4 Categories Of Vintage Jewelry Commonly Found At Estate Sales

15 January 2015
 Categories: , Articles


Estate sales are excellent places to find high quality items such as antiques, jewelry, furniture, household good, and artwork. Because estate sales are comprised of the lifelong accumulations of private individuals and families, it's highly possible to stumble across incredible finds at these sales. If you've developed an interest in vintage jewelry, estate sales offer an excellent opportunity to find long-forgotten treasures. Following are the four categories of vintage jewelry that you are most likely to find at estate sales.

Victorian Era

Queen Victoria ruled from 1837 until 1901 and had a substantial cultural impact on Western civilization as a whole, including art, fashion, and jewelry. Jewelry created during the Victorian era frequently featured the following designs elements:

  • Flowers
  • Birds
  • Hearts

The Victorian era was also when jewelry began to be worn by the lower and middle classes, resulting in the use of semi precious stones such as amethyst, opal, turquoise, and garnet because these were more affordable than emeralds, rubies, and diamonds.

Art Nouveau

The Art Nouveau movement that originated in Paris in 1890 had a huge impact on everything from home furnishings to jewelry design. Art Nouveau jewelry emphasized artisan craftsmanship and unique design and evolved as a reaction against the mass production that was beginning to become commonplace as the Industrial Age progressed. Characteristic elements of jewelry created during the Art Nouveau era include:

  • Stylized nature themes. Butterflies, poppies, dragonflies, and waterlilies were common representatives of the natural world found in Art Nouveau jewelry.
  • Mysticism. Art Nouveau jewelry mirrored the artwork and literature of the day by the inclusion of mystical design elements such as depictions of female heads with long, flowing hair.
  • Asian Influence. Increased traffic with Asian countries during this time shows in Art Nouveau jewelry. Stylized cherry blossoms, for instance, are a common theme in Art Nouveau creations.

The majority of the jewelry that was made during this era was handcrafted and therefore displays a maker's mark in a discreet location -- usually somewhere on the back of the piece.

Art Deco

The Art Deco movement had a tremendous influence on jewelry trends during the years between 1920 and 1935. Society changed dramatically during those years, and fashion and jewelry design reflected those changes. Art Deco jewelry was characterized by the following:

  • Egyptian influence. With the discovery of King Tut's tomb in 1923, Egyptian motifs were everywhere during the 1920s.
  • Cubism. Pablo Picasso's influence was another significant player in Art Deco design. Geometric shapes were common motifs in Art Deco jewelry.
  • Prosperity. The prosperity enjoyed in the Roaring Twenties resulted in a large demand for jewelry created with precious metals such as gold and platinum, Precious stones such as emerald, rubies, sapphires, and diamonds were also well represented in Art Deco jewelry.

Art Deco jewelry is more likely to be found at estate sales than jewelry created during the Victorian and Art Nouveau eras.


Retro jewelry design was predominant during the years between 1935 and 1950 and was highly influenced by the Hollywood film industry. Wartime scarcity of metals resulted in the wide scale use of yellow gold. Precious stones also became rare during WWII, resulting in increased use of semiprecious and synthetic stones. Patriotism was an important motif during the war years, but Hollywood glamor took center stage in both jewelry and fashion. It was during this era that earrings became popular and that diamonds became available to the middle and lower classes use to reduction in prices.

If you're lucky enough to run across a piece of jewelry at an estate sale that you believe falls into one of the preceding categories, a professional appraiser can verify its authenticity.