As a symbol of everlasting love, an engagement ring represents the commitment of a lifetime. Choosing the perfect ring therefore can be a daunting task. With options ranging from hand-crafted, modern masterpieces to perfectly laser cut diamonds perched on mass produced settings, it is easy to get overwhelmed. One option to consider is an estate or vintage engagement ring. Rings from different eras can be found in a variety of styles, and while they represent an ecologically sound choice, they also can be romantic and economical. Estate and vintage engagement rings can be a great choice for many, but you’ll need to do a bit of homework to find the perfect ring.
To begin, we should clarify the difference between the words “estate” and “vintage” when it comes to engagement rings. An estate engagement ring refers to any engagement ring which was previously-owned. However, a vintage engagement ring is technically any engagement ring that is between 50 and 100 years old.
Confusion can happen because consignment shops and other boutiques sometimes use the word “vintage” as a colloquial term for anything that is a few years old. Just keep in mind that in the world of collectors and serious estate jewelers, the term “vintage” will most always refer to items between 50 and 100 years old. While this distinction usually isn’t an important concern for couples who are shopping for an engagement ring, it is good to know how old the engagement ring is that you’re buying. So, be sure to ask.
Buying Estate & Vintage Ring Diamonds
Since engagements rings almost always feature diamonds, the center stone should be one of the first things to consider. While diamonds may be “forever,” they haven’t always been cut and judged to modern standards. You should still consider the classic 4 Cs of diamond assessment for estate diamonds (color, cut, clarity, and carat), they sometimes are not as useful when judging a diamond in an older ring.
Diamonds in older vintage rings were cut without the benefit of modern technology used today, and unless the stone can be easily and safely removed from the setting, a laboratory certificate grading the classic 4 Cs simply may not be available for some rings—this is especially true of antique rings, which you can read about more in our Antique Engagement Ring Guide.
Rather than focusing specifically on the diamond, consider the overall visual impact of the entire ring. Vintage rings may lack the fiery brilliance of a perfectly cut diamond, but often stand out as a unique statement as a whole. Many styles of estate and vintage engagement rings feature finely detailed hand-craftsmanship in the metal work alone, and the stones are only a part of the ring’s overall impact.
Estate and Vintage Engagement Ring Appraisals
Even though your search for the perfect engagement ring might include diamonds that are not officially certified by the GIA, you should consider having the ring you are interested in appraised. A professional appraisal is an independent assessment of the value of your ring. It takes into account the material the ring is made of, the size and quality of the gemstones, and the approximate date of the the ring’s manufacture. Expect to pay $50 to $100 for this service, and don’t be afraid to ask for the appraiser’s credentials. That $25 appraisal at the mall probably isn’t the assessment you are looking for.
Choose a Style and Set a Budget
One of the first things to consider when buying any estate engagement ring is the overall style of the piece. Are you drawn to the simple elegance of designers like Elsa Peretti (see ring on the left), or the bold, geometric extravagance of Art Deco inspired rings? A bit of research can help narrow your choices. In addition to the wealth of information available on the internet, consider checking out brick and mortar stores as well. A reputable estate jeweler is a tremendous asset when it comes to shopping for a vintage ring, and many are quite happy to share their passion and knowledge.
Setting a budget might seem like a particularly unromantic way of shopping for an engagement ring, but setting a budget and sticking to it can help couples avoid falling in love with a ring they really can’t afford. Estate and vintage engagement rings are available at a variety of prices, and once you have decided on a style, you’ll probably be able to find a ring that doesn’t break the bank. One of the great benefits of buying an older ring is the possibility of saving money. Of course, any vintage engagement ring with a beautiful 2 carat diamond is going to be expensive, but you may find that older diamonds can be less expensive than new ones, and won’t carry the 300% mark-up common with new jewelry.
Durability of Vintage and Estate Engagement Rings
Part of the charm of an older engagement ring is its age, but the older an engagement ring is, the more likely it will show some wear and tear. Make sure to check the stone settings with your fingernail—if a gem moves, even a little, the ring should be professionally repaired. You can also give the ring a gentle shake. If it makes noise, it probably has a loose stone or cracked setting.
A reputable dealer can help you find a ring to fit your style that is in good shape, but be sure to check the merchant’s return policy. Even internet marketplaces should allow you to return a ring if it shows more age than you anticipated, or if it has a loose stone or cracked setting. They should even accept a return if the ring simply isn’t what you thought it would be when you see it in person.
Make sure to check the ring carefully before you have it sized or engraved, as no one will accept a return if the ring has been altered. One note about sizing—you will want to search for rings no more than two American sizes larger or smaller than your ring size. Anything more than that range can become prohibitively expensive to resize, and you may find yourself falling in love with a ring that will simply never work on your finger.
Another thing to consider about the durability of your ring is how you will wear it. A delicate vintage engagement ring might not be the best choice if you are an avid gardener and plan to wear the ring every day. Many antique Georgian engagement rings featured foil backing on the gemstones that is easily damaged, even by simple hand washing. Allow your lifestyle to inform your choice.
Do you plan to wear your engagement ring with your wedding band or not? Many vintage engagement rings function nicely as stand-alone pieces, and some brides choose to wear their engagement ring on one hand and their wedding band on the other. If you are going to wear them together, be sure to get them at the same time and try them on together. Sometimes a wedding band can create excessive wear on the engagement ring, or simply prove to be uncomfortable.
How to Sell a Vintage Engagement Ring & Bridal Estate Jewelry
If you already own a vintage or estate 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 on: How to Sell an Engagement Ring.