Jewelry has been a part of every culture. It is a way of displaying wealth, power, or love of beauty. Antique jewelry items were treasured and handed down as heirlooms from generation to generation. It is easiest to find antique jewelry dating after 1830. In the U.S., antique jewelry is any jewelry at least 100 years old, a definition linked to U.S. Customs law. Pieces that do not meet the antique criteria but are at least 25 years old are called "period" or "heirloom/estate" jewelry.
Jewelry is the only art form where the "intrinsic" value of the materials from which it is made can have greater value than the work itself. Many beautiful and historically significant antique jewelry pieces have been destroyed for their stones and metal, particularly after a certain style becomes "outdated" or "old-fashioned." This usually happens before there is retrospective appreciation for the style, before it becomes "collectible."
The names of historical periods are commonly used when describing antique jewelry. The following is a list of those periods: antique Georgian, antique Victorian, antique Edwardian, antique Arts and Crafts, antique Art Nouvean, antique Art Deco, retro Modern and Post-War Modern.