In the Loupe: A Guide to Estate Jewelry

One of Abshire and Haylan’s gems is our large estate section. We have created a guide to help you identify and understand what you can find in estate jewelry.

There are two different types of estate jewelry. Antique is used to describe jewelry that was made more than 100 years ago; anything newer than that is described as vintage. The jewelry may be in one of several styles/ time periods.

Georgian: This style of jewelry lasted from 1714 to 1837, during the reign of George I to William IV in England. It consisted mostly of silver and 18K gold that was hand fabricated into jewelry. Many stones were set in silver backed with gold to reduce the appearance of tarnishing. Often times, a thin foil was adhered to the back of the stone to enhance the sparkle. The most popular stones consisted of diamonds, sapphires, garnets, and amethysts, as well as cameos and paste or glass imitations. The chatelaine was very common during this time for women to wear. It is an ornament from which household essentials would hang, such as keys, a watch, scissors, and sewing instruments. This would be attached to a skirt. Very few items remain from this period.

Victorian: The Victorian Era was from 1837 to 1901, during Queen Victoria’s rule. Within it are three distinct periods; the Early, Middle, and Late Periods. The Early Period jewelry was typically made of 18K or higher gold, Pinchbeck (an alloy of copper and zinc), and silver. The industrial revolution had begun and brought new processes such as gold electroplating. The jewelry was often sentimental and delicate. Acrostic jewelry, which used the first letter of gemstones to spell out a word, became popular. After the death of Prince Albert, mourning jewelry came into style, beginning the Middle Period. Amethysts, diamonds, jet (fossilized wood), onyx, and garnets were commonly used during this time. Granulation started to appear in jewelry again and post earrings were making their debut. As mourning for the prince came to an end, the Late Period began. At this point, most jewelry was being machine produced, allowing for large but light designs. Gold, silver, and platinum were commonly used. Most notably, Tiffany and CO. released the diamond solitaire engagement ring. 

Edwardian: The Edwardian Era was very short, ending soon after 1914 with World War I. It was characterized by platinum and diamond jewelry. The designs were feminine and delicate, often based on traditional work with a high level of detail. In 1903 right after the Edwardian Era began, the oxyacetylene torch was invented, allowing for better control with platinum. This led to minimalist settings and a decorative technique called millegraining, which creates small beads of metal.

Art Nouveau
: The Art Nouveau/ Arts and Crafts style took place during the end of the Victorian Era and the Edwardian Era. It was a more artistic approach that celebrated the craftsmanship of handmade work. Natural curves and enamel were prominent, taking the focus away from gemstones, which had become the focal point.

Art Deco: Art Deco was a style that began with World War I and ended around 1935. Women took over men’s roles during the war and won the right to vote. Jewelry designs took on bold, geometric looks. Platinum was the metal of choice but white gold was a cheaper alternative. Caliber cut stones (stones cut for a specific design) became essential elements. Sapphires, rubies, and emeralds were used to accent diamonds. It was during this time period that the round brilliant cut was developed.

: The Retro Style started in 1935 during the Great Depression and lasted until 1950. It is characterized by bold and large jewelry to give the appearance of value. Semi-precious stones such as amethyst, aquamarine, and citrine were commonly used. Rhinestones, glass, and plastic were used in place of expensive gems. When World War II began, platinum was declared a strategic material by the United States, making gold the metal of choice. Retro jewelry was feminine and reflected the Hollywood styles.

Mid-Century Modern: Beginning in the 1950’s, Mid-Century Modern reflected the rise of the middle class. It began around the time that DeBeers launched the “diamonds are forever” slogan. Styles range from geometric to organic. This style brought platinum and diamonds back into popularity. Texture was very popular in this era, in contrast to the Retro Style.

Visit our showroom to shop for many of these antique and vintage estate jewelry styles.