Once Wed: Shopping for a Vintage Engagement Ring

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We are so excited to share this incredibly informative feature with you, published today on Once Wed! We teamed up with 12th Table & M.K. Sadler to create a definitive guide to buying a vintage or antique engagement ring. We know the process can be overwhelming and we don't expect you to be an expert--that's our job! We included some of our most frequently asked questions in the article and the best advice we have to offer. Head on over to OnceWed to check it out, or see some excerpts below! five-things-vintage-ring-shopping


  • 1. Shop within your budget. Never be intimidated or pressured when shopping for an engagement ring. This is supposed to be a fun and educational experience. Shop with people who are passionate and knowledgeable about their product, and don’t forget to ask questions.
  • 2. A good, reputable company will always have a return or exchange policy. If they don’t, walk away.
  • 3. Vintage pieces are different than modern rings – they are, special, one-of-a-kind pieces, and each was made as the original artisan intended them. For this reason, many places will not take customization requests for old rings. They were designed decades ago and it’s significant to keep their integrity intact by keeping them as-is.
  • 4. Buying vintage is the closest you can get to being “green” with your engagement ring. Since the rings have existed for so long, there are no extra diamond mining, manufacturing, or labor costs associated with these rings, other than simple sizing and restoration.
  • 5. If you are shopping for vintage rings online, make sure the company you’re shopping with offers free shipping and returns. There’s no need to make shopping for a ring online complicated!

Victorian Era: (1835-1890)

The Victorian Period was named for Queen Victoria, who inherited the throne of England in 1837 when she was only 18 years old. Victoria was young, beautiful, and loved immensely by her subjects. Her tastes in fashion and jewelry were highly regarded and inspired the Victorian jewelry trends of the time. Queen Victoria was married in 1840, and she wore a snake motif ring (a symbol of eternal love at the time) set with her birthstone, a brilliant green emerald, as her engagement ring. In the Victorian era, it was very common for birthstones to be used instead of diamonds for engagement rings. After Victoria’s beloved Albert passed away in 1861, the queen went into the customary mourning period for 18 months, which inspired the gold lockets and black jet pieces commonly seen in this period.


Nearing the end of the Victorian period, the discovery of diamonds in South Africa helped popularize diamonds again. Additionally, this historical period is where the very first diamond solitaire engagement rings originated! At the turn of the century, society was at the height of the industrial revolution and the jewelry of the time period reflected the dawning of a new modern age. Queen Victoria passed away in 1901 after a 64 year reign, marking the end of an era and the beginning of a new one when her son Edward ascended the throne, ushering in the Edwardian era.


Edwardian Era: (1890-1915)

Queen Victoria’s son, Edward VII, took the throne in 1901. Society was at the height of its elegance and sophistication: it was during this time that advances in metal fabrication finally allowed for the use of platinum in jewelry (which still remains extremely popular today). This advance makes jewelry dating much easier - if a piece is made with platinum, we can be fairly sure that it was made in the early 20th century or later. In addition, it was still common practice for jewelers to back platinum pieces with gold until 1910 or so, making dating even more precise.


Because of the strength of platinum, its use allowed jewelers to produce more intricate, detailed pieces. Some Edwardian engagement rings are so detailed it appears that the diamonds are set in lace instead of metal. Jewelry from the Edwardian period was light and delicate, and using as many diamonds as possible in a design was essential. The overall style of the times was light, feminine, and airy. Women commonly wore white, white, and more white. Diamonds were the gemstone of choice during the time, but we also see sapphires, aquamarines, and most notably, electric green demantoid garnets from Russia, which are very rare to find in larger sizes.


Additionally, a new type of decorative enhancement called “milgraining” was used extensively during this period. Milgraining involves a small border of platinum beads set around the edges of a piece of jewelry that adds a soft, elegant look. The end of the Edwardian era came abruptly with the start of World War I in 1914. Gone was the lightheartedness of the times: people began to hide or sell all their jewelry, and platinum became scare due to the demand for its use in the war effort.


Art Deco Era: (1915-1935)

When World War I began in 1914, manufacturing of jewelry came to a stop. The hard times brought on by the war also marked the end of the fashions and trends that were popular in the Edwardian era. Women were needed to take over men’s roles in the workplace while they were at war, and they started learning valuable skills and earning their own money. This change combined with winning the right to vote in 1920 lead to independence and emancipation for women. When the war ended, the “Roaring 20’s” ushered in a new attitude and an overall desire to live life to the fullest - an attitude that was very much reflected in the new jewelry design trends.  

The most characteristic feature of Art Deco jewelry is the emphasis on bold, geometric designs. Lines were straight and linear, and gemstone shapes most often followed suit. Calibre cut sapphires, rubies, and emeralds were used to add splashes of color to otherwise diamond-centric jewelry. Black onyx and red coral were also used often as accent colors.


When King Tutukhamen’s tomb opened in 1922 there was a return to Egyptian revival jewelry as well. Platinum was still the metal of choice, but white gold was also popular since the cost of platinum was so high. Women wore multiple bracelets stacked on their wrists, as well as long strands of cultured pearls, which complemented flapper-style fringed skirts and backless dresses. Major designers of the time were Tiffany, Cartier, Van Cleef and Arpels, Harry Winston, Lalique and Mauboussin, among others. Their great influence of jewelry design and impeccable reputations were well earned and still stand true today.


Make sure you head on over to Once Wed to check out all of the great advice on buying a vintage engagement ring!

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