in a bold way, with straight lines, rectangles, triangles and squares, but also arrows, circles and arcs, these pieces were often made with bakelite {early plastic}, white metals, rhinestones and other innovative new materials.  The style truly had many variations, from the typical geometric forms to more feminine shapes. Brooches were especially beloved with Flapper ladies, you will be able to find more Art Deco brooches and pins than any other form of jewelry from that period.


Art Deco Necklace {bracelet is not shown} that showcases the white metal, rhinestones, geometric and circular motifs so beloved by the Art Deco jewelry designers.


This locket, from the same Art Deco era, still holds onto a slightly more romantic design ethic, with the hand painted rose on the guilloche enamel. Again, sterling silver {white color} metal is used, and the shape is quite a bit more streamlined than pieces from the Victorian era.

Another favorite of mine: Shoe Buckles. In the late 1920’s, hemlines rose, and elegant rhinestone encrusted shoe buckles were very trendy with the Hollywood “in crowd”. Starlets were adorned with rhinestones and sparkling gems from head to toe, where they could be seen and admired by all. Sometimes called “Hollywood” Buckles, sparkling clips like this were much beloved, collectible gifts for a special young lady.

At times, when I come across a stunning pair of Deco Shoebuckles, I sell them as is.  Others, when found without its partner, are made into head turning one of a kind bracelets. What fun! I know your spirited Flapper great grandmother or grandmother would approve! bucklebracelet

Of course there are many other vintage pieces, some signed, and highly collectible, others not. There are beautiful creations to wear on your suit blazer, on a ribbon, or simply to pin on a favorite sweater. I am a firm believer that a little bit of bling goes a long way. I think doing chores wearing a knock out pin that sparkles and shines makes even vacuuming a more fun job.


fghplacemarker1. Estate Jewelry.

This term can mean anything from a practically new piece to something very old.   A standard industry definition is anything that is made, pre-owned and then resold.  As is. My Estate Jewelry will always mention “estate” which means I personally bought it from an estate auction or dealer, and I consider it to be of the highest quality. estatee

 Stunning Estate {vintage} Champagne & Ice Earringscameoestate

 Many of the cameo’s I sell, if they are not antique, are Estate pieces.


Even experts differ in their opinion about what is called antique or vintage,  but with some knowledge and a little research, you should be able to identify your antique or vintage piece of jewelry. And, now you know exactly what we consider antique and vintage here at FrenchGardenHouse.  I offer a lovely selection of both classic Victorian, Edwardian and Vintage Jewelry that will add joy to your day, some are amazing “head turners”, some whisper quietly of their past lives, but all of them are guaranteed to add feminine beauty to your haute couture!

Jewelry is fun to collect. Not just lovely and graceful, it has an infinite variety of shapes and colors, and an amazing history. Jewelry is not just a history of design and fashion through the ages, jewelry is a history of women’s hopes and dreams.

NEXT WEEK: I will show you how to wear antique jewelry. xo

Shop for the best in French Antiques, furniture with the patina of age, vintage accessories to delight you and your family & friends, and French Country utilitarian pieces. Treasures that make your home fresh, beautiful, inspirational and uniquely yours.Visit our shop

18 thoughts on “Jewelry School: Antique & Vintage Jewelry”

  1. Eleanor

    Thank you so much, is thoroughly enjoyed this lesson in jewelry eras. I am looking forward to more, it’s exciting to learn about my jewelry. It’s what I appreciate about your website, you do research and always describe what you sell so well. I am going to shop, you have some beautiful victorian pockets for sale. Thank you.

    1. Thank you, Eleanor, and thanks too, for taking the time to leave a comment. I emailed you back regarding the paste lockets.

  2. Danielle Laseur

    Lidy, thank you for sharing your wealth of knowledge. I wear my jewelry I bought from you all the time, especially the sterling bracelets.

    1. Danielle, I’m so glad to hear you love and wear the jewelry, the sterling bracelets are still amongst my very favorites! I wear mine almost every day.

  3. Tammy Rey

    I just love your jewelry style Lidy! This was so interesting, thank you. I love mixing old with new.

    1. Thanks for taking the time to leave a comment Tammy. I love mixing old with new too, and we are so lucky that there are “no rules” these days. xo

  4. I enjoyed your articles about antique jewelry. I have been given several boxes of costume jewelry . Some I found to be from the 20’s others older. Some from 50’s and 60’s. It is all from my mother-in -laws estate. Lots of fun going through all of it.

  5. Nicolette

    Great article, thank you for the knowledge, and for sharing yours with us. You always have such beautiful jewelry, I love the mosaic brooches, and the watch fob necklaces and lockets too. On my “wish” list!

  6. Patricia

    I have a shoebox full of old jewelry. There is no way I can afford the $40 + fee to have each piece appraised that so many dealers charge. Often the internet is no help either because (of course) my pieces are not listed on the inventories. They date from the very early 1900s to the 1970s. Any suggestions for finding out if they are valuable?

  7. Patricia,

    Unfortunately, there is no quick free way to figure out what your jewelry is worth. I suggest you educate yourself as much as you can about your jewelry. Visit jewelry dealers at antique shops, scour internet sites, google like crazy and perhaps invest in one or two books on the type of jewelry you have. It is work, but you will be amazed at what you can learn. Good luck!

  8. Wow, I’m simply amazed by how beautiful these jewelry pieces are. They’re just so classically elegant! I’d love to be wearing something like that white and gold pendant around my neck. I would definitely stand out from other people!

  9. All the pieces I have bought from FrenchGardenHouse remain a favorite. If only I had two of me, I could get more! Looking forward to receiving my Cameo bracelet.

  10. Mimi Hurst

    Enjoyed the information and look forward to the next “lesson”!!

  11. Mary C Hines

    This was very helpful. I inherited my mother’s jewlery and it included my great grandmother’s as well. I ended up the only girl. I have heard stories about some pieces, but no clue what I really have. How can I tell the difference between crystal and glass stones, and even more important the real thing?

    1. How fortunate you are to have inherited your mother and grandmother’s jewelry! It isn’t that easy to tell the difference between some really good “paste” {not rhinestones} stones and diamonds, there were exceptional gold and sterling pieces made with paste. Crystals tend to sparkle much brighter than glass, but I think that if you have any questions about whether stones are diamonds or gemstones, the best thing would be to ask your local jeweler.

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