Broadly, the ‘vintage’ of something refers to the era in which it was made or in which it first appeared or began. For example, the vintage of a wine is the year in which it was bottled. However, ‘vintage’ also refers to something that is no longer in fashion or contemporary – it is ‘aged’ or ‘oldish’ in some way. For example, a vintage car is one that is over 50 years old.
In the world of jewellery, ‘vintage’ is used in both ways – sometimes to refer to the era in which a piece is made, sometimes to refer to a piece that is ‘aged’, ‘oldish’ or even just previously owned. Thus, ‘vintage jewellery’ could describe jewellery that is made in 2010 but was previously owned. Its vintage (or era) is 21st century. However, for some jewellery purists, ‘vintage’ should refer only to ‘aged’ or ‘oldish’ jewellery; and while for some of these purists, ‘oldish’ means at least 15 years old, for others it means at least 25 years old.
Amongst this confusion, there is one clear spot. Once a piece of jewellery is 100 years old it can rightfully be called ‘antique’ jewellery of a particular vintage- for example, ‘Antique Georgian jewellery’.
Etsy’s guide for sellers blog offers some clarity:
‘Vintage: This aesthetic conjures concepts, forms and colors of days gone by, or the idea that “old is the new new." You can find a range of colors, from sepia to the most vivid hues and psychedelic or bizarre patterns.’
So ‘vintage’ can be an era and/or a description of something previously owned and/or oldish. There are some widely agreed eras (or vintage periods) for British jewellery that can help you name when an item was made:
- Georgian jewellery (1714-1837)
- Early Victorian (‘romantic’) jewellery (1837-1855)
- Mid-Victorian (‘grand’) jewellery (1856-1880)
- Late Victorian (‘aesthetic’) jewellery (1885-1900)
- Arts and Crafts jewellery (1894-1923)
- Art Nouveau jewellery (1895-1915)
- Edwardian jewellery (1901-1915)
- Art Deco jewellery (1915-1935)
- Retro jewellery (1945-1960)
But what is ‘oldish’ and, therefore, vintage? Should it be more than 15 years old? More than 25 years? What do you think? When is a vintage, vintage?