Whenever prospective buyers come into my Beverley R Jewelry shop and ask about vintage jewelry, my first question is, “What do you mean by vintage jewelry?”
The term “vintage jewelry” has come to be viewed as synonymous with “antique jewelry”, which is not the case. The word “vintage” originally was always connected to wine, and specifically, as to the date when the wine was bottled or the grapes were grown. But when one is talking about vintage jewelry, different people have different ideas as to what it means. There is a lot of ambiguity surrounding the definition of “vintage jewelry”. Some believe that vintage jewelry describes pieces that are over 50 years old, but are not yet 100 years old, as they would then be classified as antique jewelry.
Others believe that when people refer to vintage jewelry they are referring to pieces over twenty years old. While yet others believe that vintage jewelry is really just collectible jewelry, and that can basically mean anything from pre-owned to brand new. I have very often found when you hear the term vintage jewelry for sale, what the vendor actually means, is that they know very little about the authenticity provenance or time period of the piece of jewelry they are selling, but by saying vintage jewelry it makes the piece sound much more important, and therefore more saleable.
I have always described my shop as carrying “fine antique” and “period jewelry”, as opposed to “vintage jewelry”. The reason being that the vast majority of my pieces are from the 1800's and early 1900's, which is classified as Victorian and Edwardian jewelry. The rest of my jewelry is from definite periods recognized amongst jewelers; that is to say the art deco jewelry of the 1920's and 1930's, or retro jewelry from the mid to late 1940's and 50's.
Vintage, in my opinion, is a word that has been taken over by those in marketing to give the impression that a piece is older and rarer than it actually is. It is similar to another expression that I recently came across, which also gives the impression of age, but can in actual fact mean very contemporary pieces of jewelry: “post medieval”.
To conclude, there is a legal expression, caveat emptor, which means “buyer beware”. If you are looking to purchase an older, more collectable piece of jewelry, and you are told it is vintage jewelry, be sure to get more details from the person selling the piece, especially to a definite date or period to which they think the piece belongs to. If you are purchasing, make sure that the information given to you is written on the invoice.