Learn About the Eras of Antique and Vintage Jewelry

Although there is some disagreement about precise dates and categories, these seem to be the most agreed-upon definitions of the historical periods of antique and vintage fine and collectible jewelry in the English speaking world.  Often these periods overlap and of course changes in styles can often be more nuanced and gradual than these categorizations might suggest.  However, for the practical purpose of understanding the history of antique jewelry, these are the best definitions as I see them.  I have also given an approximate overview of some of the basic characteristics of each period which I will be adding to overtime, so if you find this useful as a reference please do keep checking back in.

Georgian Jewelry (1714-1837)


Christie’s Sale 5388, 13 June 2012, London, King Street

Some characteristics of Georgian jewelry:  gems set in gold / claw settings for paste / Motifs included bows, flowers, giardinetti, feathers, leaves, arrows, quivers, lyres / cannetille work / types of jewelry included stomachers, aigrettes, girandoles, chatelaines, buckles, buttons, pendeloque earrings, pairs of bracelets, necklaces secured by ribbons, slides and rings, enamel work/ Etruscan revival beginning 1830

Victorian Jewelry (1837 – 1901)

Victorian Jewelry can be further broken down to:

Early Victorian Romantic jewelry 1837-1860

Mid-Victorian Grand jewelry 1861-1880

Late Victorian Aesthetic jewelery 1880-1900

A Victorian coral demi-parure

Christie’s Sale 8127, 16 January 2013, London, South Kensington
A Victorian coral demi-parure

Some characteristics of Victorian jewelry: Gemstones such as diamonds, emeralds, coral, amethyst, garnet, turquoise / Tortoiseshell / Human hair / Sentimental and nostalgic items / Black and dark colored mourning jewelry / Matching sets (parures) / Cameos / pique / Jet / Revival themes that took their  inspiration from ancient cultures (Egyptian, Greek, Roman, Gothic, Renaissance, Assyrian, Etruscan), Canetille continued.

Arts & Crafts Jewelry 1894-1923


Christie’s sale 7634, The London Sale: Jewels, 10 December 2008, London, King Street
Arts & Crafts Opal Pendant

Some Characteristics of Arts & Crafts Jewelry:  Hand-worked / lack of mechanization / natural materials / simple designs / colorful uncut stones / rejection of Industrial Revolution / often silver

Art Nouveau Jewelry 1890 – 1914

Brooch/pendant, carved opal, demantoid garnet, diamonds, 18k yg, platinum, c. 1890, a circ carved opal depicting a sea nymph, rising/setting sun with circ-cut diamond center, and ocean waves, with grad oe diamond border above and demantoid-set yg foliate wreath border surmounted by two stylized fish below, three hidden pendant loops, sgd "Marcus & Co."

Brooch/pendant with carved opal, demantoid garnet, diamonds, 18k yellow gold, and platinum, c. 1890. A carved opal depicting a sea nymph with ocean waves by Marcus & Co.

Some characteristics of Art Nouveau jewelry: Curves / Natural motifs / Mythical creatures such as dragons, mermaids, fairies and sprites / Gems such as pearls, opal, moonstone, aquamarine, tourmaline, rose quartz, chalcedony, chyrsoprase, and amethyst / Enamel /Glass/The female form and face / Long pearl strands / no diamonds

Edwardian or Garland Jewelry 1901-1915


Christie’s Sale 7853, Jewels – The London Sale, 9 June 2010, London, King Street

Some characteristics of Edwardian or Garland Jewelry: More ostentatious display of wealth / diamonds, emeralds and rubies / bow, garland, leaf motifs / intricate detailing / platinum settings

Art Deco Jewelry (1920-1939)

An Art Deco diamond, emerald and onyx ring

Christie’s Sale 6704, 5 September 2012, London, South Kensington
Art Deco diamond, emerald and onyx ring

Some characteristics of Art Deco Jewelry: Bold geometric designs / Vertical lines / Contrasting primary colors / Gemstones included diamonds, black onyx, lapis lazuli, rubies, emeralds, sapphires, jade, torquoise, topaz / Cabochon and carved gemstones / Amber, bakelite, celluloid and enamel work.

Retro or Cocktail Jewelry (1940-1959)

Retro Gold, Ruby and Diamond Clip Brooch by Chaumet
18 karat gold, platinum, ruby and diamond clip brooch by Chaumet, circa 1945.

Some characters of Retro or Cocktail Jewelry: Motifs included stylized flowers, animals and bows as well as mechanical motifs such as tank treads, padlocks and chains/ Enamel work / Jeweled brooches / Thin sheets of gold created to conserve metal whilst giving an impression of substances / Gemstones were often small and included diamonds, synthetic rubies and light sapphires / Rose gold / bold / inspired by Hollywood / chunky, raised gemstones / synthetic gems / patriotic themes / large and gold / brooches / wide bangles

Modernist Jewelry (1930-1960)


Ed Wiener modernist jewelry sterling silver brooch with stone
C. late 1940’s – early 1950’s
Some characteristics of Modernist Jewelry: Rejected the ‘fussiness’, feminine and decorative styles of Art Nouveau / Rejected the rigidity and structure of Art Deco / Inspired by ‘Art’ (sculpture and painting) / Often worked in silver and copper / No concern for value of materials, not used to express wealth / Used found objects / Surreal motifs /Geometric or biomorphic / Masculine / Semi-precious stones such as garnets and opals and unusual stones such as cat’s eye / African and cubist motifs / Primal forms / Unexpected materials such as acrylic and wood / Influenced by Bauhaus, Surrealist and Dadist / Hand-working and one of a kind designs