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A classic example of a Georgian Period ring. The 21 rose-cut diamonds are set in silver with an 18k rose-colored gold shank. The intricacies of the hand-made repoussé metal work and its pristine condition will supersede the quality of the diamonds and set the price. (However, the fact that the diamonds aren’t chipped or abraded is a plus). Photograph by Cole Bybee. Image courtesy of Lang Antique and Estate Jewelry.

Let’s start with three basic questions:

What Is An Antique?

This question has generated quite a bit of debate in the jewelry world. In the past, jewelry appraisers said a ring must be 100 years old to be labeled an antique. This year of demarcation has been relaxed in recent times. Now, appraisers declare a ring must be only 50 years old.

We’ll compromise. In this article, we’ll cover rings made before 1930, which marks the end of the Art Deco jewelry design period.

How Do You Know How Old A Ring Is?

Qualified appraisers and gemologists can assist with dating a ring. If you want to purchase an authentic ring from a design period, deal only with a reputable antique jewelry store. Be wary of rings marked as reproductions, modern rings made to resemble antiques. A reputable vintage ring dealer will guide you in the identifying the difference.

Below are some of the characteristics that can help identify a ring’s age.

Motif

The first calling card of a ring’s production date is its overall style, ornamentation, and symbolism. Graceful lines, bold patterns, and depicted scenes can help pinpoint age. Historical and cultural events can also drive motif. For example, the 1800s saw an influx of designs inspired by archeological finds from the opening of Egyptian and Etruscan tombs.

Gem Cutting Styles

Faceting styles and the shapes of cut diamonds and other gemstones in rings will help pinpoint their era. Watch for these important cutting styles when examining antique engagement rings.

  • Table Cut: a square shape with a large flat top and few facets. One of the earliest cuts, not commonly seen.
  • Rose Cut: a rounded shape with a flat bottom and a domed top and few facets. One of the earlier cuts, premiered in the 1500s, enjoyed a revival in rings made in the 1800s.
  • Step Cut: a square or rectangular shape with long facets. Used from the 1800s through modern times.
  • Old Mine Cut: a rounded square shape with decidedly more facets than the table and rose cuts. Rings dated from the 1800s through early 1900s will often feature gems with this style.
  • Old European Cut: a round faceted shape, a precursor to today’s modern round brilliant cut. Clunkier than the modern round, you often find it in rings dated through the 1900s.

Popular Gemstones

Many varieties of gems have been available as ring stones for centuries. However, their popularity waxes and wanes based on color and fashion. For example, Queen Victoria liked blue. Thus, turquoise was en vogue during her reign. On the other hand, some gems appear to have unwavering interest. Rubiessapphires, and emeralds enjoyed great popularity throughout the eras we’ll cover.

Metal Use

The metals or combinations of metals used in jewelry fabrication can also help date the ring. For example, in the 1700s, jewelers sometimes used silver to set diamonds.

This bold Mid-Victorian ring features the coral, enameling, and Etruscan motifs commonly used during this period. Small, rose-cut diamonds in an 18k yellow gold mounting accent the coral. With no chips or breaks, the enameling adds value. The detailing of the Etruscan beading, using valuable 18k gold, is sublime. Photograph by Cole Bybee. Image courtesy of Lang Antique and Estate Jewelry.

How Do Modern And Antique Engagement Rings Differ?

While an antique ring can make a beautiful alternative to a modern ring, consider these three important differences between them.

Diamond Grading Is A Relatively New Phenomenon

Today, the famous 4 Cs of diamond grading constitutes a common diamond language between buyer and seller. However, the Gemological Institute of America (GIA) established this standard in the 1950s. Diamonds in antique engagement rings created prior to that were evaluated differently. For example, in the 1700s, diamond rings only came out to play by candlelight. Yellower diamonds were common. The technology to cut diamonds to today’s exacting proportions didn’t exist. Thus, old rose cuts, flat on the bottom and domed on the top with few facets, seriously hampered diamond brilliance. In contrast, today’s round brilliant cut has 58 facets, laser cut to specified proportions to unleash maximum brilliance.

No Gemological Lab Reports

Having gemological laboratory reports accompany all center diamonds in engagement rings is an even newer phenomenon. Most likely, you won’t find reports extolling the color, clarity, carat, and cut grades of diamonds in an antique ring. Some antique rings will have a report, but only if the center diamond can be removed from the mounting without damaging the setting.

Love And Wear

Antique jewelry may show signs of being “loved.” The owners of these pieces have probably handed them down through generations. They will most likely show some wear. However, this also aids in establishing the authenticity of the ring. Careful, though. Too much “love” can also devalue the ring.

This Mid-Victorian ring features five cushion-cut sapphires, totaling 0.55 cts, ringed by 18 Old Mine-cut diamonds, totaling 0.55 cts, in an 18k yellow gold hand-engraved shank. The rich, velvety blue of the well-matched sapphires and the uniformity of the Old Mine cuts set the price. The hand-engraved shank helps as well. Photograph by Cole Bybee. Image courtesy of Lang Antique and Estate Jewelry.

Now, let’s get an overview of the chief characteristics of some of the most well-known jewelry design periods. This can help you focus your search for the antique engagement rings perfect for you.

The Georgian Period (1700-1830)

During the Georgian Period, intricate metal work depicting natural themes came into fashion. This was called repoussé. In addition, the use of faceted gemstones became the new rage.

Motifs

Flowers, butterflies, ribbons, and scrolls.

Gem Cutting Styles

Table, rose, and Old Mine cuts.

Popular Gemstones

Popular ring stones included diamond, garnet, emerald, topaz, and amber. Jewelers often set gems in closed settings with foil backing for enhancement. (If you acquire such a foil-backed Georgian ring, take special precautions. Contact with water can ruin the foil).

Metal Use

Silver over 18k gold; 10k, 18k, and 22k yellow gold; and pinchbeck (83% copper and 17% zinc).

Rings from the Georgian Period are very rare.

The Victorian Era (1837-1901)

Queen Victoria reigned for a long time. Thus, jewelry historians usually break down this era into three periods: Early (or Romantic), Mid, and Late Victorian.

Early Or Romantic Victorian (1837-1860)

The rings of the Early Victorian Period reflected the love the young queen had for her husband, Albert. Victoria’s love of diamonds fueled their popularity. During this period, placing the bride-to-be’s birthstone in the engagement ring became fashionable.

The 1840s saw the start of large-scale jewelry manufacturing. However, jewelers were still making many pieces by hand. Based on detail and condition, hand-fabricated pieces will command a higher price in today’s antique market.

Motifs

Popular ring motifs included snakes as symbols of eternal love. (No, really). Other fashionable motifs included: angels, love knots, and crosses; Celtic, Greek, and Roman designs; and clovers and flowers.

Gem Cutting Styles

Rose, Old Mine, and step cuts.

Popular Gemstones

Diamond, amethyst, pink and gold topaz, coral, turquoise, ruby, and carved cameos.

Metal Use

Silver; 18k and 22k gold in various colors; rolled gold (gold plating over a base metal); and pinchbeck.

Mid-Victorian (1860-1885)

During this tumultuous period, Queen Victoria’s husband passed away, and the Civil War raged in America. Dark and heavy rings often reflected a state of mourning. After the discovery of diamonds in South Africa in 1867, jewelers used them frequently. In addition, the California gold rush flooded the market with gold.

Motifs

Acorns, bees, birds, flowers, geometric patterns, and stars; Etruscan (fine granulations) and Egyptian designs; and enameling.

Gem Cutting Styles

Rose, Old Mine, and step cuts.

Popular Gemstones

Garnet, diamond, emerald, black onyxpearlopaljet, and black glass.

Metal Use

Silver, steel, and 9k, 10k, and 15k gold. Rose-colored gold in all karats became exceedingly popular.

Late Victorian (1885-1900)

During this design period, rings became more airy and light compared to Mid-Victorian pieces. Up to this point, most engagement rings were clusters of gems. 1895 saw the solitaire engagement ring gain popularity. Platinum entered the scene as the luxury metal of choice.

Motifs

Crescents, horseshoes, moons, oak leaves, and trefoils; double hearts with crowns or knots; bows and ribbons; and navette or marquise-shaped rings.

Gem Cutting Styles

Old Mine and rose cuts.

Popular Gemstones

Amethystaquamarine, emerald, peridotchrysoberyl, ruby, sapphiremoonstone, and opal.

Metal Use

Platinum, silver, gold, and rolled gold

This Late Victorian ring has a classic navette shape. It features seven sapphires, totaling 2.00 cts, accented with 30 platinum-mounted rose-cut diamonds, totaling 0.25 cts, and an 18k gold shank. The vivid blue, well-matched sapphires have descending uniform sizes. They set the price, along with the hand-fabricated platinum mountings for the diamonds. (The diamond weight helps, too). The ring retails for $4,750. Photograph by Cole Bybee. Image courtesy of Lang Antique and Estate Jewelry.

The Art Nouveau Period (1895-1915)

In this age of the artisan, jewelers considered themselves artists. Their beautiful creations were fluid and graceful. Although jewelry pieces such as pins, necklaces, and hair combs better capture the beauty of Art Nouveau, you still find wonderful rings in the antique market.

Motifs

Popular motifs included fluid lines and depictions of nature. Enameling, especially plique-a-jour, was a popular technique.

Gem Cutting Styles

Old Mine and Old European cuts.

Popular Gemstones

Tourmaline, small diamonds, pearl, emerald, opal, amberlapis lazulimoonstonecarnelian, and synthetic gems.

Metal Use

Platinum, silver, and white and yellow 14k and 18k gold.

This Art Nouveau ring reflects the natural motifs typical of this period. The 2.50-ct cushion-cut diamond is set in oxidized silver over a gold mounting, with gold prongs stretching to anchor the diamond. The diamond determines the price, but the beautiful metal work lends value. Photograph by Cole Bybee. Image courtesy of Lang Antique and Estate Jewelry.

The Edwardian Period (1901-1914)

Although the Edwardian Period overlaps Art Nouveau, each gets treated as its own design period due to their distinctive styles. Known for their graceful and airy nuances, Edwardian rings used open wire designs and filigree. Platinum use surged due to the metal’s unparalleled strength. It enabled jewelers to create delicate and lacy mountings. Enameling became immensely popular.

Rings from the Edwardian Period should have a hallmark (metal purity) and/or a maker’s mark (firm responsible for production). You’ll find them stamped inside the shank.

Motifs

Bows, ribbons, moon and stars, flowers, leaves, and shamrocks.

Gem Cutting Styles

Rose, Old Mine, and Old European cuts.

Popular Gemstones

Pearl, diamond, peridot, emerald, sapphire, ruby, opal, moonstone, and mother of pearl.

Metal Use

Silver, platinum, rolled gold, and gold (especially 18k) in multi-colors.

This Edwardian ring captures the airy quality of this period’s style. It features a 0.73-ct, J color, VS2 clarity, Old European-cut diamond set in a platinum, floral motif-engraved mounting. The ornateness and the pristine quality of the engraving and filigree are fantastic. However, the diamond sets the price in the ring. Photograph by Cole Bybee. Image courtesy of Lang Antique and Estate Jewelry.

The Art Deco Period (1920-1930)

Currently, Art Deco rings rank as the most popular (and abundant) antique engagement rings on the market. These pieces feature bold geometric patterns and colors, filigree and millgrain work, and lots of resplendent diamonds! Nothing exemplified this era of unheralded opulence, wild abandon, and faith in progress more than sprays of diamonds.

Motifs

Popular motifs included geometric patterns as well as designs influenced by Egyptian, African, Oriental, and American Indian art. Enamel accents were popular.

Gem Cutting Styles

Old Mine, Old European, and step cuts, as well as new styles of shield shapes and caliber cuts.

Popular Gemstones

Diamond, emerald, sapphire, ruby, black onyx, crystal (quartz), ivory, jade, mother of pearl, and synthetic gems.

Metal Use

Platinum, silver, white gold, chrome, and marcasite.

This Art Deco ring showcases all that is glorious of Art Deco rings. Its millgrain-engraved platinum mounting highlights a 1.31-ct old European cut of J color and VS2 clarity in the center. Caliber-cut sapphires serve as accents. The center and accent diamonds as well as the platinum all establish the price of the ring. Note also the excellent condition of the sapphires. This ring would retail for $9,950. In contrast, a modern round brilliant-cut 1.30-ct diamond of J color and VS2 clarity would retail from $8,000 to $10,000. (Just for the diamond). Photograph by Cole Bybee. Image courtesy of Lang Antique and Estate Jewelry.

Can I Keep The Ring But Replace The Gem?

Do you like the look of the Art Deco ring above but want to replace that Old European-cut diamond with a modern brilliant round?

Just move along, then.

Replacing the center diamond would compromise the integrity of the piece and destroy its aura of timelessness. Perhaps you should consider a modern engagement ring with an antique look. Tacori engagement rings capture this beautifully.

Shopping Options For Antique Engagement Rings

A whole new world of antique jewelry awaits you. Make sure you shop at reputable stores, whether brick-and mortar or online. Remember, you’ll likely encounter many reproductions on the market. Gemologists and appraisers can help you select an authentic piece.

Lang Antiques is knowledgeable, accessible, and has an immense collection.

Brilliant Earth also has an extensive collection of vintage and antique engagement rings.

If you prefer a new, unique ring in an antique style, check out the custom jewelry makers listed in the IGS Business Directory.

Happy hunting!

This Edwardian ring highlights the intricate, platinum lattice work common in jewelry of this period. The old European-cut diamond weighs 2.20 cts, has L-M color, and a SI1 clarity grade. The accent old mine-cut diamonds weigh a total of 0.55 cts. The weight of the center diamond determines the price, though the accent diamonds contribute. However, the intact intricate platinum work, as well as the metal itself, plays a major role. Photograph by Cole Bybee. Image courtesy of Lang Antique and Estate Jewelry.

Find this Ringat Custom MadeThis wedding set shows design elements from many eras: a Victorian-inspired halo, Edwardian filigree, and a touch of modern asymmetry in the pear-shaped side stones. © CustomMade. Used with permission.

What Makes An Engagement Ring “Vintage”?

“Vintage” refers to anything at least 20 years old, while “antique” refers to anything at least 100 years old. When it comes to engagement rings, “vintage” usually signifies the ring’s style rather than its age. In general, if you’re looking for a vintage engagement ring, you’re really looking for a modern, vintage-style engagement ring setting.

If you’re visualizing a simple engagement ring, you’re most likely looking for a design from the “Retro Era” (1940-1960). However, most other vintage designs tend to be more ornate.

If your spouse-to-be frequents second-hand shops, they might prefer an older ring to a vintage-inspired modern one. Check out antique shops and ask family members for any heirloom rings you could have. If you’re going this route, read our article on antique engagement rings.

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Eras And Inspiration For Vintage Engagement Rings

Aside from age, there’s not much to dictate style for vintage engagement rings. Technically, even relatively modern rings from the 1990s can be considered “vintage.” However, we’ll discuss four eras that modern vintage styles frequently emulate. See what catches your eye.

Victorian Era (1835-1900)

In the Victorian Era, engagement rings vary widely in designs and materials.  (In fact, Victorian jewelry can be subdivided into earlymiddle, and late period styles). However, Victorian rings were generally yellow or rose gold and often included diamonds. Rows, halos, and clusters of diamonds became popular during this era. So, in some ways, a yellow gold double-halo ring could be an example of a Victorian-inspired vintage engagement ring.

Find this Ringat James AllenWith a nod to floral design and many tiny diamonds, this designer engagement ring strongly evokes Victorian style. Check it out. © James Allen. Used with permission.

Popular Colors

Since blue was the eponymous Queen Victoria’s favorite color, turquoise and blue enamel appeared often in jewelry from this period. Pearls were also featured frequently. Since perliculture hadn’t been perfected yet, pearls in jewelry from this era were natural, and small seed pearls were more common than larger ones. Other white gemstones like moonstone and opal were also popular.

Find this Ringat CustomMadeWith a halo setting and seed pearl accents, this vintage engagement ring is a good example of Victorian design. © CustomMade. Used with permission.

Diamond Cuts

Although large diamonds were uncommon at this time, consumers began to wear diamond solitaires. However, most diamonds were old mine cuts, old European cuts, step cuts, or rose cuts, since modern diamond cuts like the round brilliant hadn’t been invented yet

Find this Ringat CustomMadeThe sweet simplicity of a rose-cut diamond can give any engagement ring a vintage feel. © CustomMade. Used with permission.

Victorian Motifs

Popular Victorian motifs included bows, hearts, birds, and snakes. Navette or marquise shapes were also popular, either as a gemstone shape or in the overall design. In addition, the bypass setting was popular during this period (another common choice for modern styles as well).

Victorian era engagement ring with a 1.23-ct old mine-cut diamond center stone set in yellow gold, circa 1880. Photo © Estate Diamond Jewelry. Used with permission.

Edwardian Era (1900-1920)

If you’re into intricate, lacy designs, you’ll love jewelry from the Edwardian Era.

Find this Ringat James AllenScrolling details on this platinum vintage engagement ring were typical of Edwardian design. Check out this ring. © James Allen. Used with permission.

Rings from this period were generally platinum and included intricate metalwork called filigree in designs featuring scrolling, ribbons, and vines. Floral motifs were also popular.

Edwardian era engagement ring with a 4.30-ct antique cushion-cut diamond center stone set in platinum, circa 1910. The openwork filigree on the sides of the ring has a leaf motif. Photo © Estate Diamond Jewelry. Used with permission.

Although diamonds and pearls continued to be popular, colored gemstones appeared in jewelry more frequently. Old mine cuts, old European cuts, and rose cuts were the most common cuts for diamonds in this period.

Find this Ringat CustomMadeNature-inspired filigree took root in Edwardian jewelry. © CustomMade. Used with permission.

Art Deco Era (1920-1940)

In contrast to the lacy lightness of Edwardian styles, Art Deco was all about bold geometry and repeating patterns. Instead of curvy, flowing filigree, Art Deco rings often included metalwork with repeating, sharp angles and tiny beads called milgrain. This style has enjoyed a resurgence in popularity in recent years.

  • The octagon halo, milgrain, and step-cut diamonds in the band are elements of Art Deco style. Check out this ring. © James Allen. Used with permission.

Step-cut diamonds like emerald and asscher cuts became fashionable, and colored gemstones, especially rubiessapphires, and emeralds, were especially popular.

Art Deco engagement ring with a 0.94-ct old European-cut diamond center stone, set in platinum, circa 1930. Photo © Estate Diamond Jewelry. Used with permission.

However, during the Great Depression, many consumers couldn’t afford these expensive gemstones, so they opted for more affordable alternatives instead, including amethystcitrinegarnet, and glass.

Retro Era (1940-1960)

Prior to World War II, few engagement rings featured a center diamond. However, after the highly successful De Beers diamond marketing campaign, which began in the 1940s, engagement rings almost exclusively featured diamonds.

Find this Ringat CustomMadeSimply beautiful, the round-cut diamond in rose gold with baguette diamonds was a popular choice in the 1950s and has seen a comeback. © CustomMade. Used with permission.

Unlike earlier rings, engagement rings from this “Retro Era” featured simpler designs. Solitaire rings and baguette side stones were quite popular, and the typical size of the center stone grew larger once the Depression ended.

Retro era engagement ring with a 0.75-ct transitional-cut diamond center stone set in platinum, circa 1940. Photo © Estate Diamond Jewelry. Used with permission.

Since the non-military use of platinum was banned during World War II, yellow and rose gold became the metals of choice for engagement rings in the United States during this period. Many rings from this era were two-toned, with both yellow gold and white gold in the design.

A modern round brilliant diamond in a simple gold design might just describe your grandmother’s engagement ring, and this nostalgia makes these rings popular today.

The De Beers “A Diamond is Forever” tagline and campaign played a major role in establishing diamonds as the stone of choice for most engagement rings. A De Beers advertisement in the August 1960 Reader’s DigestPhoto by Sensei Alan. Licensed under CC By 2.0.

Engagement Rings From Recent Decades

In the 1960s, Jacqueline Kennedy’s two-stone diamond and emerald engagement ring brought colored gemstones back into fashion. Art Deco styles were also popular.

In the late 1970s, disco styles were bold and large. Rings from this decade also featured geometric designs.

Vintage M. Buccellati engagement ring with a 1.07-ct round brilliant-cut diamond center stone set in white and yellow gold, circa 1970. Photo © Estate Diamond Jewelry. Used with permission.

In the 1980s, Princess Diana’s famous sunburst halo sapphire engagement ring inspired a wave of imitations. Colored gemstones and pear shapes were popular.

The 1990s are the most recent decade that can be considered “vintage.” Designs were bold and minimalistic, and marquise-cut diamonds were especially popular.

Vintage Engagement Ring Designs

Vintage engagement rings often incorporate aspects of styles from multiple eras, blending them into something new. Check out these rings that combine elements of Victorian, Edwardian, and Art Deco design.

  • In this vintage engagement ring, the metals appear like ribbons forming a heart shape, elements of Victorian or Edwardian jewelry. However, using two-tone metals and a relatively small, minimalistic design evokes the Retro Era. © CustomMade. Used with permission.

Some vintage-inspired engagement rings incorporate modern design aspects, too. Take a look at how these rings blend the old with the new.

  • Although the strong angles and geometry might make you think Art Deco or the 1970s, the small size is part of a recent minimalistic trend. © CustomMade. Used with permission.

Not Sure What Kind Of Ring To Get?

If you’re planning a surprise proposal and you’re not sure what kind of ring to get, start by checking with friends and family. Pinterest and Instagram are always good places to look for ideas.

You can also start by asking yourself some basic style questions to help narrow your search. For example, does your intended prefer nature-inspired designs or geometric patterns? Lots of diamonds in elaborate settings or fewer stones in simpler styles?

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