There’s a certain kind of magic in antique and vintage jewelry — magic in knowing that it comes from another era and holds a rich history of its own. Whether you revel in nostalgia or simply appreciate the glamour of another decade, it’s a telling sign of quality and style whenever a piece of jewelry survives the test of time.
Below, find out what counts as vintage and antique jewelry, and three of the most popular design elements unique to these enduring period pieces.
Introduction to Vintage and Antique Jewelry
First, you should know what makes a piece of jewelry “vintage” or “antique.” It’s a common misconception that these terms are interchangeable. In reality, antique jewelry describes pieces that are more than 100 years old, while vintage refers to pieces created between 50 and 100 years ago.
The trouble with true antique and vintage jewels is that because of their age, they may show wear or damage. Not to mention, authentic pieces may be difficult to find or simply cost-prohibitive. In fact, some antique jewels are valued at tens of millions of dollars.
Vintage and antique jewelry lovers, however, will be happy to know that our sister brand, Fred Leighton, is a world leader in curating rare jewels and designing new vintage-style jewelry. Along with Fred Leighton, Kwiat also creates contemporary pieces inspired by the past. Our collections include a wide range of styles from bygone eras constructed using the latest jewelry-making techniques as well as diamonds and gemstones that meet the world’s highest standards.
Keep reading to learn more about three elements often seen in authentic and antique-inspired jewelry.
Before Queen Victoria’s reign, the British Empire reveled in the Georgian era (1714-1830) — think Jane Austen novels and Bridgerton balls. During this period, collet settings were a prominent element of jewelry design. Also known as Georgian collets and Georgian cutdown settings, these settings appeared as metal bands surrounding gemstones — much like today’s bezels except that the upper edge of the collet pressed over the top of the stone’s surface to hold it in place.
Authentic Georgian-era jewelry, which is quite rare to begin with, is generally made with 18K gold and silver. The high cost of gold at the time made silver the more popular choice for setting diamonds, but the silver was often backed with gold to prevent the silver tarnish from staining skin and clothing.
Milgrain is yet another celebrated design element of jewelry from decades past. Also referred to as “millegrain” and “milgraining,” this technique resembles tiny metal beads along the edge of a piece of jewelry. It reached the height of its popularity during the Edwardian and Art Deco periods — the early decades of the 1900s.
By adding texture, milgrain detailing creates a striking visual contrast against the smooth surfaces of a piece’s gemstones and metal.
Finally, there’s filigree, an antique style that dates back more than 6,500 years but came into vogue in the 1920s. Filigree describes ornate metalwork that’s created by carefully shaping fine wire into elaborate designs. It resembles lace — if lace were created using precious metal. Like milgrain, filigree makes for an exquisite and intricate look.
That said, not all filigree designs are one and the same. There are two major types: openwork and metal-supported (also known as “ground-supported”). Openwork designs generally use a heavier wire without any backing, while metal-supported filigree has all of its wire points connected to a backing. The pieces seen here are openwork.
Celebrities Who Wear Antique and Antique-Inspired Jewels
A taste for antique and vintage-style jewelry isn’t reserved for any specific age group or type of person. Many of today’s celebrities have a penchant for authentic antique jewelry or jewelry inspired by decades past — below are just a few.
- Sarah Jessica Parker is often spotted wearing Fred Leighton pieces, particularly collet-set styles. For example, at the premiere of the long-awaited And Just Like That, she flaunted layered rivière necklaces, an 18th-century style that features Georgian collet settings.
- Maroon 5’s Adam Levine proposed to model Behati Prinsloo with a vintage engagement ring from the 1930s. The classic solitaire ring features a dainty filigree setting — a style that had Behati feeling “very giddy.”
- Actor Emily Blunt wears an engagement ring from the Edwardian era with filigree detailing. Perhaps it’s no coincidence Emily would later take on the role of Mary Poppins, who lived in London’s Edwardian society.
- Just like her title character in the film Marie Antoinette (for which the jewelry, incidentally, was provided by Fred Leighton) Kirsten Dunst’s red-carpet choices reflect a true love for period pieces. At numerous red carpet appearances, she’s wore antique jewels from the Fred Leighton collection.
- Supermodel Iman is a known Fred Leighton and Kwiat fan. At the 2021 Met Gala, she dazzled in Fred Leighton earrings and diamond bracelets from the 1930s.
- When given the opportunity, Grammy and Tony Award winner Cynthia Erivo likes to show off her taste for the past. At the 2018 Tony Awards, for instance, she completed her sophisticated New York Vintage dress with Fred Leighton jewels.