Published 11/16/2020 by Kyra Hensley

When you hear that the talk of the town is “vintage” jewelry, you’ve probably asked yourself: what exactly is vintage jewelry? Most people confuse the terms "retro", "vintage" and "antique" when examining jewelry. While they can be easily confused, we're here to help you figure out what you’re shopping for and which style is best for you and your wardrobe or needs.

Retro Jewelry 

Retro jewelry matches up with the styles of the past but is not authentic. Many people think retro means recent out of style jewelry, such as pieces from the 80s or 90s, but that’s not the case. So don’t get your wires crossed! 

For example, an Art Deco style ring that was manufactured recently is not an antique or vintage piece. It’s retro because it was fabricated later in time and isn’t original to the time period. That doesn’t mean it’s any less fashionable or fabulous, but it’s an important distinction for the history behind the object. 

Antique Jewelry 

These authentic jewelry pieces were manufactured before the year 1910. Most people say that antique jewelry is Victorian (1837-1901) or Edwardian (1901-1914), but it could technically go back further, assuming you can find a piece in good condition. British fashion has had a lot to say about the fashions around the rest of the world, including the fairly young United States. 

Vintage Jewelry 

These authentic jewelry pieces were manufactured from the 1920s to the 1970s. In order to be considered vintage, jewelry must be at least 20 years old.  And very soon, the styles of the 2000s may be part of the vintage collection themselves. What most people mean by vintage, however, is the earlier jewelry pieces of the roaring 20s. Some also describe these jewelry fashions as “classic”. 

Ready for a fun fact? In order for a piece to truly be considered vintage or antique, it must have at least 50% of the original materials intact. Repairs to clasps or metal work can prevent jewelry from being classified as vintage or antique, but repaired jewelry is still a stylish addition to any outfit. 

Vintage Jewelry Through The Ages

When adding to your vintage collection, you’ll want to know the differences between all the ages that are classified as “vintage”. After all, a lot of elements go into creating the jewelry of the time period. From overseas fashions to the material availability… even important historical events like the Great Depression and World Wars have had lasting impacts on the jewelry world. 

Knowing what beaded beauties were popular in the 40s will help when you’re glancing through thrift shop jewelry trying to find the right vintage piece for your collection. So follow along with us as we blast through the past, starting with the 1920s and 1930s. 

1920s

Ah, the Roaring Twenties. A time of flappers, jazz music, and prosperity in America. The Art Deco jewelry of the 20s are still well-loved by fashionistas today.

  • Art Deco style. Think geometric shapes and bold, contrasting colors. 
  • Lariat necklaces: necklaces that loop in the front instead of using clasps. 
  • Drop earrings.
  • Rings with square-faceted gems. 

1930s

While the 30s were challenged by the financial struggles of the Great Depression, fashion stayed steady, but there were a few changes that took place:  

  • Dress clips. 
  • Filigree metal with imitation gemstones. 
  • Tutti frutti jewelry pieces, a combination of colorful glass gemstone imitations.
  • Smooth, streamlined curves in jewelry rather than sharp lines of Art Deco.

1940s

The coming of World War II drastically altered fashion in the 1940s. This period was also a time of great change for women. But as times changed, so did jewelry tastes:

  • Bakelite jewelry. Synthetic plastic replaced metals, to conserve them for the war effort. 
  • Patriotic styles, like flags and stars. 
  • Feminine jewelry to dress up the simple and uniform clothing of the period. 
  • Floral designs. 
  • Bib necklaces.
  • Cocktail rings.

1950s

Post-war, jewelry styles didn’t change too much. The style of the 50s has been regarded as a time of sophistication and simple elegance, due to the powerful influence of elegant movie stars. Here’s some of the fashion highlights of the 50s.

  • Matching jewelry sets called parures.
  • Gold jewelry continues to be well-loved at this time. 
  • Pearls regain popularity because of the fashion stylings of Audrey Hepburn. Honestly, #goals, am I right? 
  • Rhinestones add a bit of bling to everything, brightening up costume jewelry and adding sparkle to the sophisticated styles of the time. 

1960s

The Hippie movement brought flowers and bright colors to the forefront of 60’s fashion. Let’s see what other fun looks came out of the 1960s:

  • Pop and op art greatly inspired the jewelry and fashions of the time.
  • Geometric shapes like circles, hexagons, and diamonds
  • Large colorful hoop earrings made of lightweight plastic
  • Beaded necklaces of various sizes and bright colors. 
  • Two words- Bangle. Bracelets. 

1970s

The 1970s was a time of great change for our nation. And you better believe that jewelry tastes changed a lot as well. Here’s some of the glam that the 70s brought into the fashion world: 

  • Think sparkly and dramatic for 70’s fashion, like rhinestone jewelry and statement bracelets. 
  • Layered necklaces from chokers around the neck all the way to long pendant chains. 
  • Mood rings. Who could forget the dazzling effect of the mood ring? 
  • Bold hoop earrings in gold, silver and vibrant colors. 

How To Style Vintage Jewelry

Now that you know the history of vintage jewelry, you’re ready to pull these fashions of the past into your present wardrobe. It’s not hard to style vintage jewelry to match the modern style, especially if you follow these fashion tips: 

  1. Whether you’re wearing a set of 70s bangles or a single statement bracelet, you’ve got to style your outfit according. Long sleeves aren’t great for wearing a bracelet, because it covers up your bling. Pair your vintage bracelets with short sleeves for a look that is sure to dazzle and impress.
     
  2. With so many lengths of necklaces out there, layering is always an option. For a look that shines, try to match metal types. But if you decide to mix and match, keep the metal colors to two. After that, it all comes down to making sure that the lengths and thicknesses don’t steal the show from any other necklace.
     
  3. A girl can never have too many rings. At least we don’t think so! Pair cocktail rings with some simple stacking rings for a powerful look that will wow the crowds. Mix and match gemstone colors, or just stick with one stone type. Trust us, you can’t go wrong with rings.
     
  4. Matching your earrings with the rest of your jewelry is a must. Don’t be afraid to keep it simple with vintage hoops and a gold chain. Or go all out with matching gemstones in vintage drop earrings, a pendant necklace, and a bracelet for a sophisticated look that will make you the belle of the ball.

Before we finish up this style guide on vintage jewelry, we want to tell you two important things to keep in mind when styling (and buying) vintage jewelry.

Try to keep your style consistent with the jewelry era. With the information we provided, it should be easy to figure out the era of the piece that you’re buying. Matching Art Deco pieces together keeps your style streamlined and consistent. And the simple stylings of the 50s tend to look best when worn with other gold and pearl pieces. So pay attention to the pieces you pair. Trust us, it’ll pay off. 

And last but not least, dare to be different. Try vintage jewelry pieces that are out of the box and make it your own. Not every vintage jewelry piece will speak to you, but the ones that do? They belong in your jewelry box, ready to be worn loud and proud at your next party. 

Sharing what you know now about vintage jewelry and identifying the era will give you all sorts of trivia and fun facts to pass along to your girlfriends. Give your vintage jewelry another reason to shine brighter than ever before!

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