by Stefanie Powers
Vintage jewelry never seems to go out of style. Whether buyers are sentimental or nostalgic, or just enjoy unique jewelry, there is no denying their popularity. They’re pieces of history that will live on, unlike the latest trends, which come and go.
The Zoe Report recently noted that classic pieces from the past are big this year, along with “revived interpretations” that led jewelry sales for everything from enamel to diamonds to gemstone jewelry. It’s easy to find reproductions, but nothing beats a piece that was created in that period, using the techniques, material and craftsmanship of the day.
While the terms vintage, estate, and antique are used interchangeably, there’s a difference. Estate means it’s been previously owned. And estate jewelry can also be correctly defined as both vintage and antique. Jewelry is considered antique if it’s 100-plus years old; jewelry is vintage if it’s less than 100 years old but more than 50 years old.
Costume jewelry — sometimes called fashion jewelry — is generally mass produced and made from various materials, including plastic, but typically not from precious metals. The name “costume jewelry” became popular in the 1930s. Women adorned themselves in inexpensive pieces that made them feel special without breaking the bank. For example, Bakelite, a fire-resistant plastic, was made into chunky, colorful jewelry in the 1930s and 40s and is still hugely popular.
Brooches were once very popular. While they aren’t worn as much nowadays, there’s a lovely trend where brides carry a “bouquet” of vintage brooches, often belonging to beloved family members, instead of flowers. There are many other uses for brooches, pendants and earrings. Pin or sew them on a throw pillow to add a touch of glamour in your bedroom. Create a beautiful, sentimental Christmas pillow from holiday costume jewelry. Brooches or large pendants can be transformed into unique cocktail rings. Use your imagination to create any size or style by gluing your pieces onto a ring blank (found at craft stores).
Today, most modern jewelry is cast. This means it’s formed by pouring liquid metal into pre-made molds. The advantage of casting jewelry is that more can be made for less money. But antique and vintage jewelry were almost always hand-made or at the very least (in the case of newer, vintage jewelry) hand-finished.
Wearing vintage makes a distinctive style statement. Anyone can select a piece of modern jewelry, but it’s so much more rewarding to go out of your way to track down a beautiful older piece that no one else has. And buying vintage is also more sustainable. The significant resources required to mine gemstones and precious metals make it hard to produce jewelry in an environmentally friendly way. Buying older jewelry is actually a “green” thing!
Vintage costume/antique jewelry is easy to find. Antique stores usually sell good estate jewelry; some contemporary jewelry stores have an estate section. Pawn shops only sell pre-worn pieces. Thrift shops carry costume pieces that are usually snatched up quickly. Of course, the biggest market is online. Do a Google search and . . . happy hunting!