What to call old jewelry: vintage or collectible?

In my first post on the shifting sands of estate jewelry terminology, experts set us straight on the terms estate, antique and vintage. Two well-known Manhattan jewelry dealers, Peter Schaffer and Janet Mavec, weigh in on the estate debate.

Collectible jewelry. Here’s one that really drives jewelry dealers crazy. Schaffer  participated in a symposium once with Stephen Lash, chairman of Christies America. When the organizers sent the title for the symposium: ‘The Art of Collectibles,’” Schaffer recalls, “Steven Lash and I screamed bloody murder: ‘Please don’t call it ‘collectibles!’”

Collectible, he explains, is just a step away from estate. “To me, estate jewelry is the sort of stuff Fred Leighton would want to remake or push the stone out of to use in another piece.”

Vintage jewelry. What does the word “vintage” mean, applied to jewelry? “Nothing really,” Schaffer says. “Although I kind of like that better.”

“Vintage, to me, implies costume jewelry,” says Mavec. “It goes along with vintage clothes, vintage handbags, vintage accessories. I don’t deal in seventies or eighties jewelry, so I don’t use that term.”

Used jewelry. Fine jewelry auctions are one place where the adjective “used” carries added value, in the form of provenance. This is especially true if the jewelry was owned and worn by someone famous, but regardless, there is cachet to buying something that’s been around before. Thus, auction houses generated some complaints when they began including newly manufactured jewelry in their catalogues.

The words “new” or “used” rarely appear in auction catalogs or web sites, although there is plenty of new merchandise turning up in both. Many buyers assume that when a piece from an old but still active house like Graff or Cartier appears at auction, it’s vintage. It is always worth asking.

Is it time to redefine terms?

Schaffer says yes. “Estate jewelry has to be divided into at least two categories and you’ve got to make a definition of quality.” He uses the example of a 1957 piece by Jean Schlumberger, the famed Tiffany designer, which he bought and showed the archivist at Tiffany & Co. “Legally, I suppose, that piece should  be called ‘estate jewelry,’” Schaffer says. “But when the archivist saw it, he did handsprings and double flips. He’d grown up seeing the photograph of the drawing for this piece and always wanted to see the real thing. It’s a great jewel. How do you rate jewels?”

2 comments for “What to call old jewelry: vintage or collectible?

  1. January 6, 2010 at 2:51 am

    I love to watch Antiques Roadshow, when they have old jewelry. Now I will have to pay attention to what adjective they use to describe it!

  2. January 4, 2012 at 4:56 am

    my husband got a white gold ring with round diamond it has 14k
    14k PAT FL E (heart lock) DONT KNOW MUCH I LOVE IT FOUND A SIMILAR PIC THE RING SAYS OLD STYLE EUROPEAN STYLE ENGAGEDMAND THANK YOU
    ????????????????? PLEASE HELP

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