Buying a vintage ring for your significant other is a beautiful gesture. Not only do these pieces possess loads of character, but they are also typically one-of-a-kind. So, while modern engagement rings might be shiny and new, they generally fall short in embodying the same charm as vintage and antique rings.
One factor that makes vintage engagement rings unique is that they typically come with a backstory, but how can you be sure that the one you’re buying is the real deal? Keep reading to find out everything you need to know about buying a vintage engagement ring.
Generally speaking, the term “vintage” is used to describe any ring that is at least 20 years old. An “antique” ring, by contrast, is 100 years old or more. Thus, all antique rings are vintage, but not all vintage rings are antique.
Contrary to popular belief, there is a significant difference between vintage and “vintage-style” or “vintage-inspired” engagement rings. The former refers to rings that were made during a particular period in history, while the latter refers to the rings produced today that imitate the styles of the past.
Many large jewelry companies have capitalized on the growing popularity of vintage engagement rings in this way since customers are often unaware of the difference between authentic vintage rings and those that simply mimic their designs.
However, there is another category of imitations that you need to be aware of, namely, vintage recreation rings. These rings are also produced in recent times, but with one key difference. Vintage recreation rings are handcrafted using the same techniques and tools from the eras that inspired their design. They also feature an antique diamond as a center stone and smaller antique diamonds as accent stones.
The price of vintage and antique engagement rings is determined by several factors since there is no standard method for appraising them. These include the following:
Ultimately, it all boils down to how much you are willing to pay for a vintage or antique engagement ring. After all, choosing vintage over modern is more a question of style than price.
However, that’s not to say that affordable vintage engagement rings don’t exist – you might just be more hard-pressed to find one that’s still in good shape.
Apart from their burgeoning popularity, vintage engagement rings are an excellent investment for many reasons. Let’s look at them in more detail below.
Vintage and antique rings vary considerably in terms of style because they were produced during different eras. In most cases, each ring exhibits characteristics that are particular to a specific period in history.
Having a basic knowledge of the styles that characterize each period can help you distinguish between rings from the different eras and give you a better idea of what to look for in a vintage engagement ring.
Below, we examine the main characteristics of the rings produced during six prominent historical eras.
The Georgian era is named after the first four Hanoverian kings of Britain (all of whom were called George), though the period often incudes the short reign of King William IV, which ended with his death in 1837. Unfortunately, jewelry pieces from this historical period are few and far between, so your chances of finding an authentic antique engagement ring from this era are slim.
One of the distinguishing features of Georgian jewelry is its incredible attention to detail. The level of craftsmanship displayed in the ornate metalwork of the time is astounding, especially since artisans had none of the advanced technology we now have for crafting jewelry.
Some of the recurring images in the jewelry of the period include flowers, ribbons, bows, and leaves. Grecian themes were also common for this era, as were Egyptian motifs.
Another interesting characteristic of Georgian jewelry is that colored gemstones were much more prevalent than diamonds. This was because the diamond trade was almost non-existent at the time, and diamonds themselves were actually quite rare. Popular stones for rings and other accessories included sapphire, ruby, garnet, topaz, and pearl.
This era also introduced the Old Mine Cut, an antique cutting style that would eventually develop into the round brilliant cut that most people associate with diamond engagement rings today. This old-world cut has larger facets than the round brilliant since stones were generally cut for carat weight rather than brilliance at the time.
Regarding setting metals, Georgian-era rings were mostly made of 18-karat yellow gold and higher; silver and an alloy composed of copper and zinc called Pinchbeck. Iron and steel were also popular.
Known for its revolutionary breakthroughs in the arts and sciences, the Victorian epoch also marks one of the most influential periods in the history of antique rings. The era began and ended with Queen Victoria’s reign, spanning a period of over 60 years.
It is divided into the Early Victorian or Romantic, the Mid-Victorian or Grand, and the Late Victorian or Aesthetic periods.
The Romantic period is defined by Victoria’s love for her husband, Prince Albert. The couple’s love story is well-documented and is even reflected in the styles of the engagement rings of the time. As a whole, vintage rings from this period are very sentimental and often showcase the tenderness and affection between a newly-wedded couple. Colored gemstones, such as emerald, amethyst, and ruby, were still more prominent than diamonds, although you might be able to find antique diamond engagement rings from this era featuring small clusters of stones.
The Grand or Mid-Victorian period coincides with the untimely death of Prince Albert and marks the beginning of a serious shift in style for the jewelry of the era. Large, somber pieces featuring black onyx, jet, and opal were popular, as were items made of silver and low karat yellow gold.
The Late Victorian or Aesthetic period brought about a return to lighter, more feminine motifs, leaving behind the dark, heavy ornamentation that dominated the previous era. Vintage engagement rings from this period are relatively easy to find in modern-day antique stores since jewelry was predominantly being made by machines at this point. Antique diamond engagement rings were also more common since the discovery of diamonds in South Africa in 1867.
The Edwardian era was the last historical period to derive its name from the reigning British monarch, namely King Edward VII. It was a time of frivolity and luxury for the upper classes, which is reflected in the engagement rings of the period.
Delicate-looking pieces featuring lace-like filigree were all the rage, and diamonds were everywhere to be seen. In addition, new advances in jewelry making also allowed for platinum to be used on its own for the first time, making it the preferred setting metal for all types of jewelry.
In keeping with the style of the period, vintage rings from the Edwardian era are exquisite and make extremely fine engagement rings if you are lucky enough to find one. Given their intricate design, these rings are best worn on their own or alongside a plain wedding band.
The Art Nouveau period overlaps with the Late Victorian and Edwardian eras and is defined by the artistic movement of the same name. It was a response to the growing industrialization in Europe at the time, which was perceived to be taking place at the expense of the environment.
As a result, jewelers from the period turned to nature for inspiration in an effort to encourage an appreciation for the natural world. Their designs often featured flowing, curved lines and stylized depictions of fauna and flora. There was also a move away from machine-made jewelry back to manual production methods.
In addition, artisans tended to avoid using diamonds in their pieces because of the impact diamond extraction processes had on the environment, resulting in the resurgence of colored gemstones in jewelry. Natural pearls were favored in particular, but emerald, opal, moonstone, ruby, and carnelian were also popular.
As for precious metals, traditional silver and yellow gold continued to be used, as well as platinum. White gold had also been invented by this time, although it was not widely used until the 1920s.
The Art Deco period took place in the interval between the two World Wars. It also marked a shift in the arts and architecture toward modernism, a global movement that sought to break away from the traditional ideologies that had prevailed up until that point. It was, therefore, concerned with progress and the representation of modern industrial society.
Some of the identifying characteristics of Art Deco engagement rings include simple geometric designs, clean lines, and symmetry. This is in stark contrast to the engagement rings from the Art Nouveau era, which proliferated images of nature and asymmetrical, free-flowing forms.
An interesting development that took place in the Art Deco era was that white gold began to appear more frequently in jewelry, including engagement rings. This was due to the rising cost of platinum and the demand for a light-colored metal since yellow gold was considered out of style. Thus, most Art Deco engagement rings were made of either platinum or white gold. Rose gold was also popularized during the 1920s and is still a favorite for vintage-style engagement rings today.
Another distinguishing feature of the period was the prevalence of antique diamond cuts, most notably, the Old European Cut. Other common diamond cuts for Art Deco engagement rings include the transitional cut, the antique cushion cut, and the Asscher cut.
Vintage rings from the Retro era are not known for being subtle. Big and bold, these rings often featured enormous gemstones cut into geometric shapes. As such, the beginning of this period might be seen as a continuation of the Art Deco era since they initially shared many of the same design elements.
However, the onset of World War II led to many changes in the materials that jewelers could use for making jewelry. For example, the use of platinum was prohibited, and restrictions were also placed on the use of other popular precious metals, including gold. Thus, you’ll find that many older Retro-era rings are made from palladium or silver. In addition, low karat gold alloys, such as rose gold containing more copper, were also common.
The 1940s also witnessed the marketing campaign that resulted in diamonds becoming the most popular gemstone for engagement rings, a trend that continues to persist in modern times. The famous slogans “Diamonds are a girl’s best friend” and “Diamonds are forever” are also repeated to this day.
Now that you’re familiar with the styles that prevailed during the most prominent periods in the history of vintage jewelry, it becomes easier to narrow down your options for an engagement ring.
However, because vintage engagement rings are typically a significant investment, it’s recommended to approach this purchase strategically to avoid being scammed. To help you, here is some practical advice for choosing the perfect vintage engagement ring:
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