Over the years, diamonds have become a ubiquitous symbol of eternal love. Due to the overwhelming symbolism associated with diamonds, they are now the traditional choice for wedding rings. However, it may come as a surprise that diamond rings weren’t always so popular. In fact, during the early 20th century, diamonds and engagement rings were a luxury that only the elite and very wealthy were able to afford.
The Rise of the Diamond
It will probably come as a surprise to no one that diamond sales steadily declined during the Great Depression. In 1938, De Beers, a company with a leading role in diamond exploration and mining, began an extensive campaign to increase the popularity of diamonds among women in America. In an effort to add sentimental value to the stone again, the “Diamonds Are Forever” campaign was born. De Beers aired commercials convincing women of the notion that diamonds are essential for love. They even lent jewels to celebrities like Marilyn Monroe for special occasions to help increase exposure and promote sales.
The New Classic
Following the implementation of their advertising campaign, De Beers succeeded in popularizing the diamond engagement ring as the standard choice for brides-to-be. The solitaire diamond ring was especially popular during the 1940s and 1950s. Some of the other rings De Beers promoted included the eternity band and the three stone ring.
The Franklin ring is a clear example of a piece that would have been favored during the Retro era. With a round brilliant cut diamond almost a carat in size, this solitaire would have been the highlight of a De Beers commercial circa 1940.
While the De Beers campaign made diamond engagement rings an essential part of any couple’s relationship, there are many alternatives that are equally symbolic of everlasting love. It may be difficult to stray from the traditional diamond engagement ring, but other gemstones, simpler bands, vintage diamond engagement rings, and crest rings should always be considered as options.
While they have become prototypical over the last few centuries, diamonds weren’t always the most popular choice for wedding rings. For example, the emerald was relatively prominent during the Victorian era, and sapphires and aquamarines were well-favored throughout the Edwardian era. At Trumpet & Horn, we are proud of our non-traditional and vintage diamond engagement rings that substitute diamonds for other precious gems.
Emeralds have gained acceptance throughout history as an esteemed and favored stone. During the Roman empire, soldiers and pregnant women wore them to ensure their health and well-being. During the Victorian era, Queen Victoria helped to popularize emeralds, as she wore her birthstone for many occasions and amassed a following of those who sought to imitate her fashion choices. More recently, emeralds have been showcased in many vintage diamond engagement rings.
Evergreen, an authentically vintage Art Deco ring, circa 1925, is a prime example of an emerald’s everlasting brilliance. This stunning emerald stone is step cut to show its flawless composition. The 0.80 carat stone is bezel set along with four other baguette cut diamonds. The platinum band, currently a unique choice, makes this ring the epitome of alternative engagement rings.
Garnets have been admired for thousands of years. Egyptian pharaohs were mummified with garnet necklaces hung around their necks and traces of garnet signet rings have been found in ancient Roman sites as well.
Though there are many myths about the origin of garnets, the most regarded one stems from the Greek myth of Persephone and Hades. The god of the underworld had fallen in love and captured young Persephone. After his crime was discovered and he was forced to release her, he slipped the food of the underworld into her mouth to ensure her return. His chosen food was the pomegranate—a fitting symbol for the goddess of spring.
The origin of the word “garnet” is from the Latin word for seed, “granatus.” Much like the crimson of the pomegranate seeds, garnets are usually a deep red color. While the most popular shades of garnet are deep red and purple, they naturally come in a variety of other shades, including pink, green, brown, and orange.
Most red stones like the garnet are considered to be symbols of passion, love, and romance. As a result of this superstition, garnets are the ideal vintage diamond engagement ring to represent the love of a newly married couple. An example of the stunning beauty of garnet rings is Ponus Ridge from the 1980s.
This modern day ring has an oval cut, purple-hued garnet that weighs just under half a carat. With the bold garnet as the focus and centerpiece, baguette cut diamonds on the 18 karat band embellish and accentuate the violet gem. Ponus Ridge was designed by the famous English jewelry company, Hennell of Bond Street, and includes English Hallmarks on the inside of the shank.
A pale stone with a blue hue, aquamarine is tied to countless tales and legends. Aquamarine has historically been coined as the stone of the sea, and ancient myths dictate that mermaid tails were composed of this precious stone. Believing the stone had protective powers, superstitious sailors venturing through the Mediterranean would bring aquamarine stones on long journeys. The stone was also believed to ward off fear and protect against sea sickness.
Today, aquamarine is believed to bring faithfulness, friendship, and happiness to couples. Aquamarine has become associated with such qualities as harmony, trust, and hope.
Any vintage diamond engagement ring can be reimagined and reformed with a colorful stone. Our favorite aquamarine ring is Brigitte, a vintage-inspired piece from the Claire Pettibone collection. Influenced by French embroidery with a hint of striking Art Deco symmetry, the ring has an airy and delicate touch. The sparkling round brilliant cut diamonds make the Step Cut aquamarine stand out.
The word opal is derived from the Sanskrit word, ‘upala,’ which means precious stone. Prized by many cultures, this stone was believed to have been discovered over 4,000 years ago. The ancient Greeks believed that opals were the tears of Zeus, imbuing them with religious significance. The shifting colors beneath its lustrous surface compelled the Greeks to believe that opals could be used to prophesy the future.
The Aboriginal tribes in South Australia also gave the opal great significance. In fact, they centered their creation myth around the opal. They believed that the Creator descended to Earth on a rainbow—and where the rainbow touched the ground, rocks and pebbles glittered in its many colors.
The ancient Romans also wore opals, but instead as a symbol of hope and purity. For them, opals were considered a sign of fidelity and were believed to ward off diseases.
At Trumpet & Horn, we have an obsession with opals. We love the variety of our vintage diamond engagement rings that feature opals, including the Archcliffe. Our love for opals stems from the variety of colors encased beneath their surface. Much like the stunning opal in Archcliffe, many opals even have a rainbow-like appearance. The oval opal cabochon in the ring emerged from Australia and is surrounded by 1.6 carats of diamonds. This gorgeous, authentic Victorian era ring is bold reminder of the magic of an opal.
Vintage Instead of Diamond
New engagement rings are exciting in that you may be the first owner of the diamond ring. However, not only are many styles often mass produced, new rings lack the history and tradition that distinguish vintage engagement rings.
Vintage diamond engagement rings are ideal for women who want diamonds, but also want their rings to be unique. Since each piece is impossible to identically replicate, rings were not traditionally mass produced, but rather handmade by a master craftsman. Perhaps even more valuable than the originality of these rings is the rich history behind them—your own story supplements its growing sentimental value.
The Different Eras
There have been different eras of jewelry over the years, each with its own unique characteristics. Discover your favorite jewelry style by examining the epitome from the Victorian, Edwardian, and the Art Deco eras.
Most of the 1800s is referred to as the Victorian era and is known for its three periods: Romantic, Grand, and Aesthetic. The Romantic period, which covers the early years of Queen Victoria’s reign and her marriage to Prince Albert, is known for its sentimental, passionate, and lighthearted pieces, which are distinguished by floral motifs. The Grand period covers the time following Prince Albert’s death and is characterized by somber and dark designs. Queen Victoria’s period of mourning is demarcated by the transition from flowery, colorful jewelry to black, cameo pieces. The Aesthetic period follows the conclusion of Queen Victoria’s melancholy mourning for her husband and revives more colorful pieces.
Harbor Island, with its floral design, distinct diamond cuts, and use of colorful stone, showcases some of the themes most associated with the Victorian era. Reminiscent of an aster, this ring features one of Prince Albert’s favorite gems—the opal. This vintage diamond engagement ring has a cabochon fire opal almost a full carat in size and is surrounded by a halo of ten Old Mine Cut diamonds.
The era following Queen Victoria’s reign is termed the Edwardian era. This short lived period aligns with the reign of King Edward Vll and officially spans from 1901 to 1915. Jewelry from this era is known for its ethereal lightness and intricate design work. Diamonds and platinum were essential and many pieces feature lace-like designs.
A brilliant example of an Edwardian piece is the Westland, which comprises a study of elaborate scrolls and swirls. The Westland ring expresses that diamond vintage engagement rings can be extraordinary when gold and platinum are paired. Set with seven old European cut diamonds, this Edwardian ring is the perfect alternative for the traditional diamond ring.
The period between 1915 to 1935 is known as the Art Deco era. Design elements from this era can be seen in jewelry, art, and even architecture. Geometric shapes, line work, symmetry, and bold colors were featured in rings and other pieces during this time.
Madison Square showcases nearly all of the elements of the Art Deco period. Inspired by cubism, a gorgeous emerald cut diamond sits in the center of the ring and is surrounded by sixteen calibre-cut green emeralds. Another twenty-four old European cut diamonds are spread through the symmetrical detailing of this vintage diamond engagement ring.Crest Rings
A crest offers a very unique alternative to a traditional engagement ring. These pieces are typically embedded with engaging and noteworthy stories. A crest, or signet, ring usually features a noble family’s coat of arms and was used to seal important documents. These rings stamped wax seals and authenticated letters and packages.
Crest rings are great options for both men and women, and can even be designed for a truly unique family heirloom. Trumpet & Horn’s vintage-inspired 14k Gold Lion Crest Ring features the classic design of an engraved prancing lion. The Charing Cross ring is another vintage-inspired creation with a small diamond surrounded by an engraved star. A floral design and scrolling pattern on the shoulders of the ring add unique and intricate details.
A Simple Band
While intricate engagement rings have recently become the norm, humble bands have been exchanged as a symbol of love for over 5,000 years. At Trumpet & Horn, we love vintage diamond engagement rings, but also recognize that sometimes a simple band is the most meaningful expression of love.
In many cultures, the circle represents eternity. In ancient Egypt and Rome, bands made of reeds, grass, leather, and bone were exchanged between newlyweds. Since these materials didn’t last very long, men and women began to exchange rings made of more expensive and reliable materials to convey a longer lasting commitment. The stone in the center of an engagement ring evolved from rings with holes in them. The hole of a ring was considered a gateway that would eventually lead to a more prosperous future.
While ring materials and stones have changed and evolved over the years, the historical significance of the ring has remained. Though wearing wedding bands have been traditional in many European countries, they are re-emerging as a great alternative to excessive diamond rings. Trumpet & Horn offers a selection of bands that are optimal for couples who desire a simple representation of their love or for a bride who requests a band to complement her vintage diamond engagement ring.
The Everlasting Tradition of A Ring
Proposing with a ring is a custom that has been passed down for centuries; only recently have diamonds become a significant aspect of that tradition. For women seeking an alternative to a diamond engagement ring, Trumpet & Horn has a varied selection of styles and stones. Simple bands, crest rings, vintage diamond engagement rings, or rings with other stones. Find your dream ring today at Trumpet & Horn.
lead photo by laura gordon