The Essential History of Pre-Owned Jewelry

Thrifting and sustainable shopping have become more popular than ever in 2024, from thrift-flipping clothing to buying secondhand designer accessories. Pre-owned jewelry is especially sustainable and beautiful, as each piece has a rich history and tells a unique story about the life it’s lived. 

If you own vintage or antique jewelry you’re ready to part with, this vintage shopping trend makes now the perfect time to sell. With prices for secondhand pieces at an all-time high, it’s the ideal time to start Googling “where to sell jewelry near me.” Whether you want to find out the estimated value of your pre-owned jewelry or are looking to buy a special piece, knowing the time period of your pre-owned jewelry can help you make a wise decision and ensure you get the best value for your money.

Early Victorian Jewelry (1837-1855)

The Victorian era, named after Queen Victoria, was a time of elegance and refinement. During this era, jewelry was intricately designed and became a symbol of wealth and prosperity among the new middle class created by the Industrial Revolution.

Gold and silver were widely used, and gemstones such as diamonds, opals, and pearls were the most popular choices. The modern diamond market had just been formed out of Africa during this time, making the precious stones an exciting new status symbol, while opals were beloved by Queen Victoria herself and therefore became increasingly popular. 

During the early Victorian period, nature-inspired designs remained a popular trope from the preceding Georgian era. Intricate foliage designs were created in silver and gold, and many of the jewelry pieces had a sentimental air to them. For example, lockets and brooches were extremely popular.

Art Nouveau Jewelry (1895-1915)

In the late 1800s, a new artistic movement named Art Nouveau — French for “new art” — emerged. This movement was a reaction against the mass-produced jewelry designs that began to appear following the Industrial Revolution, and artists sought to create unique and artistic pieces.

Art Nouveau jewelry is characterized by its use of flowing and curvy lines, inspired by the organic forms in nature. The designs were often intricate and featured elements such as butterflies, dragonflies, mythical creatures, and exotic flowers. Gemstones were still used, but they often had a smooth and rounded shape rather than the traditional faceted cut. Enamelwork was also prevalent during this time, adding vibrant colors to the jewelry that highlighted their exoticism.

Art Deco Jewelry (1920-1935)

The aftermath of World War I brought about the Roaring Twenties, an era of decadence and luxury. This national mood was reflected in the jewelry designs of the time, which were bold, geometric, and exuded wealth and glamor.

Art Deco jewelry was heavily influenced by the rise of cities and mass-produced goods. Thin, elongated shapes with symmetrical patterns and clean lines were a defining feature of Art Deco. White gold and platinum were most commonly used due to their durability, and diamonds were the most popular choice for gemstones. Other expensive gemstones such as rubies, emeralds, and sapphires were also incorporated into the designs, often in a bold geometrical shape and incorporated in intricate designs.

Contemporary Jewelry (1974-Present)

Modern or contemporary jewelry refers to any jewelry made in the past 50 years. In the 1970s and 1980s, designer brands such as Tiffany & Co. and Cartier emerged, creating iconic pieces that are still highly sought after today. In the 1990s, jewelry became more minimalistic and understated, with delicate chains and subtle diamonds being the go-to choice.

Today, we see a mix of vintage and modern designs, with a focus on sustainability and ethical sourcing of materials. Pre-owned jewelry has become increasingly popular as it allows wearers to showcase unique and timeless pieces that tell a story while also being environmentally conscious.

Whether you have an Art Nouveau ring you want to sell or you’re in the market for a modern but secondhand necklace, Watch & Wares is known as the best place to buy and sell luxury items in Orange County. Since 1992, we’ve been the premier source for vintage and antique jewelry buying, selling, and collateral loans. We’re confident you won’t find anyone better for luxury pre-owned jewelry, especially at our competitive price point. To receive a free estimate on one of your pre-owned jewelry pieces, give us a call at 714-633-2030 or contact us via our online form today.