These are terms that are tossed about and can cause some confusion. Whether you’re selling jewelry or buying it, I think it’s important to understand these definitions. As I did my research I found that these terms can get a little fuzzy and depend, a bit, on who you ask.
Here are some general guidelines:
Antique: Typically a piece of jewelry needs to be 100 years or older to be considered antique (At least, that’s the case in the United States).
Vintage: Jewelry needs to be at least 20 years old to be considered vintage.
Retro (also called Cocktail Jewelry): It began in France with Van Cleef & Arpels. They produced a line that exhibited at the 1939 World’s Fair in New York. Again my research on this term came up with different definitions. Some say the jewelry from this period is from the mid-1930s to the end of the 1940s. Another definition stated 1940s to 1950s. Retro jewelry was big and bold, usually made of highly polished rose, yellow or green gold with enormous gems.
Costume & Estate
These two categories have nothing to do with age.
Costume is simply a term used for jewelry made with inexpensive materials like plastics, cubic zirconias, aluminum and copper. This category has been around since the 18th century and fashion houses are still creating costume jewelry collections.
Estate jewelry is simply previously owned jewelry.
Both of these categories could be vintage, retro or antique.
I hope these basic guidelines will help next time you're shopping for some funky retro earrings or sophisticated vintage bracelet.