It seems today that what’s old is new again. Many couples are now choosing to mark their engagements with antique or antique-styled rings. For some, this choice comes from a desire for a ring as unique and special as their relationship; others love the sense of old-fashioned romance and appreciate the intricacy of design.
Strictly speaking, the word “antique” is reserved for an item that is older than 100 years. Collectible items that are less than 100 years of age are referred to as “vintage.” The word “estate” indicates that the item was pre-owned. Most antique engagement rings on the market today date from the 19th century through the first decade of the 20th, and they vary greatly in style and design. The broadness of this stretch of time, and the remarkable transformations in fashion that transpired over each era, caused many changes in jewelry design from one period to the next. Whatever the appeal in style, it’s good to know a little of the origin of a piece.
During the Victorian era
(1837-1901), which was an extend period marked by an array of stylistic influences, rings were usually of yellow or rose gold accented with simple solitary stones, such as Old Mine-cut or Old European-cut diamonds; these cuts were earlier versions of the modern Round Brilliant cut diamond. The earlier part of this period saw an interest in romantic motifs, as reflected in rococo styles, followed by a return to a simpler, more classical emphasis of style. In the latter half of the nineteenth century, this simplicity reigned supreme, evidenced by the introduction of the diamond solitaire by Tiffany & Co.
in 1886. It was also around this time that white gold and platinum became a popular choice for engagement rings, a standard that remains today.
After Queen Victoria’s death, the first decade of the 20th century ushered in a new vibrancy, replacing the sullenness that long marked many aspects of her monarchy as a result of the 40 years she spent mourning the death of her husband. This period (1901-1910), referred to as the Edwardian era
, was characterized by ostentatious living and much amusement. King Edward’s penchant for social diversions spilled into high society, and lavish parties became the norm. Transformations in bridal ring design are notable, and brides of this period often opted for fancy filigree hand-pierced designs resembling lace—a technique of piercing metal used to create intricate, openwork looks.
The era between the two World Wars was marked by the almost exclusive use of white gold, first developed in the late 1800s. With the global increase in industrialization and manufacturing, artists in all disciplines were starting to look towards angular and geometric motifs for design inspiration. The Art Deco period embraced this new design concept. Engagement rings, produced between 1915 and 1940, were more geometric in shape design, with diamonds set in steps on each side of the center stone.
By the 1940s, though fashion still maintained importance during this period, the earlier part of the decade dictated restraint. WWII placed restrictions on the use of platinum, as this metal was important for the construction of weapons. Use of certain metals and a scarcity of gemstones also existed due to the difficulties of travel and importation during the war. But by the mid-1940s, when the war ended and more light-hearted fashion appeared, jewelry design once again began to flourish. Bridal jewelry during this retro era featured delicately engraved patterns and romantic, feminine carvings. Bold yellow gold designs contained more dimension than the flat two-dimensional designs of the previous period.
It’s no wonder that the fascination for vintage and antique rings for brides should thrive even today. After all, any one ring could express so much, not only about the love shared between two people, but also about the period in which it was designed.
Because of the age of these pieces, when shopping for a vintage or estate engagement ring, it is important to inspect the condition of the piece. The prongs holding the center diamond and any small stones should be solid and secure, and the shank of the ring should be of sufficient thickness.
Keep in mind that your engagement ring will be worn every day. So, whether you choose a newly made ring with antique styling or a genuine antique or vintage ring, make sure it is in excellent condition.
Image by David & Company.