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Antique Jewelry: What Goes Around Comes Around
They say that almost everything eventually comes back into style, and nowhere is this more evident than with antique jewelry. After all, diamonds (not to mention emeralds, topaz, rubies, and sapphires) are forever, while gold, silver, and platinum last almost as long. Although rings might need to be resized as the fingers that wear them change, most pieces of antique jewelry pass down through the years unaffected, except for the occasional easily-fixed ding or odd bit of tarnish. It's not unusual to see pieces a century old adorning the fingers or necks of fashionable ladies. Often, such jewelry takes the form of heirloom pieces, passed down over the generations. For those of us sadly lacking in family bequests, however, all that's needed is a little cash and a shrewd eye for bargains to stockpile one's own eviable ensemble of antique pieces.
The eras of antique jewelry
Generally, anything older than fifty years old is considered an antique (including, sadly, some people). While of course there are some pieces of antique jewelry that are very old indeed, most originate from a half-dozen relatively recent artistic eras:
Late Georgian (1760-1837)
Each period had its specific stylistic characteristics, limited not merely to design preference but also to materials used. For example, the Art Nouveau era, which predates the use of cubic zirconium and moissanite, marks the first time that fake diamond jewelry became popular. In that age, jewelers had to make do with glass and clear stones such as quartz to sit in for diamonds; however, they made up for its dullness by crafting exquisite designs in precious metals that make even these pieces both valuable and treasured. Though some antique jewelry was originally intended as costume jewelry, this does not diminish its value -- either monetarily or sentimentally.
Antique jewelry from other eras is similarly distinctive. As technology and jewelry standards evolved, they became evident in jewelry styles. Georgian-era jewelry is highly artistic, tending toward miniature portraits, cameos and mosaics. Given the high jewelry standards of the era, the metals tend to be of high purity; for example, gold jewelry could be made only from 18- and 24-carat gold, despite its tendency to distort due to its softness and weight. Purity standards were relaxed in the Victorian era, resulting in the creation of more durable alloys. Affordable semi-precious gemstones were also popular, and even gold and diamonds became less expensive; for this reason, jewelry from the Victorian era tends to be more varied and common than earlier antique jewelry. Art Noveau items are lightweight and extravagant, while their Edwardian counterparts tend toward Indian decorative styles, with platinum and pearls as favored materials. Freedom of expression gave rise to the Art Deco movement, with its bold colors, jumbles of carved stones, speed motifs, and Eastern influence. The discover of King Tut's tomb in 1923 added Egyptian-style motifs to the mix.
Jewelry made from 1935 until 1950, the so-called Retro Age, reflects the deprivations of the Great Depression and of wartime. Platinum was required in the war effort, leaving gold as the metal of choice; a "larger-than-life" craze resulted in clunky, massive pieces; and the reassertion of femininity meant a predilection for bows, scrolls, and floral patterns. Patriotic themes are also common. Retro pieces are by far the most common form of antique jewelry in circulation, which is fortunate, given our current fascination with all things retro.