Your love is one of a kind, and you shouldn’t have to select a contemporary, mass-produced ring to express it. When you choose vintage or antique engagement rings, you get more than just a piece of jewelry. Each ring is a part of history, pieced together by the artisans who created it and shaped by the stories of the people who used it as a symbol of their love. Instead of running all over town to peruse the selections at local jewelry stores, you can find the right ring by shopping for and buying an antique or vintage engagement ring online at EBTH. With designer rings in a variety of precious metals and gemstones, you’re sure to find the right ring for your style.
Like architecture, art, and fashion, jewelry follows the design trends of the time with popular colors, materials, and motifs. When shopping for an estate engagement ring, it helps to know the stylistic differences between artistic periods in jewelry making so you can narrow your search to the designs that best suit your taste.
The Georgian era refers to the reigns of four successive English kings, George I, II, III, and IV, from 1714 to 1830. Jewelry artisans pounded metals by hand and worked with precious stone cutting patterns like old-world rose, table, and old mine, combining them with intricate metalwork. Silver, 18 karat gold, and pinchbeck, an alloy of copper and zinc meant to resemble gold, were common metals used in jewelry making during this era.
Artisans incorporated the detail and ornamentation of the rococo into their work. These highly decorative rings featured colored stones surrounded by gold scrolls in asymmetrical patterns or multiple stones clustered together to look like flowers, clovers, and other natural motifs. Unpolished gold and silver rings paired with diamonds, garnets, emeralds, and topaz in cluster and bezel settings were also popular. Engagement rings from the Georgian period are rare; jewelers often melted down outdated pieces to create new ones.
In the wake of the American and French revolutions, the Western world enjoyed a period of peace and prosperity. The Victorian era is named for England’s Queen Victoria and is distinguished by the romantic and mystical qualities of art produced during that time. Like Georgian jewelry, Victorian-era pieces are handmade with romantic symbolism and sentimentality. Natural motifs, including serpents, flowers, hearts, and clovers, appear frequently in jewelry from the early Victorian period and later incorporated knots and tassels modeled after Moorish designs and Egyptian and Etruscan ornamentation.
Acrostic rings, which spell out messages through the first letter of the names of precious stones they use, were popular along with cluster rings shaped like flowers. Until the discovery of a diamond mine in South Africa, engagement rings usually featured the bride’s birthstone. Queen Victoria herself had the ultimate Victorian engagement ring: a serpent-shaped gold ring with an emerald embedded in the snake’s head.
By the time Victoria’s son Edward assumed the throne in 1901, industrialization was in full force, bringing with it advances in metalwork. These advances made it possible for jewelers to experiment with platinum, manipulating the metal into delicate lacy designs, bow motifs, and garland shapes.
Concurrent with the Edwardian era, Art Nouveau was flourishing across Europe. This movement brought the curves and silhouettes found in nature into art, architecture, and even jewelry design. Rings from this period often feature organic and animal motifs such as leaves, birds, insect wings, and floral shapes. Moonstone and opal were favored for their dreamy, ethereal qualities.
One notable design technique used during this time period was milgraining, or lines of tiny beads along the edges of rings. As a result, Edwardian rings have distinctive minimalist settings featuring diamonds surrounded by precious and semiprecious stones or single stones embellished with milgrain.
After emerging from World War I, the Western world entered another period marked by advancing technology, unprecedented wealth, and challenges to the social order of the time. Based on bold, geometric patterns and striking, contrasting colors, Art Deco jewelry embodies the forward-thinking technology and mechanization of the 1920s and 1930s.
Art Deco engagement rings often feature machine-cut diamonds, emeralds, sapphires, and rubies with sharp, straight lines. Jewelers continued using platinum and started experimenting with more affordable white gold to create geometric cutouts in the metal that created the illusion of motion around the stones. Art Deco engagement rings are bold and striking — qualities every great flapper appreciates.
Economic prosperity increased in the United States following WWII, and jewelry designers shifted their focus to all things dazzling — primarily diamonds. Diamond conglomerate De Beers first used the famed “a diamond is forever” slogan in 1947, paving the way for jewelers of the day to create flashier, brighter engagement rings. Although platinum became scarce during WWII, its use in jewelry flourished once again in the 1950s.
In addition to choosing the jewelry style that best matches your taste, you need to set a budget for your ring. Factors like metals, stones, and construction all influence the price of a ring.
Although diamonds are a popular choice for engagement rings, other stones like emeralds, rubies, sapphires, and amethysts appear frequently in vintage pieces, which can influence the cost of the ring. Rubies and sapphires tend to be rarer than diamonds in antique jewelry, and this relative scarcity can raise the prices of pieces with these stones.
As you begin shopping for your antique or vintage engagement ring, it’s important to consider a few practical matters that can influence your choice:
• Sizing: Vintage and engagement rings are often available in smaller sizes than their modern counterparts. Try to find a ring that isn’t more than two sizes bigger or smaller than the one you usually wear. This ensures the ring can be resized with minimal damage.
• Gemologist Certification: Examination by a certified gemological laboratory can help you learn more about the ring. Typically, a lab technician removes the center stone from the ring to determine the stone’s carat weight and integrity and assign it a grade. If the center stone is a ruby, sapphire, emerald, or other colored stone, the lab removes it from the ring setting to determine if any color-enhancing treatments have been performed.
• Bands: Antique engagement rings are often listed for sale without matching wedding bands. If you decide to find a band to pair with yours, try to find one that follows the curves of the engagement ring. Wearing a straight band with a curved engagement ring can cause unnecessary wear to the vintage piece and diminish its quality.
EBTH is the premier online marketplace for buying vintage and antique rings, as well as newer pieces from top jewelry designers like Tiffany & Co., Cartier, David Yurman, and more. Whether you’re looking for a unique antique engagement ring from the Victorian or Edwardian periods, a vintage Art Deco ring or a beautiful modern ring, our online jewelry auctions consistently feature some of the most gorgeous rings on the market, all at auction prices. With antique and vintage engagement rings in a variety of precious metals and gemstones, you’re sure to find the right ring for your style.