Vintage Vibes: How Can You Tell If Jewelry Is Vintage?

Fashion is an ever-changing, ever-evolving field. However, if there’s one constant in the industry, it’s that fashion trends are cyclical. They run the gamut between widespread adoption and obsolescence before surging back to the surface because everything old is new again.

Jewelry may not seem as beholden to the laws of fickle fashion trends as clothing, but it goes through its own cycles, even on so-called “timeless” pieces.

So, how can you tell if the old brooch or necklace your grandmother gave to you is an outdated eyesore or an appealing vintage piece? What makes a piece of jewelry “vintage”? Here’s what you need to know.

Clarifying Terms: Antique vs Vintage

When discussing older jewelry, two terms often get tossed around as if they’re interchangeable. These terms are antique and vintage. While throughout the article, we’ll use “vintage” as a shorthand for older jewelry, there is a difference between them.

Any piece of jewelry older than a hundred years old or so is classified as an antique. Vintage jewelry is any piece that is older than forty years old from the time of appraisal. This means that any piece from the nineteen twenties or earlier is now an antique, and anything from the eighties or before can now get considered “vintage”.

Common Vintage Jewelry Styles

There are many styles that are popular among vintage jewelry collectors. Below, we’ve compiled a list of the most common vintage jewelry styles and how you can identify them at a glance. These styles include, but are by no means limited to:

  • Art Deco: Characterized by clear, defined lines and strong, angular shapes
  • Retro: Easily spotted by their large, sparkling, almost costume-like shapes and designs
  • Mid-Century: A style of jewelry characterized by jagged lines and textured metals
  • Contemporary: Pieces from the eighties and beyond, often composed of a mix of styles and materials

There are older, more expensive jewelry styles like Victorian, Edwardian, and Art Nouveau. However, as these styles are over a hundred years old, jewelry stores would sell them as antiques, not vintage pieces.

Check the Manufacturing Methods

The methods used to manufacture a piece of jewelry can vary from maker to maker. However, certain methods stand as hallmarks of the era in which a piece was made. Obviously, modern-day sterling silver pieces like those from will show signs of machine cutting and manufacturing.

In general, you can count on any jewelry bearing the signs of hand-carved stone or hand-engraving to hail from the nineteen hundreds or so. If the gemstone in the jewelry shows hallmarks of machine cutting, it’s from the early nineteen hundreds or later. Pieces with at least 9k gold would be considered “real gold” in the UK, but not in the US, so 9k gold can be a sign that the jewelry was made in the UK.

Also check– Swarovski

Look for the Marks of Real Jewelry

Older pieces of jewelry pulled from your grandmother’s jewelry box can bear many marks on them which can prove confusing to the untrained eye. Gold and silver jewelry often bear purity marks to indicate the percentage of the metal present in the jewelry itself. This can take the form of two digits and a karat symbol or three digits intended to serve as a percentage.

Artisans love to label their work, so if you see what looks like a Maker’s Mark on a piece of jewelry, consider taking it to local jewelry stores to get evaluated. Once it’s repaired and polished, you might be surprised by what it’s worth!

Discern the Metals and Materials Used

Certain metals and materials didn’t enter popular usage until a specific era, so their use can serve as an exceptional dating tool. Some common materials that can accurately date a piece include:

Camphor Glass

Despite its name, camphor glass looks more like a frosted stone than an actual piece of glass. That’s due to the hydrofluoric acid used to treat it and give it that distinctive, frosted-windowpane look. This material first appeared during the late eighteen hundreds, most often on pieces of mourning jewelry. Such pieces often have filigreed frames of white gold or silver.


Bakelite first arrived on the scene after its creation in New York in 1907. As the first synthetic plastic, it saw wide use in household items and jewelry due to its wide spectrum of colors available. Strange as it may seem to consider plastic valuable on a piece of jewelry, as the first plastic, bakelite is a major collector’s item.


If you see the term paste stones used in jewelry stores, what they mean is a rhinestone. Once upon a time, paste stones were made from rock crystals ground together. Over time, these stones came to be made from crystal glass and plastics. This makes paste stones an effective dating tool, as older ones will more than likely use actual rocks ground into a paste rather than plastic.


Palladium burst onto the jewelry scene during the thirties due to the shortage of platinum created by military operations. As such, any piece of jewelry made with palladium will date from the thirties and forties or later. It’s a lighter material than platinum and retains its color better than white gold, making it better for long-term wear.

Foil Opals

These days, the term “foil opal” gets thrown around to describe any faux opal. However, the term originally referred to a simulacrum of a gemstone made from glass and a thin piece of shimmery metal. With a clever application, the result would seem almost indistinguishable from a true opal.

These foil opals rose to prominence during the later periods of the Victorian era. They’re also popular in costume jewelry nowadays.

How to Tell Your Jewelry Is Vintage: Let’s Review So, before you start googling “jewelry store near me” to sell that old piece of jewelry, make sure you examine the materials and markings on it to determine its age. If, on the other hand, you want to know how to wear your gorgeous pieces of vintage jewelry, check out our blog each day for more articles like this!