Vintage engagement ring styles are about tradition and history. More couples are looking at the past as inspiration for their future. And in order to find that perfect match, they look at both vintage inspired and real antique pieces.
In today’s disposable world, we forget about history and sentimental value. We’re distracted by the ‘newer is better’ thing. But a wedding engagement is a time when things tied to our ancestors, is often more precious than anything styled or manufactured today.
Vintage Engagement Ring Styles & Design
Vintage styles have no defined timeline but instead come from multiple eras or decades that are distinct in their design.
- Georgian 1714-1837
- Early Victorian 1837-1860
- Mid-Victorian 1860-1880
- Late Victorian 1880-1901
- Art Nouveau 1890-1905
- Arts & Crafts 1894-1923
- Edwardian 1901-1919
- Art Deco 1920-1935
FYI: All engagement rings made prior to the end of the Edwardian era (1901-1910) are considered both vintage and antique engagement rings.
The 3 top vintage engagement ring styles that most people look for are from the Victorian, Edwardian and Art Deco periods.
Genuine antique or vintage engagement rings should be bought from reputable and specialty jewelers who trade in antique pieces. They will offer independent certifications whenever possible and are trustworthy. Lang Antiques is our top pick if you’re in the market. Most of the period pieces, other than the museum examples shown on this page are from Lang. Another is Fay Cullen.
The Victorian Style Engagement Ring
Victorian style engagement rings are from a time of rapid change and prosperity. Styles from the earlier years ran from medieval to Gothic Revival. Towards the end, Art Nouveau, Japonism, and the Arts & Crafts movement began to emerge.
It’s the mid-Victorian era that design took on the heavily-worked, abundant and more cluttered look that we think of when referring to Victorian style.
Design Elements: Love and nature. Motifs include flowers, birds, hearts and love sayings.
Gemstones: Colored gemstones especially emeralds, garnets, amethysts, turquoise, pearls and opals.
Diamonds: The most common diamond cuts of the time are no longer found today; the Old Mine Cut and Old European Cut. However the cushion cut which was also very popular is still available.
Metals: Engraving, granulation, texture and filigree in both yellow and rose gold were new and important to the era.
Real Victorian engagement rings like all period antique jewelry is becoming increasingly hard to find although pieces are still available in some antique, estate, and specialty jewelry stores.
Edwardian Style Engagement Rings
Edwardian engagement rings come from a time when fashion and elegance became increasingly important.
Edwardian engagement rings and jewelry reflected the changing fashions. The tight corsets of the Victorian era were loosened and eventually discarded and new, more mobile and free flowing styles of clothing were embraced. Engagement rings and other jewelry began to follow suit and lighter and more delicate designs became a top priority.
White on white became the ultimate statement for luxury and elegance so for Edwardian jewelry, this translated into diamonds and/or pearls set in platinum or white gold.
Design Elements: Garlands, swags and bows, ribbons, romantic scroll work. Towards the end of the era, modern neo-classic designs motifs of stars and crescents.
Gemstones: Amethysts became one of the more popular gemstones found in Edwardian jewelry
Diamonds: Old Mine Cut diamonds and Old European Cut diamonds were usually the centerpiece of Edwardian engagement rings and were often framed in filigree work.
Metals: Platinum, white gold and even silver added to intricate and beautifully detailed work. Light and lacy designs with lots of perforations in the metal.
The Vintage Art Deco Engagement Ring
Art Deco engagement rings are products of a decadent era. It was a time that witnessed radical changes in behavior and design. Art Deco is all about being bold. Bold color, bold shapes, and the use of high contrast color and geometric abstract shapes were embraced.
Design Elements: Highly stylized geometric shapes and a strong use of symmetry. As the era evolved, Art Deco designs became more ornamental, more stylized, more geometric and more abstract.
Gemstones: Black (usually enamel or onyx) and white became a favored color combination and was paired with rich-toned gemstones like sapphires, rubies, emeralds, turquoise and coral.
Diamonds: Diamond shapes became an important part of Art Deco engagement rings. They could create geometry with the shape of the stone. New cuts such as the shield and caliber cuts were developed. The emerald cut, baguettes and trillion cut were often used for their strong geometric qualities.
Metals: Platinum and white gold were most often used but they didn’t limit themselves to only white metals.
White-on-white was also commonly seen. Art Deco diamond rings kept their boldness but used white-on-white looks with platinum, white diamonds and pearls.
Why Vintage Engagement Rings & Styles?
Their uniqueness. In comparison to contemporary styles they are seen as unusual while honoring history.
Their quality. In many cases vintage engagement rings were completely made by hand and intended to last for generations to come.
Their history. There’s something romantic about wearing an engagement ring that has a rich history and came from another time and place.
Their style. Period style can be reinterpreted but it never quite lives up to the real thing.
Their value. Since they are in fact “used” items there can be substantial savings in buying vintage engagement rings as opposed to new ones.
Their ‘greenness’. Being ‘green’ is no longer just fashionable but a way of life for many who choose sustainability and eco-consciousness as a priority for their decision making.
Vintage Engagement Ring Considerations
Vintage diamond engagement rings, especially ones that are antique come from a time when they didn’t have the technology to spot internal flaws and inclusions so many of the stones would end up on the lower ends of today’s grading scales for clarity. This would also be true for the other precious gemstones found in vintage rings.
Diamond color is another thing to know about it with vintage rings. At various times throughout history, diamonds with hints of color were favored over colorless stones so many of the diamonds found in vintage rings will rate very low on today’s white diamond color scale.
So be aware of these differences but don’t let them deter you from getting a vintage engagement ring, because you shouldn’t measure things from a different era by today’s standards.
That isn’t to say that there aren’t any high quality vintage diamond engagement rings, there certainly are—but you’ll pay a premium for those and rightly so.
And think about it, is the diamond quality the main reason you’re looking at vintage engagement rings?
Vintage engagement rings can be really spectacular and are definitely worth considering. They’re antique pieces that come from periods in history where technologies, science and lifestyle were very different than what we know today so there are a few things beyond just the clarity and color of stones that you need to consider when looking at vintage rings.
Important Buying Tips: Vintage Engagement Rings
Many of these pieces never came with any sort of independent accreditation or certification so make sure that you only deal with top rated antique dealers or jewelers. A good way of knowing if the people you are dealing with are reputable is to see whether they have their pieces certified and can show you independent lab results along with the ring. If they don’t, you really have no idea what you’re getting.
Once you’ve chosen a ring, make sure that the setting is secure and that it has been checked out by a modern day jeweler who understands the requirements of today’s active lifestyles. What may have been considered durable a hundred years ago might not make it through a week today.
Many vintage pieces have other gemstones along with, or instead of diamonds, so make sure that whatever stones are used are hard enough to withstand constant wear.
Do a little homework on diamond ratings, diamond shapes, and settings. It’s especially important to understand these things when looking at vintage pieces because you’ll be able to evaluate a ring beyond what a salesperson might tell you and really understand what you’re buying.
Vintage pieces need to be appreciated for what they are and be measured by the standards of the period they represent. Which is exactly why vintage engagement ring styles are desirable. They represent a different time and place.