Estate Jewelry Guide

With Estate & Vintage Jewelry comes a load of terminology. We want to help you speak the estate jewelry language and have put together this quick reference guide to estate jewelry! Do you every wonder what characteristics Edwardian jewelry has? We overview several of the different jewelry periods and give a brief explanation of the style. Visit us at Smyth Jewelers any time and we are happy to show you our incredible and ever changing collection of estate and pre owned jewelry. 

Georgian Estate Period   


This period covered the reigns of the five English kings. Four of the kings being named George and one of them named William. All jewelry of this era was handcrafted and was extraordinarily labor intensive.

Characteristics of Georgian Estate Jewelry

  • Gems set with foil backs (contact with water will ruin the foil)
  • Bow and floral motifs and incredibly ornate metal work.¬†
  • Rose cut and table cut diamonds used
  • Jewelry created to suit the stones that were available.
  • Repouss√©, the process of hammering metal into complex designs and patterns, was prevalent.¬†

Victorian Estate Period    


This period began with Queen Victoria. During her reign there were immense changes in industry and fashion during this period. The beginning of this period had candlelight and ended with a light bulb. These changes in technology meant jewelry was no longer strictly made by hand. The beginning of the Victorian era is also known as the Romantic Period.

Characteristics of Victorian Estate Jewelry

  • Sentimental jewelry chair and mourning jewelry.
  • Used 18K gold often, but before the gold rush used karats and gold plating were common.
  • Rings, brooches and hair ornaments were popular
  • Serpents were also very popular and were thought¬†to bring good luck
  • Popular motifs included: eyes, hearts, anchors, crosses, arrows, clovers, love knots, garters, buckles, vines and leaves.
  • Acrostic Jewelry, Cameos, Chatelaines, hair jewelry and Slide Chains were very popular.
  • Rose cut, old mine cut and cabochon were dominant.
  • Tiffany and Co. introduced the famous Tiffany Solitaire in 1886

Edwardian Estate Period    


Just like the Georgian and Victorian period, the Edwardian era got its name from an English King, Edward VII. This is part of the rejection of the machine made jewelry that was embraced during the Victorian period. Jewelry went from large to delicate.

Characteristics of Edwardian Estate Jewelry

  • Emphasis on delicate jewelry
  • Garlands and ribbons, laurel wreaths, bow knots, tassels and lace were prevalent
  • Long strands of pearls were popular
  • Enamels and delicate open worked pins and pendants were fashionable
  • Platinum was used in large scale for the first time.¬† ¬†

Art Nouveau Estate Period     


This was created in France at a time before the first World War. This was a contrast to the mainstream Edwardian designs of that time. It was a short lived era due to the war and a loss of interest in such over the top pieces.

Characteristics of Art Nouveau Estate Jewelry

  • Flowing natural lines
  • The materials used were not as important as the design
  • Emphasis on nature (insects and flowers) as well as the feminine form
  • Egyptian revival and Japanese influence
  • Used the whiplash line. Asymmetrical curves that resembled the cracking of a whip.
  • Famous designers- Faberge and Lalique¬†

Art Deco Estate Period 


Part of the Roaring Twenties. A decade defined by advances in technology, economic prosperity and artistic rebellion. The event that had the greatest influence on the Deco period was the excavation of the tomb of King Tut in 1922. It brought sweeping changes in fashion jewelry.

Characteristics of Art Deco Jewelry

  • Known for its clean line and simple shapes.
  • Bold geometric, architectural designs
  • Big emphasis on platinum
  • Enamel accents were very popular
  • Long necklaces and lariats
  • Emerald, asscher and navette shapes were created

Retro Estate Period 

1940-mid 1950

This was a period during which jewelry designers were largely influenced by the changes accompanying World War II. Jewelry during this period reflect an infusion of futuristic vision with elements inspired by preceding periods.

Characteristics of Retro Estate Jewelry 

  • Gold gains popularity
  • Bold designs with large gemstones
  • Use of rose gold was popular
  • Colorful brooches and ballerina pins in fashion.¬†

Estate Terms

Filagree - intricate pattern created with thin pieces of metal creating a fine, light look. Generally takes the shape of scroll-work, lacy flourishes, and other interesting motifs. 

Chatelaine - Brooch from which decorative tools or charms are hung such as watches or perfume holders 

Illusion mounting - Prong setting designed to make diamonds look bigger. Usually a square rim of metal around the diamond.

Lavalier - Necklace with single drop off chain. Usually with a pearl drop at the bottom. 

Rose Cut - Flat bottom cut stone with no pavilion, and a domed crown containing only 24 facets. Dates back to 1500's. 

Single Cut Diamond- Simple cutting of a diamond with 18 facets 

Enamel - Fine particles of glass applied to metal to add color 

Navette - Stone cut as a pointed oval. Compare to "Marquise".

Patina - Film that appears over years on jewelry due to the reaction to the environment

Plique-à-jour - Translucent enameling. looks like stained glass

En Tremblant - Parts of a finished jewelry item that is attached to a "tremble" to create movement.

Camphor Glass - etched frosted glass. Usually seen in pendants with a diamond set in the center. 

Old Mine Cut Diamond - Diamond squarish shape. Cut by hand with smaller table, large culet and higher crown. 

Milgrain - engraved jewelry decoration usually found on the edge of jewelry. 

Repoussé- hammering malleable metal into intricate designs and patterns. 

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