A Guide to Heirloom Jewelry

A Guide to Heirloom Jewelry

Many special occasions warrant gifting a precious piece of heirloom jewelry. Perhaps you’ve received a sentimental piece as a graduation present, or a priceless family collection was saved for your wedding day. Whatever the event may be that brought you your particular piece, you’re likely wondering what your options are now. We’ve put together a guide to help you understand the differences between older jewelry pieces and options to consider helping you choose your next steps.

Classifying Types of Older Jewelry

While there may be a few terms, including vintage and antique, that are loosely used interchangeably, it's worth noting the differences. There are four main categories most often referred to when most people speak of heirloom jewelry. 

Diamond antique earrings and matching ring

Main categories for older jewelry pieces include:

  • heirloom jewelry
  • antique jewelry
  • vintage jewelry
  • period jewelry 

While some experts may have different interpretations of the categories, our purpose is to give you a generalized view of their differences.

What is Heirloom Jewelry?

Heirloom jewelry is best defined as pieces with sentimental value, typically passed down through generations. It is often given as gifts to family members to celebrate momentous occasions. However, it isn’t unusual for an heirloom jewelry piece to be passed on through a will.

Heirloom jewelry is often presented for:

  • engagements
  • weddings
  • births
  • coming of age
  • milestone birthdays

We often think of heirloom jewelry being kept and passed throughout a family for several generations. While some family members enjoy wearing heirloom jewelry, others prefer to preserve it and keep it safely stored

What is Antique Jewelry?

Heirloom ring

While we often hear antique jewelry used to describe heirloom jewelry, older jewelry, or an older design style, it is more accurately used to describe the time of its design. A piece is considered antique jewelry if it is at least 100 years old.

You will usually hear reference to antique jewelry if it was crafted before the 1920 cut-off date given to this category. However, many jewelers, collectors, and dealers point out that this 100-year cut-off does not include the Edwardian era, believed to be a vital era of antique jewelry, which brings us to vintage jewelry.

What is Vintage Jewelry?

Vintage jewelry pieces are best described as roughly 10 to 100 years old. The heirloom’s “100 Year Rule,” which excludes the Edwardian era, classifies post-1910 pieces as vintage or estate rather than antique jewelry. Therefore, antique jewelry is referred to as previously owned pieces that were not necessarily passed down through generations. Some may even argue that antique jewelry was given as a more appealing term than used jewelry.

What is Period Jewelry?

Period jewelry uses a general dating system to categorize jewelry by time periods. Period jewelry can be generalized as dating to before 1920 and fitting into the following timeframes:

  • Georgian: 18th-19th centuries
  • Victorian: 19th-early 20th centuries
  • Arts & Crafts: 1890-1920 /Art Nouveau: 1890s-1915
  • Edwardian: 1890s-1920 

These periods also encompass distinct clothing, hairstyle, and social trends accompanying lavish jewelry.

Is Heirloom Jewelry Valuable?

Heirloom necklace and glove beside a jewelry box

Not all heirloom jewelry holds high monetary value. In fact, sometimes, the only value a piece may hold is one of sentiment.

If your heirloom jewelry does hold high monetary value, it is likely due to the precious metals or valuable gemstones used in its design. However, they may also possess more worth for their intricate designs. Heirloom jewelry pieces are often created with unique detail and designs we don’t often see in today’s craftsmanship. If you do find that your piece is valuable, insuring your heirloom jewelry is an important next step.    

Heirloom Jewelry’s Representation of the Past

For many, heirloom pieces are a significant way to re-connect with the past or loved ones. Heirloom jewelry often holds incredible memories, symbolism, and culture. In addition, they may be perceived to hold significant value from the fact that these pieces may continue to be passed down through generations for decades to come.

Types of Heirloom Jewelry

Heirloom jewelry is comprised of a wide variety of jewelry types.

Heirloom jewelry types may include:

Heirloom pieces typically feature precious gemstones, such as:

Repurposing Your Heirloom Jewelry

You may wish to repurpose your heirloom jewelry, and you are not alone. So many of our clients come to us with sentimental heirloom rings and antique jewelry pieces and want to know their options.

Repurposing an heirloom or antique jewelry piece may include: 

  • resizing of heirloom rings, watches, bracelets, etc.
  • using a center stone in a necklace or engagement ring design
  • using accent stones in a new jewelry design
  • creating multiple, updated pieces for themselves or several family members
  • melting the metal of an outdated piece, such as a brooch, for an updated jewelry piece

Custom Jewelry Services for Your Heirloom and Antique Jewelry

Pearl necklace and heirloom broochRepurposing your heirloom and antique jewelry allows you to wear them close to your heart rather than stash them away. They are a rich part of your family history and should be enjoyed by all who wear and see them.

There are many options for your heirloom and antique jewelry items, from creating a new pendant to recreating a new piece for your jewelry collection.

You may have a vintage-style piece in your current collection and have your heart set on designing an engagement ring to complement it. Or, perhaps you wish to take a tiny heirloom or antique jewelry piece and turn it into a pendant. Whatever your heart desires and your mind imagines, our team of jewelry experts can accommodate.

Bring us photographs of your piece or the precious item itself. First, we'll sit down with you to learn what you have in mind for your restoration or recreation. Then, our team of designers will guide you through the process of creating your dream accessory!

Selling Your Heirloom Jewelry

If you decide you would rather sell your heirloom or antique jewelry, we urge you to keep a few things in mind. Before you sell, have your piece appraised and have your jewelry evaluated.

Have Your Heirloom Jewelry Evaluated

We highly recommend speaking with an expert to authenticate your piece's metal and precious stones. It's best to be fully informed of what your heirloom or antique jewelry is made of before selling.

Have Your Jewelry Appraised

Person wearing gloves appraising an heirloom ring

The price of precious metals and stones can fluctuate, so an appraisal is always wise before a sale. An appraisal will consider many factors, including age, condition, and unique design. 

We invite you to visit one of our Fink’s Jewelers stores so our experts can answer all of your questions. From caring for your heirloom jewelry to creating a new piece from your antique jewelry, we are here to help!