To get the “big picture” of the estate jewelry market, you’ll need to start with a study of two areas. The first is age and availability. The second involves styles, forms, and materials.
Age and Availability
Since pre-ownership is the only criterion for defining estate jewelry, the category can include everything from ancient artifacts to pieces that were produced only a few weeks ago. Practically speaking, however, the market is mostly made up of jewelry that’s about 20 to 150 years old. As you might expect, rarity generally increases with age, while availability and abundance tend to grow as you move closer to the present.
There are two reasons why items less than 20 years old aren’t a major part of the market. One is related to emotional meaning. The other has to do with lasting beauty and style.
Fine jewelry tends to carry more emotional meaning than other consumer products. As a result – although people may not treasure every piece they buy or receive for a lifetime – they usually do keep jewelry for a number of years before “letting go” and trading it in, selling it, or giving it away.
Beauty and Style
If fine jewelry is properly cared for, it keeps its beauty. Major changes in style occur at a relatively
slow pace, so stores often refurbish estate pieces that are in good condition and have a current look, and then sell them along- side new merchandise. On the other hand, jewelry more than 150 years old is rare because there wasn’t much to begin with, and time has since taken its toll.
Mass-manufacturing methods weren’t adapted to jewelry until the mid 1800s. Before that, pieces were mostly custom-made for members of the upper classes. By modern standards, production was very limited. A large amount of jewelry has also been lost, destroyed, or broken up and recycled over time. For these reasons, pieces that are hundreds (or even thousands) of years old occasionally show up in auctions or stores, but they form only a small segment of the market.
Next month, we’ll explore how styles, forms and materials – specifically, metals, diamonds, pearls, and colored gemstones – affect the estate jewelry market.