Trying to determine the trends in vintage jewelry can be a fool’s errand, given the category’s extraordinary variety. (By definition, anything that is older than 20 years is vintage.) But there is no question that certain styles, periods and makers come in (and out) of vogue.
“Twenty years ago, 1990s jewelry was just jewelry,” Russell Zelenetz, co-founder of Stephen Russell, an estate jewelry dealer on Madison Avenue in New York, tells Robb Report. “Now it’s 30 years old and it’s vintage.”
And hot. Or so the estate jewelry dealers we spoke to told us.
Unlike pieces from the Victorian, Art Deco and Retro periods, most of which have been in circulation for years and are now in private hands, jewels from the ’80s and ’90s are newly coming to market and embody the bold, gold look that contemporary buyers are seeking. That goes triple if you’re talking about designs by Bulgari or Cartier.
This isn’t to say that jewels from earlier eras, such as perpetually sought-after Deco engagement rings or always-fashionable Victorian starburst earrings, are out of style. Quite the opposite.
The specialists we quoted below said they expected the vintage jewelry market to have another banner year this holiday season, partly owing to the category’s relative rarity.
“We can make more beautiful jewelry, but we can’t make more beautiful vintage jewelry,” says Zelenetz. “It’s a limited resource. The other thing about vintage jewelry is that we don’t have a supply chain issue. There’s less inventory around, but it’s not like buying a car, where you have to wait for the computer chips and parts. Vintage jewelry is instant gratification.”
Suzanne Martinez, Co-Owner of Lang Antiques, San Francisco
“We’re finding that colored stone rings continue to be very strong—especially in larger sizes. People are going a little bolder. Most rings with larger stones will be from the latter half of the 20th century: a lot of Retro, ’60s and ’70s jewelry.
Platinum is making a little bit of a comeback. We’re selling a lot more colored stone rings in white metal. And people are mixing metals as well. Moonstones are hot and we’re selling them in every possible period, from the Victorian era to mid-century.
We’re seeing mixing again with colored stone bracelets, like those from the ’40s that had 5-carat amethyst and citrine stones. People are wearing multiples of those; they’re starting to stack the color and stack the yellow gold.
We’ve sold the wide bracelets done in the Retro period with an Art Deco brooch appliqued to a wide gold ’40s bracelet. Or sometimes they’d put Art Deco charms onto a yellow gold bangle, so I think the mixed metals thing really is coming back. That bright and cheerful look — it’s a lot about color and it doesn’t matter what period it is.”
Sunny Bond, Co-Owner of Fox & Bond, Los Angeles
“Something I’m seeing that I’m super drawn to but wouldn’t have looked at eight or nine years ago when we started our business are the ’80s and ’90s Italian, Bulgari-like pieces that people now can’t get enough of.
Fashion, in general, is switching to that whole Y2K style, and maybe jewelry’s not quite Y2K but it’s in that ’90s realm of what people are wanting. Those gold Omega and Herringbone chains that five years ago people were melting by the gobs. Nobody wanted them, but people are fighting over them now. It’s crazy.
We’re still selling Victorian pieces, Deco pieces, of course—especially with engagement rings. People still want a beautiful classic ring—like this Art Deco ring we have with two huge beautiful Old European-cut diamonds that create a marquise shape. It’s not too big, not too small, and takes up the perfect amount of finger real estate.
But good Victorian and Deco pieces are getting harder to find. Supply and demand—the pool of these pieces is diminishing and those prices are going up. But there’s still tons of more contemporary jewelry that mirrors the fashions and feels a bit more in step with the times. I don’t want to diminish our love for these older styles and designs because we’re obsessed with them. We’re just seeing the supply for the more contemporary stuff is going up.”
Natasha Plotitsa-Tsimmerman, co-owner of Platt Boutique Jewelry, Los Angeles
“Anything that’s ’70s Cartier is huge. And not just Aldo Cipullo. Even ’80s and ’90s is really popular. Truly anything and everything Cartier.
A lot of unusual yellow gold rings have been super popular—they’re set with diamonds in different shapes, like pear shapes, triangle cuts, marquises. And always snake jewelry is really popular, Victorian through the ’70s. Snake rings and bracelets do very well with us. They have a lot of meaning, like eternal love and renewal. Now that Bulgari came back with its Serpenti collection, it’s even more popular.
Emeralds are a big thing: We had a huge year of selling emeralds. And jewelry from the ’80s and ’90s is really popular. It’s big and bold and fun — and yellow gold. Charles Krypell — not a lot of people know about him but a lot of his pieces from the ’80s were done beautifully.”
Mallory Whitten, Jewelry Sales Manager at M.S. Rau, New Orleans
“We’ve bought and sold some incredible Art Deco period jewelry this year. The sophisticated make and design of the pieces from the 1920s and ’30s are something we seek out when acquiring new pieces and our clients feel the same way. There is always great demand for vibrant, untreated colored gemstones especially when they’re from iconic houses like Bulgari, Van Cleef & Arpels and Cartier.
Gold retro jewelry is very much in style right now. Big chunky statement pieces: gold tank bracelets, door-knocker style earrings, and heavy chain necklaces always find a home quickly. These are pieces that are great for everyday wear but still make a visual impact.
Bold colors and heavier metals seem to be a hallmark of the pieces we’ve acquired from the ’80s and ’90s. The animal kingdom-inspired pieces by David Webb and Bulgari’s use of colored gemstones have everyone looking for their estate pieces.”
Noelle Sciacca, Senior Fashion Lead, Women’s, Fine Jewelry and Home at The RealReal
“Vintage is making an incredible comeback. We’ve seen it take over the red carpet and it doesn’t just stop at clothing. The ’80s and ’90s are some of the most iconic periods to pull from and some of our trending styles include clip-on earrings and brooches—both are quintessential styles from those decades.”
Russell Zelenetz, co-founder of Stephen Russell, New York
“Certain gold jewelry by Georges L’Enfant is the soup du jour, if you will. He was a machinist in Paris who started in the ’40s and came to prominence in the ’50s and ’60s. His name was not as familiar, but he made jewelry for Van Cleef & Arpels, Hermès, Cartier. He did all kinds of chains, like the Hermès anchor chain. The original one was done by him and it was braided and wired and twisted. Now I’m sure it’s just cast, but back in the day…
We’ve known about him for years, but it was always under somebody else’s name. Now that the name has leaked, all of a sudden, when you buy some beautiful old Hermès and you say, “It’s Georges L’Enfant,” people recognize it. Three or four years ago, if I said that, they would have said, “Who?”
Calder, again, is getting very difficult to find. It seems to go in waves. Last year we had a few more pieces available, that we were able to buy, but this year, it’s harder. That’s generational. The next generation may not want it so it becomes available.
Bulgari is having a moment—everything Bulgari is desirable. A lot of what happens is predicated on fashion and as fashion comes out, different things become more popular. But as far as jewelry goes, anything that’s a great example of what it is is always in demand. Art Nouveau now is not in high demand—you don’t see people wearing it, typically—but if it’s a great piece by Lalique or one of the great Nouveau jewelers, then it’s always in demand.
What’s fashionable now are a lot of pieces that are more esoteric and design-based—like great old [Georges] Fouquet, which may be made of rock crystal and onyx and the value is in the diamond clasp. I just bought an early version (1930s) Suzanne Belperron necklace with turquoise, rock crystal and black lacquer. It’s so fabulous, but there’s not a diamond in it. It’s not about the diamonds. The style is so chic.
We bought a necklace with a 5-carat pear-shaped diamond hanging from a 3-carat cushion-cut diamond, but both are D-IF Type IIa diamonds. It’s not giant but very important. Now, some of the more esoteric things you can’t keep in stock, and that’s true in a way that wasn’t true a decade ago. They’re easy to wear—with jeans and a man’s tailored white shirt.
As for the holiday, I think it’s going to be a very good year. Jewelry is another asset, something you can put your money into. It may go up, it may go down, but it’s always liquidable.”