Is it Vintage, or is it Just Old?

Vintage jewelry is all the rage, but telling the difference between a vintage piece and something old can be difficult. Here are some tips to help you with your jewelry journey.

The term vintage dates back to Middle English. Derived from Latin words vinum (wine) and demere (remove). The word referred to the practice of removing a few of the best bottles of wine for use at a later date. The best vintages of wine sold for more money at celebrations like weddings and so the wineries with celebrated vintages became wealthier and wine culture was born.

The jewelry industry co-opted the word vintage to recognize the best craftsmanship or the most iconic version of a particular style from a particular year or decade. Not every piece of jewelry made is eventually vintage. Likewise, not every antique piece of jewelry is vintage. If a ring, necklace, or bracelet is truly vintage it is an excellent example of its class, time, and construction. Vintage-styled jewelry is often new but made to look like an older piece. Some vintage-styled items are an homage to original designs. Others are vaguely following older design rules but not modeled on specific pieces. These jewelry items may or may not be made well, keep scrolling to learn more…

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It is sometimes difficult to sort the poor replicas from items of quality. Makers marks can help jewelry collectors sort through new and vintage items. Most reputable makers marks are easy to find with a quick Google image search. Makers marks are shorthand used within the jewelry industry that names the producer/designer, the pieces composition, and sometimes when a piece was crafted. Other industries, like the pottery industry, also use makers marks to identify pieces. You can find makers marks in inconspicuous places; on a clasp, on the back of a setting, inside a band, or on the bottom of a vase.

Some countries are renowned for their jewelry skill. Italian artisans produce consistently high-quality silver items. For hundreds of years, the US has been the best place for turquoise pieces. Dubai has taken the top spot for quality gold jewelry, yet Dubai was not always the place to get gold. Sometimes artisans move into new markets and what was once the best place to find quality loses its creative advantage or its quality control. Today, artisans in Mumbai and Surat, India produce the best diamond cuts, however, Antwerp, Belgium held the honor for centuries. As emerging markets change the way the world trades, these centers of excellence shift. Belgium will fight for their title as the diamond capital of the world, but, at least for the past few years, India has usurped their position. Today, the best vintage diamond pieces are from Belgium, but in a quarter-century, the best vintage diamond pieces may well be from India.

Knowing what vintage means, helps jewelry collectors parse out the facts from the advertising used by jewelry sellers. A little bit of jewelry history goes a long way to help build a stunning and authentic collection of high-quality vintage pieces.

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