At Diamond Estate Jewelry Buyers, we specialize in the buying and selling of antique engagement rings, in particular diamond engagement rings from the Edwardian and Art Deco periods.
In recent years, many young couples have become interested in buying an antique engagement ring versus a contemporary diamond ring. So in this article, we will help guide you through the basic characteristics and styles of antique engagement rings.
Let’s begin by remembering that choosing an engagement ring is one of the biggest decisions a couple can make. While it symbolizes timeless love and commitment, it also makes a unique, personal statement. If modern, mass produced rings lack the personal touch you and your betrothed are looking for, then an antique engagement ring could be the perfect alternative.
What constitutes an antique engagement ring is a matter of considerable debate. While many traditionalists insist a ring must be 100 years old to be considered antique, modern standards have loosened, and a ring older than 50 years may be labeled “antique.” And then there’s the somewhat confusing distinction between “antique” and “vintage” engagement rings.
Strictly speaking, vintage refers to any older piece not yet an antique, but in practice, vintage can mean anything from simply “old” to “in the style of” (that is, a ring made to emulate the design of a certain era). For this guide of antique engagement rings, we’ll look at rings made up until about 1935, or what is generally considered to be the end of the Art Deco period.
Antique Engagement Ring Basics
Once you have decided to shop for an antique engagement ring, there are a few things you’ll need to consider. Since over 75% of engagement rings feature a diamond, you’ll need a basic understanding of the 4 C’s: Carat, Clarity, Color and Cut. Any reputable dealer or a quick internet search can help define these terms for you, but you will find that modern standards may not apply to antique engagement rings.
Antique diamonds varied widely, and today’s perfectly laser-cut round brilliant diamonds simply didn’t exist. Yellow diamonds were more often the norm, and cuts varied widely, depending on styles of the day. The Gemological Institute of America did not begin grading diamonds until the 1940s, and a G.I.A. report on the 4 C’s is only possible if the center diamond can be safely removed from its setting, so many antique engagement rings will have no certification.
Antique engagement rings have been passed down from generation to generation, and as such will show signs of age. While these signs of wear can help verify the age of a ring, no one wants a ring that has been “too well loved.” Aside from wear and tear, how can you verify that an antique engagement ring is authentic? Different eras featured different styles, stones, and cuts, but unless you’re willing to become a student of jewelry, you’ll probably need to seek professional help.
A trusted jeweler is an invaluable asset in verifying the authenticity of an antique ring, but online sources can be helpful as well. That said, there are some general categories of antique engagement rings that can help in making a decision about a ring that you’ll cherish for the rest of your life.
Georgian Engagement Rings
The Georgian period lasted from about 1700 to 1830, or roughly the reign of four kings of England, George I-IV. Georgian rings were made before any kind of mass production, so each piece is a truly unique, handcrafted work. Metals used during the Georgian Era included 10k, 18k, and 22k yellow gold, and pinchbeck, an alloy which is 83% copper and 17% zinc.
Rings from this period featured intricate repoussé metal work—a technique of creating a design in relief by raising the metal from the back. In addition to scrolls and ribbon patterns, nature motifs were popular, and Georgian rings often featured designs of flowers, butterflies, birds and insects.
Gemstones from the Georgian period typically featured old world cuts (rose cut, table cut, or old mine cut) and were often set in closed settings with foil backing. This foil backing helped illuminate the stone, but was easily worn away. Some jewelers can restore the foil, but it requires special care and a highly experienced jeweler. Garnets, emeralds, topaz, and diamonds were the most popular gemstones of the day. Georgian engagement rings are quite rare and can carry a hefty price tag, but the classic, handmade beauty still appeals to many.
Victorian Engagement Rings
The Victorian era spanned the reign of Queen Victoria of England, from 1836 to 1901, and engagement rings gradually evolved during her long reign. Early Victorian rings featured diamonds and birthstones, and because mass production wasn’t prevalent until the 1840s, early Victorian engagement rings still displayed the hand crafted excellence of the Georgian period.
Flowers and clovers were popular motifs, as well as hearts, snakes, and lover’s knots, and even acrostic rings with colored stones that spelled out romantic messages. Metals used included various alloys of gold and pinchbeck, and amethyst, topaz, coral, turquoise and diamonds were the preferred gemstones.
The 1867 discovery of diamonds in South Africa helped bring diamonds to the masses, and the famous Tiffany solitaire diamond mount was introduced in 1886. By the late Victorian period, engagement rings in platinum became popular, and colored stones like emeralds, rubies, and sapphires were used in addition to diamonds.
Art Nouveau & Arts and Crafts Engagement Rings
Engagement rings from these two movements are somewhat rare today. The Arts and Crafts movement rarely used precious stones, like diamonds, and the metal of choice was usually silver. While some rings from this era undoubtedly served as engagement rings, there is no definitive engagement ring style.
The Art Nouveau period lasted from about 1890 to 1919, and overlapped substantially with the Edwardian period. Craftsmanship and design took center stage during this period, and free flowing, asymmetrical lines were the dominant motif.
These periods were also known for the use of materials like horn and plique-a-jour enamel—elements not really associated with engagement rings. It is much more likely that engagement rings from this time period would fit the design elements of the Victorian and Edwardian eras that they overlap.
Edwardian Engagement Rings
During the Edwardian period, which lasted from 1900 to 1920, diamonds and platinum became extremely popular. Engagement rings featured delicate, lacy designs, particularly bow and garland motifs, with stones often surrounded by milgraining, or tiny beads along the edges of the ring.
Although diamonds remained popular in the Edwardian era, amethysts, sapphires, garnets, black opals, and aquamarines were also used, often as surrounding stones for a featured diamond centerpiece.
Art Deco Engagement Rings
Art Deco styles prevailed through the 1920s and 30s, and are easily recognized by their bold geometric patterns and colors. In addition to diamonds, emeralds, sapphires, and rubies were the most widely used gemstones, and sharp, straight lines were prevalent. Filigree and milgrain work helped to highlight Egyptian, African, and American Indian influenced designs.
Traditional old mine cuts and old European cuts were still prevalent, but styles including shield shapes and calibre cuts were also gradually employed.
Selling an Antique Engagement Ring
If you have an antique engagement ring that you would like to sell for a substantial cash offer, please contact Diamond Estate Jewelry Buyers today for a free consultation and ring appraisal. To learn more, please visit our article: How to Sell Estate Jewelry.