6 Reasons to Buy A Vintage Engagement Ring

There’s a lot to take into consideration when choosing an engagement ring, after all it’s a piece of jewelry that you’ll be wearing daily for many years to come. There are so many diamond engagement rings out there that it can be mind boggling to choose one, especially when the rings all start to look alike. It may be that a charming vintage engagement ring is the perfect fit for you. Catherine Arsala of  New York estate jewelry firm Friman and Stein offers a few reasons why an antique or vintage engagement ring is an excellent choice. 

Unique Design 

Emerald cut diamond, set in platinum, with step baguette mounting, circa 1925, courtesy Friman and Stein. 

In general vintage engagement rings are not mass produced, they have more character and personality and they really are one-of-a-kind. Typically our clients want something different, they’re not looking for a solitaire like everyone else has. For the most part, vintage engagement rings have a high level of detail and design —  whether it’s intricate engraving, millegrain, enamel or calibre set stones — that are not as commonly seen in today’s newly made jewelry. Since things were handmade, generally no two rings are ever exactly alike. For someone who is looking for a unique ring, vintage is a great option. What I find most appealing is that a lot of these rings are close to 100 years old, or more, yet people are still wearing them and they are still in fashion. They stand the test of time. You’ll never look at it and wonder why did I fall victim to that trend?

Sustainable 

Vintage or antique engagement rings are sustainable from the point of view that we are not creating anything new and nothing new is mined to make these rings. You also don’t have to worry about the diamonds being conflict-free because they were mined decades ago. The main thing is that you are not expending energy to make something new. 

Diamonds & Gemstones 

Old cut diamonds and gemstones were cut by hand so they have a certain look that you rarely get from today’s machine cut stones. Because they were cut by hand each diamond or gemstone is slightly different and will have unique variations, resulting in more charming character and personality. While there are some cutters today who cut rose cuts, old miners, or old Euros, there are very few who truly understand how to retain the same charm as the old cuts. There was no use of a computer program to help yield the biggest stone from a piece of rough. Generally, the old stones are much more interesting. 

Craftsmanship 

Cushion cut diamond set in pavé millegrain setting, circa 1915, courtesy, Friman and Stein. 

Whether the ring was made in America, France or England, the quality of the work was far superior to anything that is made today. Everything was made by hand. Training for an artistic profession was rigorous. In the past jewelers had to apprentice for many years before they were considered skilled enough to create on their own. They knew many disciplines – enameling, engraving, millegrain, pavé. Now there are only a handful of people working the old way. Most craftspeople today specialize in one technique only. Today the majority of pieces are made using castings and it’s accepted, it’s rare for a jeweler to produce a piece by hand. To create pieces by hand now is prohibitively expensive.  

History 

There’s something romantic about knowing that a ring belonged to someone else and it’s part of their unique story. There’s also the historical aspect. Each era had its own distinct visual look that reflects the fashions of the time in which the ring was made. The Belle Epoque was very detailed with scrolls and flourishes. The pieces tend to be lighter and more refined. In the Art Deco era the style became geometric and we start to see colored gemstone details incorporated more. When we got into the 1950s post war era, platinum came back in style.  

Value 

Generally, vintage engagement rings are excellent value. Second hand dealers are buying what’s on the market. They very seldom consider the cost of the mounting when pricing the piece, even though when the rings were made, hours and hours of meticulous work went into the mounting. To recreate the costs of engraving or millegrain today is very expensive. So often you get a lot of value in the mounting. Most of the time the majority of the cost is in the stone. If a stone is bezel set, or hard to unset, we often don’t have a known weight or a Gemological Institute of America (GIA) report. When a stone does come out, it usually weighs more than what we estimated, which really benefits the end consumer. 

Featured image (top of page): Old European cut diamond in a scalloped setting in platinum and 18-karat yellow gold, circa 1910, courtesy Friman and Stein. 

Authored by Amber Michelle

The Engaging History of the Engagement Ring

Rose Cut diamond, 14-karat gold and silver, circa 1900, courtesy of French Collection

One of the most highly anticipated rituals around marriage is getting engaged and with that announcement comes a little something sparkly…usually a diamond ring. Engagement rings and wedding bands date back many thousands of years and they have evolved through the ages. While the exact origins of engagement rings are a bit murky, we do know that it was the ancient Romans who popularized these tokens of love.  

Vein of Love

The Romans made rings from bone, ivory, copper, flint and iron. There were also gold rings for those who could afford it and it was common practice to have two rings — a gold ring to wear out in public and an iron ring to wear at home.

We can also thank the Romans for starting the practice of wearing an engagement ring on the fourth finger of the left hand. They believed that the vein in the finger next to the pinky on the left hand led directly to the heart and they referred to it as the “vein of love”. Some cultures wore an engagement ring on their index finger, or on their right hand, but the romantic notion of wearing a ring on the finger that connects to the heart caught on and continues today.

Engagement rings got the official nod of approval in 850 when Pope Nicholas I decreed that gifting a ring symbolized a man’s intent to marry. As we moved into the middle-ages engagement rings were elaborate affairs with generally a ruby or sapphire in an opulent setting. Gimmel rings were also a popular choice during those times. A gimmel ring is two rings that join together to become one. When a couple became betrothed, each person got one ring, on the wedding day the rings were put back together and both were worn by the woman. Another big advance in the engagement ring story came in 1477 when Archduke Maximillian of Austria proposed to Mary of Burgundy with a diamond engagement ring, the first one on record.

Diamond Engagement Rings Gain Favor

By the 1700s engagement rings were becoming more common, the Fede ring, which features clasped hands symbolizing the strength of marriage, was a favorite. In 1727 diamonds were found in Brazil, leading to a steady and regular supply of these gems, which were a must have for fashionable Georgians. The cluster ring featuring a diamond center stone with smaller diamonds around it was popular for engagement rings and sometimes included colored gemstone accents. It was during this era that King George III gave Queen Charlotte a diamond engagement ring widening its acceptance.

Three major events happened to further the diamond engagement ring’s place in society during the 1800s. First, the industrial revolution created a lot of new wealth and a burgeoning middle class with money to spend. The second event was the discovery of diamonds in South Africa in 1867, which provided an abundant supply of the sparkling gems. Then in 1886, Tiffany & Co. debuted the Tiffany Setting, a simple hoop with the diamond set high and six prongs holding it in place, allowing maximum light to flow through the stone creating exceptional sparkle. It was a big hit and the style continues to be desired by brides today.

Edwardian era engagement rings often centered on a diamond set in platinum with elaborate detailing from millegrain and piercing that gave the rings a light and airy look. The Art Deco era continued the movement of platinum (or sometimes white gold) engagement rings, but the white-on-white lacy look of the Edwardian days gave way to geometric forms often accented with ruby, emerald, sapphire or onyx to enhance the linear shapes. The late 1930s and 1940s saw gold return to favor as platinum was declared a strategic metal and was reserved for war use. Diamonds were often pulled from existing pieces to create a new engagement ring.

A Cultural Imperative

Diamonds solidified their position as the number one choice for engagement rings during the 1940s. With money tight during the 1930s due to the depression and a world war raging into the early 1940s, diamond sales dropped. Diamond miner De Beers, in conjunction with the NW Ayer advertising agency began marketing diamonds as a symbol of love. But the big break came in 1947, when the agency’s copywriter assigned to the account, Frances Gerety, was charged with finding a tagline for the gem that conveyed both its symbolic expression of love and its very practical nature of being durable. The story goes that while working late one night and out of ideas, she jotted down the phrase “A Diamond is Forever”. It caught on and the diamond engagement ring became a cultural imperative for the contemporary bride. In 1999 Advertising Age magazine named “A Diamond is Forever” slogan of the century.

After World War II ended, the 1950s saw a return to platinum settings in engagement rings. The most popular styles of the time were quite simple — a center diamond, prong set, embellished with two side stones. The popularity of this style continued for many years with gold once again becoming more favored from the 1960s to the 1980s. In the 1990s styles shifted once again and fancy shape center stones became more popular as did a mix of yellow gold and platinum for a two-tone setting. Moving into the early aughts, the halo setting became ubiquitous and continues its reign as a beloved setting.

Another shift that has taken place in recent years is that more couples are selecting colored gemstones, uncut diamonds or salt and pepper diamonds for the center stone to reflect their unique style. There are plenty of engagement ring choices, but if you take a step back in time, you’ll find a selection of distinctive vintage engagement rings that express your personality and your personal love story.

Authored by Amber Michelle

The Charm of Vintage Diamond Engagement Rings

Old mine diamond set in rose gold and platinum. Photo: Hancocks London.

For those who love reading Jane Austen and sipping tea from a china cup, a vintage engagement ring may be the right choice. From the romance of the Victorian era, the elegance of Edwardian jewels and the high voltage glamour of Art Deco, there are unique and beautiful choices that will suit any taste.

“I’ve seen a massive resurgence of interest in vintage diamond engagement rings over the past ten or 15 years,” reports Los Angeles-based Grace Lavarro, Jewels by Grace. “People are not always looking for big and fancy, now they want more charm and personality. They also ask a lot of questions about the history of the ring. This generation is very excited about history.”

People are also captivated by the uniqueness of vintage engagement rings, which plays into the desire for personalization that has been gaining momentum over the past several years.

“There is a migration by brides to the concept of having an engagement ring that is rare and unique to associate with their relationship and the rarity and uniqueness of their commitment,” comments Lauren Levy, president Lauren DeYoung Jewelry, Inc. “It’s a concept that resonates with people right now and vintage engagement rings fit into that idea.”

Old Cut Diamonds

While settings in antique and vintage engagement rings are certainly a draw for their beautiful styling, old cut diamonds are the main attraction for couples looking for something different and interesting, says Guy Burton, director, Hancocks London.  “Our specialty is antique and vintage stones, which we then make into one-of-kind rings,” London-based Burton explains. “We really showcase the antique cuts. They’re more unique and beautiful and people are looking for unique. A few years ago, people didn’t know the difference between modern and vintage cut diamonds. Now people know about old cuts and they are fascinated by these hand cut stones. You really won’t find two alike.”

Old cut diamonds do have a special charm all their own. Unlike the precision angles found in modern cut stones, old cut diamonds, because they were cut by hand, are often slightly imprecise, which gives each stone its own special character and personality.

Burton suggests having a Gemological Institute of America (GIA) report for any vintage or antique diamonds so you can sell with transparency. Lavarro also finds that her clients want a GIA report with their stone, even if it is a low color. “My brides don’t care about the color of the diamond. They will go with a lower color, bigger stone to get a better price,” she says.

Sustainable Engagement Rings

People are much more environmentally conscious today and couples look for engagement rings that are going to show their love for one another as well as their love for mother earth. Vintage engagement rings are an attractive choice because they do no harm, nothing new needs to pulled out of the ground to make these pieces.

“Couples are sourcing reclaimed diamonds and recycled pieces,” says Levy. “People want to know what the environmental impact is and they want to reduce the negative impact on the environment. People are asking questions before making an investment. They ask about lab grown diamonds and their impact on the environment too.”

Lavarro also finds that sustainability is an important factor for couples who are selecting a vintage engagement ring. “People are looking for green choices and vintage is the height of green.”

Be Platinum or Go Gold?

For the past couple of decades platinum has been the popular choice for bridal, but now there is a renewed interest in yellow gold.

“Yellow gold is most popular right now,” observes Burton. “Yellow gold is seen as more unique and different since platinum has been used a lot for many years. With gold there is a good contrast between the stone and the metal.”

Lavarro has noticed an uptick in interest in Victorian rings. “Art Deco was the king of eras, but now with the return of yellow gold, the Victorian era — especially cluster rings — is gaining popularity.”

On the other hand, Levy finds that platinum continues to do well, “We always have consistent requests for Art Deco rings. They are very wearable because the platinum settings are strong, but there is a resurgence of interest in yellow gold.”

Fall In Love With Color

Some brides are looking for vintage rings with a colored gemstone center as an alternative look to the more traditional diamond engagement ring.

“Some people start by wanting a diamond, then they fall in love with color,” explains Levy. “Ruby and sapphire are the most requested stone. They are durable and will go with everything. The main barrier to color for most people is that it won’t go with their wardrobe.”

Sapphires, ruby and spinel are popular choices for brides who visit Lavarro, who notes a new trend over the past couple of years, “Women want a diamond solitaire in a gold setting and then they pair it with an eternity band. They are going all out on the band and it may have color.”

An engagement ring and wedding band are two pieces of jewelry that will get a lot of wear, Levy offers the following advice when selecting these rings, “Put thought into the jewelry,” she concludes.  “You will wear your wedding dress for one day, but your engagement ring is a special piece of jewelry that will last a lifetime.”

By Amber Michelle