Estate Jewelry


Another Calhoun Jewelers tradition is the buying and selling of fine estate jewelry. Cathy Calhoun was one of the first jewelers in the country to specialize in this area. Today, more than ever, there is an increasing demand for estate and antique jewelry. We constantly search for new and interesting pieces to add to our ever-changing collection, and we often purchase items that our customers no longer wear.


 Estate jewelry is jewelry that has been previously owned. It may be two months or two hundred years old. It may come from individuals, estate settlements, auctions, antique dealers or banks, just to name a few sources. Although there is some disagreement as to whether current law requires that antique jewelry be at least 100 years old, this is the generally accepted criterion for determining what constitutes “antique”. Period jewelry refers to the historical periods in which the jewelry was produced (e.g. Victorian). Most jewelry discussed today dates from the mid-19th Century.

The valuation of estate jewelry can be extremely complicated compared to that of modern pieces due to such factors as age, condition, materials, designers, hallmarks, signatures, and provenance—the value of an item increases substantially if it is signed “Cartier” or “Tiffany”, or if it was owned by a Hollywood celebrity or a royal prince. Whether a piece of jewelry is in original condition, not restored or otherwise modified, is important in establishing value as is whether a piece is accompanied by its original box and bill of sale.

Older jewelry pieces are especially esteemed for their unique character and detailed workmanship. Because the costs of labor and materials have risen so substantially over the last 100 years, many of these labor-intensive detailed designs are no longer cost-effective to produce, making estate jewelry a particularly good buy.


The Mid and Late Victorian Period: 1850-1890

By the reign of Queen Victoria, the Industrial Revolution had created a growing merchant class eager to flaunt its new-found wealth. England and France became major jewelry centers, taking advantage of the new technology to mine precious metals and mass-produce precious gemstone jewelry.

The mid and late Victorian Period was influenced by the romantic image of Queen Victoria and Prince Albert, her beloved consort. Seed pearls, shell cameos, strands of pearls, and small colored gemstones were fashionable. After Prince Albert’s death in 1861, jewelry styles changed almost overnight as Victoria adopted somber jewelry to express her grief. Jet, black onyx, tortoise shell, and horse hair, often set into heavy goldwork, were materials typical of this period.

The Edwardian Period: 1901-1915

Queen Victoria was succeeded by her son, Edward VII. The Edwardian Period celebrated the joyous return to elegance that marked the reign of the new King. Jewelry complemented the lace, silk, and feathers worn by Edwardian ladies. Diamonds were in profusion, either alone or with colored gems, and pearls were very popular. The use of platinum facilitated delicate filigree work fashioned to resemble fine lace. Pieces with hinged, moving parts were also popular.

The Art Nouveau Period: 1890-1915

By the end of the 19th Century, Victorian popularity was fading. The Art Nouveau period-romantic and lighthearted- burst upon Europe and America as a reaction to both the staid Victorian era and the mass-produced, imitative pieces resulting from the Industrial Revolution. This reaction was apparent in all the decorative arts of the period.

The genius of the French master jewelry Rene’ Lalique helped to define this period (the same Lalique who later became famous for his glass works). His slim, ethereal figures were of brilliant enamels with precious gems, horn, ivory, and glass. Dragon files, with long delicate wings, and stylized floral themes, utilizing opals and moonstones, were popular. Another figure who strongly influenced the Art Nouveau period was the American jewelry Louis Comfort Tiffany, son of the Tiffany’s founder Charles Tiffany.

The Art Deco Period: 1920-1935

The Art Deco period originated in France at a time when women- who had been doing men’s jobs while the men went off to war- began to express their new found freedom. They smoked and drank in public, shortened their skirts, and welcomed the flamboyant, geometric styles of Art Deco. This was a brasher, more sophisticated time. The jewelry of this period, bold geometric pieces in enamel and colored gems, enhanced the angular look in clothing. Massive ruby and emerald brooches were typical, as were coral and lapis lazuli or jade used in combination. Platinum settings of exquisite workmanship are a hallmark of Deco.

The Retro Period: 1935-1949

With the beginning of war in Europe, luxury production halted as platinum, and most gold and silver, were requisitioned for the war effort. It was during this period that American jewelry came into its own. The glamour of Hollywood and its stars influenced the flamboyant pieces of Retro. Huge gems in oversized pieces, often mounted in rose, green, or yellow gold alloys, were typical. After America’s entry into the war, the jewelry produced became less romantic but still oversized.

It was also during this period that gold began to be used as the sole element in jewelry. Gold had previously been used in mountings to accent other elements of a jewelry piece. Now gold jewelry came into its own. Many of the gold brooches seen today, such as circle pins and animal pins, owe their origins to the trends of the late 1940’s and 1950’s.

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