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Estate Jewelry Glossary

by Staff Writer

A beautiful antique pearl necklace in an estate jewelry collection

It's truly amazing to own something lovely from the past. A gorgeous ring, a fabulous hair pin or a stunning bracelet that adorned a stylish woman from another decade or century connects you to history and humankind. Estate jewelry collections are filled with antiques that you can wear. Whether you are shopping for fashion jewelry or fine vintage jewelry, the common jewelry terms of the past may be new to you. Our estate jewelry glossary will help you shop for vintage jewelry and antique jewelry for your fashion jewelry collection.

Estate Jewelry Terms to Know:

  1. Art Deco: The prewar design movement called Art Deco dates to 1925 to 1939. In some ways an extension of Art Nouveau, Art Deco design is marked by bold colors and geometric designs. Antique jewelry from the Art Deco period is a popular collector's item.

  2. Art Nouveau: The Art Nouveau design movement bridged the transition to the modern era of the 20th century. The period for Art Nouveau, meaning New Art, is approximately 1875 to 1920 and is distinguished by curvilinear patterns and nature-based motifs, such as vines, flowers and animals.

  3. Bakelite: This durable plastic, produced under heat and pressure, can be molded or carved into almost any shape. Brightly colored versions of bakelite are featured often in jewelry from the 1930s.

  4. Cabochon: This decorative bead made of a gem or other organic material has a smooth domed shape. Large cabochons of opal, sapphire and ruby often appear often in antique rings.

  5. Cameo: A cameo is a portrait, usually of a woman, carved in low-relief style on a stone, gem or other organic material. The carving is set in a frame to become a brooch, pendant or other decorative personal item.

  6. Chatelaine: A chatelaine is a chain that holds implements such as keys, scissors, eyeglasses and other personal belongings; a woman wore it at the waist.

  7. Claw setting: The claw setting features a circle of long prongs that clasp a large gemstone to a band, pendant or chain.

  8. Doublet and triplet: A doublet is a thin layer of natural stone adhered to a backing material. The doublet backing material is used to thicken and give strength to the gem. The addition of a clear, protective layer on top of a doublet forms a triplet gemstone form, which gives additional strength to the item. This top layer consists of clear quartz, glass or hard plastic.

  9. Edwardian: Edwardian refers to styles popular during the early years of the 20th century prior to World War I, especially during the reign of King Edward VII of Great Britain (1901 to 1910). The period style is marked by elegance that is lighter and more restrained than the heavy, ornate designs of the preceding Victorian Era. Silver and platinum were more popular than yellow gold, and an airy, filigree style was very common.

  10. Enamel: This paint, varnish or protective coating dries to a hard, glassy finish, features many colors and often has a brilliant shine.

  11. Lorgnette: A lorgnette is a pair of glasses that are mounted on a handle that is used to hold the glasses to the eyes.

  12. Millefiore: These blown-glass pieces feature multicolored and transparent glass fused together into a pattern, usually a floral design.

  13. Mine cut: This diamond cut features a square with rounded corners and a round girdle. Dating from the 1700s, this design is an early version of today's brilliant cut. It is also called old mine cut.

  14. Retro: For estate jewelry, this term often refers to a style popular during the 1940s that featured large pieces and geometric shapes.

  15. Rose cut: This traditional cut for diamonds features a flat base and triangular facets that culminate in a point on top of the stone. The rose cut is rarely used today but can be seen in diamond jewelry dating from the early 20th century or earlier.

  16. Sautoir: Popular during the Edwardian Era, a sautoir is an extra-long necklace that has a tassel or large pendant as the centerpiece; these long necklaces are also called rope necklaces.

  17. Seed pearls: Seed pearls are tiny natural or faux pearls that decorate jewelry, accessories and personal implements such as boxes and mirrors. Usually, many pearls will adorn a piece.

  18. Signet: A signet is a personal implement, such as a ring, that has an engraved seal or name that identifies the owner and his elevated social status or occupation.

  19. Vermeil: Vermeil is a gold-plating process in which 18-karat yellow gold is plated over a sterling silver object.

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