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What is Estate Jewelry? Your Guide

One of the most popular questions asked by visitors to M.S. Rau’s French Quarter gallery is whether we offer estate jewelry. Our answer is always yes! Everything from rare antique jewelry to contemporary pieces from coveted makers can be found in our expansive collection. Of course, once guests hear we have estate jewelry, they often also wonder about our antique and vintage pieces, with many favoring a specific style like Victorian or Retro.

While estate jewelry can be defined in a very simple manner, the range of pieces and styles offered is expansive. Read on for a quick guide to what is considered estate jewelry.

History of Estate Jewelry

If you’re an avid jewelry shopper, you’ve likely seen countless pieces of exquisite fine jewelry advertised as “estate,” and may be asking yourself, “If every piece of jewelry can be called estate, then what is estate jewelry?” Simply put, estate jewelry means any piece that has had a previous owner — consider it pre-owned jewelry. Anything from an Art Deco period ring passed down through generations to a modern necklace with a single previous owner can be referred to as an estate piece. It’s important to note the difference between estate and vintage or antique, as these terms are often used interchangeably, but they actually have distinct meanings in the world of jewelry and antiques. While an estate piece could be any age, antique jewelry is over 100 years old and vintage jewelry is less than 100 years old.


Types of Estate Jewelry

Estate jewelry can include everything from bold necklaces to many types of earrings, with options to suit any style. While the selections below highlight some of the most popular estate jewelry in our collection, M.S. Rau also offers estate cufflinks, men’s jewelry, brooches and more.


Estate Necklaces

René Lalique Frog Necklace. 1902-3. M.S. Rau.
René Lalique Frog Necklace. 1902-3. M.S. Rau.

Learning about the past of your fine estate jewelry can be mysterious and exciting. Who were its previous owners, and where did they wear these exquisite pieces? In the case of the above estate necklace by French artist René Lalique, we know that the necklace was treasured by his descendants for many years until it was sold by an heir in 1974. In many examples, knowing the provenance of jewelry beyond the fact that it’s estate can make the piece even more desirable. Knowing that a celebrity or famed collector once owned a piece of jewelry can add significant value, intriguing even non-jewelry wearers.


Estate Rings

Retro Jade Ring, 3.75 Carats. Circa 1950. M.S. Rau.
Retro Jade Ring, 3.75 Carats. Circa 1950. M.S. Rau.

One of the most popular types of estate jewelry is estate rings. From elaborate cocktail rings to timeless wedding bands or even vintage engagement rings, estate rings are a great way to convey your personal style. The ring above features a stylish retro design executed in yellow gold. If you prefer the look of white metals, consider adding an Art Deco-era piece to your collection, which largely feature platinum settings and a sleek look. Our estate jewelry comes in a wide range of stones and settings. Browse our collection of diamond, emerald, ruby, pearl and sapphire estate rings.


Estate Earrings

Tiffany & Co. Retro Urchin Earrings. Circa 1960. M.S. Rau.
Tiffany & Co. Retro Urchin Earrings. Circa 1960. M.S. Rau.

If you’re looking for a pair of bold earrings, this retro style pair by Tiffany & Co. certainly fits the bill. Many estate jewelry collectors prefer to acquire pieces from specific makers, and few houses can rival the ongoing success of Tiffany & Co. With exceptional examples of many periods of style from Art Nouveau glass jewelry to contemporary pieces, anyone intrigued by estate jewelry would be thrilled to discover a Tiffany & Co. marking on their jewelry.


Estate Bracelets

Edwardian Diamond and Ruby Bracelet. Circa 1910. M.S. Rau.
Edwardian Diamond and Ruby Bracelet. Circa 1910. M.S. Rau.

This Edwardian bracelet is over a century old, making it both estate and antique. The delicate strands of rubies and diamonds are connected with both platinum and yellow gold. Even estate jewelry that features complex and delicate designs like this bracelet can last centuries if properly cared for.


Characteristics of Estate Jewelry

Although each piece of estate jewelry is unique, you can be certain that every piece will be of exceptional quality. Not every piece of jewelry is made with care and high-quality materials, so knowing that estate jewelry has already been loved by a previous owner gives assurance of its durability. This is partially due to the design of estate and antique jewelry, as well as the obvious fact that only the best and most durable pieces from the past have survived, while many lower-quality items have either fallen apart or been disassembled to match the shifting jewelry trends.

Beyond quality and durability, estate jewelry varies mostly depending on the period it was constructed, whether that is antique, vintage or contemporary.


Estate vs antique jewelry

Antique Diamond Ring, 6.69 Carats. M.S. Rau.
Antique Diamond Ring, 6.69 Carats. M.S. Rau.

Given that estate jewelry has already had a previous owner and antique jewelry dates to at least 100 years old, it’s plausible that many pieces of estate jewelry can also be labeled antique, while all antique jewelry is technically estate. For pieces that technically fit into both categories, many prefer to use the term antique as it conveys more about the piece’s origins.


Benefits of owning estate jewelry

Estate jewelry tells a story, making acquiring these pieces highly desirable for collectors. The wide variety of types of necklaces and types of earrings provides ample opportunity for anyone to add an estate piece to their collection.
If you’re a fan of historic types of diamond cuts like the Old Mine cut or Old European cut, diamond estate jewelry will often feature classic styles which have been set aside by modern diamond cutters to craft beautiful modern pieces of jewelry. With the innovation of modern diamond cutting technology, traditional methods of shaping diamonds by hand using candlelight are no longer practiced due to inefficiency. This makes historic diamond cuts increasingly rare, as some are recut and polished into modern styles further reducing the number of available stones. Those who enjoy the romantic look of an Old Mine-cut or Old European-cut diamond will seek out estate jewelry for its unique qualities.
Buying estate jewelry has a positive effect on the environment, just like any other choice to buy secondhand instead of new. By selecting a piece of estate jewelry, you reduce waste produced in the creation of new jewelry pieces. While choosing a lab-grown or synthetic gemstone may produce less waste than a newly-mined natural stone, neither can compare to estate jewelry in lessening the environmental impact of jewelry shopping.
Your estate jewelry can also become a family heirloom, given its impressive quality and historic value. Many estate jewelry pieces are classic in style and can continue to be worn and loved for decades to come. For many, the knowledge that their jewelry is durable enough to be worn and enjoyed by themselves and future owners can bring added value.
From white gold to colored gemstones, estate jewelry comes in all forms and is a fantastic acquisition for those interested in antique jewelry periods. For a glimpse into M.S. Rau’s expansive collection of estate jewelry, check out our Art Deco jewelry or Art Nouveau jewelry.


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