Buying a vintage engagement ring for your loved one is a beautiful thing indeed. Modern engagement rings might be gorgeous, but they struggle to compete with vintage and antique rings.
Vintage rings carry the weight of the past with them – that’s one of the factors that make them unique – but how can you be sure to pick the right one? After all, there are many styles and eras to choose from.
This guide will tell you everything you need to know about how to buy a vintage engagement ring.
- What Makes a Ring Vintage?
- Why Buy a Vintage Engagement Ring?
- How Much Does a Vintage Engagement Ring Cost?
- Vintage vs. Reproduction
- Eras and Styles of Antique Rings
- Practical Tips for Buying Vintage Rings
- Avoiding Common Mistakes
What Makes a Ring Vintage?
In purely technical terms, a vintage engagement ring is any ring made over 20 years ago. The term “vintage” is often overused in the jewelry industry, but if it is not at least 20 years old it cannot be labeled as vintage.
On the other hand, an antique ring is older than 100 years. Essentially, every antique ring is also vintage.
Another factor of vintage is that it looks like it’s from another era. There’s an aura of mystique surrounding it. This factor alone will not make a ring become vintage, but if the ring is already older than 20 years, this will heighten its desirability.
The term “Estate”, just means a ring that was previously owned/worn. Usually, estate rings are also vintage, but this is not always the case.
Why Buy a Vintage Engagement Ring?
There are so many reasons to buy a vintage ring. It is no accident that vintage rings are more popular than ever. Here are our top reasons to buy a vintage engagement ring:
- Craftsmanship. Vintage rings (especially rings from before 1950) were usually handcrafted at a superior level to machine-made rings. Buying a genuine vintage engagement ring is an obvious choice if you want a ring of a higher caliber.
- Ethical Advantage. Modern-day diamonds are mined at a great cost to our environment. Choosing a pre-existing diamond helps mitigate the need for more mining.
- Originality. All vintage rings (especially pre-1950) were handcrafted, meaning that each ring – even rings of the same style – look completely different. If you have a vintage or antique ring, you can be sure that there are no other identical rings in the world.
- Antique Diamonds. You cannot compare vintage (or antique) diamonds to modern diamonds. Each antique diamond was hand-cut by a master diamond cutter. The beauty of a hand-cut diamond is far superior to modern diamonds that are cut machines and lasers.
- Rarity and Cost. Genuine vintage rings are rare. In the jewelry market, the rarer something is, the easier it is to sell, and the higher the price. Vintage rings have been appreciating steadily over the years, and sellers have a much easier time reselling vintage than they do modern.
- Style. The styles and motifs used in vintage rings are far more complex and creative than anything created today. If you want a ring of superior style you will either have to buy a vintage ring (or commission a master jeweler who has the specialized tools and experience to recreate those styles. See below).
- It Has a Story. Every vintage ring has a story. It is rare to know the story unless the vintage ring is a family heirloom, but the knowledge that the ring has a history of love brings a lot more prestige to the ring.
How Much Does a Vintage Engagement Ring Cost?
There are no standard methods of assessment for vintage engagement ring prices. With modern rings, these parameters are more exact, and budgeting for them is more straightforward.
However, there are several key features to keep in mind in terms of the vintage ring cost. Here are the main factors:
- Value of the primary gemstone is the first category. If it’s a diamond, then the Four C’s play the most important role. The cut, color, clarity, and carat are what determines the price in a significant way. Just the difference in the quality of the stone might mean that a ring can cost anywhere from $5,000 to $150,000.
- The second category is the setting of the ring. And that includes the metal, side stones, and the cost of labor. Platinum vintage rings are going to be the most expensive. Vintage rings were traditionally handmade, and the craftsmanship involved will be exhaustive compared to anything created today.
- The third and final category focuses on the rarity of the ring. Rare rings mean premium prices. Most vintage rings are completely one-of-a-kind which means that the value will keep going up with time.
Ultimately, most people will search for something that fits into their engagement ring budget. Fortunately, there are affordable vintage options out there.
You might even be able to find a nice vintage diamond ring for $2,500 if you’re lucky. But choosing vintage over modern is more about style preference than saving money.
Vintage vs Vintage Style vs Recreation
There is another essential topic we need to cover regarding vintage and antique rings.
Recently, due to the growing popularity of vintage rings, many large jewelry companies have started producing rings that they describe as “vintage-like”, “vintage-style” or “vintage-inspired” rings. These rings have nothing vintage inside them, but unaware consumers are buying them up without even knowing.
There is another category of reproductions that needs to be mentioned. Vintage Recreation Rings are recently-made rings that were handcrafted using the same techniques and tools as the antique eras. These rings feature a genuine antique diamond in the center and antique diamonds for the accenting stones. There are only a few expert jewelers in the world who can create rings on this level and Estate Diamond Jewelry are one of the only companies that sell them to the public.
|Genuine Vintage Engagement Rings
|Vintage “Style” Rings
|Vintage Recreation Rings
Eras and Styles of Antique Rings
Choosing a vintage engagement ring usually means having a strong sense of style. If you guys love vintage, modern rings probably won’t appeal to you or your future spouse. But not all vintage rings are the same. In fact, they’re incredibly versatile in design and craftsmanship quality.
And since they carry history with them, it’s important to look back to the eras that created them.
Georgian Era (1714 – 1830)
The rings, or any jewelry, from this time period are incredibly rare. That said, a genuine Georgian-era engagement ring can still be found if you search hard enough. This historical period marks the reigns of King George I-IV, hence the Georgian era.
Georgian Jewelers loved working with flowers, halos, butterflies, and ribbon work. As well as other common nature motifs such as doves, acorns, and wheat stalks. Grecian themes were also a standard for this era.
It’s important to note that during this period, diamonds were quite rare. They did exist, but resources were low up to the late 19th century.
This was also when the now familiar old world cut was discovered. But as diamonds were not prevalent, other colorful gemstones took center stage. It was the era of open facets and plenty of light reflections. Jewelers of the time aimed to accentuate flashiness and the brilliance of the gemstones they used.
Emeralds were incredibly popular, and so were rubies and sapphires. Other stones you might find in Georgian vintage rings are onyx, garnet, and topaz. If you do find a Georgian engagement ring with diamonds, it’s generally small clusters. It was never usually just one big stone at the center.
As for mounting materials, Georgian epoch engagement rings feature 22-karat and 18-karat gold. More affordable pieces were made from 15-karat or 10-karat gold. Layered gold rings were also not uncommon.
Victorian Era (1837 – 1901)
The reign of Queen Victoria was famous for many things. But its impact on art, design, architecture, and jewelry makes it impossible to ignore. Her love for her husband Albert is well-documented. And in many ways, it marked the design trends for engagement rings of the era.
That included both the tenderness and joy of young love. And the sadness caused by Albert’s premature death. It was Queen Victoria’s emerald engagement ring that popularized this style.
It was also her love of diamonds that led to a kind of revolution in jewelry design. In terms of engagement rings, the Victorian era can be separated into three categories, early, mid, and late Victorian rings.
The early period was still all about colorful gemstones such as emerald, ruby, garnet, and even amethyst. The diamond engagement rings only featured small clusters.
The mid-Victorian period started a serious shift in style. After Albert’s death, mourning rings became popular. Many engagement rings of this era were made from silver or gold alloys.
The late Victorian period continued to emphasize diamonds as they were becoming more available. This change was the reason the solitaire diamond engagement ring finally became a reality.
Edwardian Era (1901 – 1910)
King Edward was Queen Victoria’s son, and his short reign represents the Edwardian era for vintage engagement rings. You could easily view this epoch as a continuation of the late Victorian era. The main difference is that the rings of this time were a bit more refined.
There were many advances in jewelry making, including the settings and the cut. This historical period is also known as “The Beautiful Age.” It was a peaceful time, and that is why the ring design has a certain lightness about it.
Queen Alexandra’s love of flowers was a big part of Edwardian era rings. That is why vintage pieces from this period feature many different shapes of flowers.
The availability of platinum at this time made it possible to use it for the entire ring. It was, by far, the favorite metal for engagement rings. However, gold, yellow, and rose gold were still quite popular. White gold, on the other hand, was not yet on the scene. As for gemstones, pearls and diamonds were common choices.
Art Nouveau Era (1890 – 1915)
Older vintage engagement ring styles got their name from the reigning monarchs of the time. But kings and queens are not the only way to mark a specific period.
Art Nouveau represents a period that overlaps with the late Victorian and Edwardian reign. It was an artistic movement, and its impact was evident within jewelry craftsmanship as well. As with other eras, nature is the binding theme, especially the imperfect and unbalanced expression of nature.
However, during Nouveau Era, this love and respect towards nature went to another level. Artists and jewelers of the time detested the Industrial Revolution. And everything bad that came with it. The inhumane diamond excavation led to a rejection of this gemstone.
It was the pearl that Art Nouveau celebrated. What is more beautiful than a perfect pearl that nature created? Other popular gemstones of this era were emerald, moonstone, opal, carnelian, and ruby.
Despite the advances in technology, artists during the Nouveau Era preferred handmade pieces of jewelry. White gold and platinum were materials of choice. But yellow gold, gold, and silver were not uncommon either.
Art Deco Era (1920 – 1930)
The Art Deco period was relatively brief, but it made a tremendous impact on art history. That said, there are rings from 1915 and those from the late-1930s that still fall into the Art Deco category.
The greatest identifying elements within the Art Deco Era are the straight lines, parallel balance of shapes, angular representation, and square expressions of motifs.
This period coincided with the Great Depression, so the value of the engagement rings varied. In many ways, Art Deco emerged from Art Nouveau. The geometric shapes and lines started appearing in this period but have truly dominated during the Art Deco years.
It’s important to point out that this was also a time of great discoveries and travels despite the economic hardships. That is why you might see themes from different cultures in Art Deco rings.
Undoubtedly, the Art Deco era style was eclectic. Accordingly, Art Deco engagement rings are still popular to this day. Each piece is a small work of art, and they are the most sought-after type of vintage engagement ring.
This era loved colorful gemstones and diamonds too. And intricate metalwork was one of the trademarks of the time. Large diamonds in geometric shapes were particularly eye-catching. And other popular gemstones include jade, black onyx, rubies, and emeralds.
Retro Era (1940 – 1950)
The vintage rings from the Retro era are all about the diamond, clean and simple metal, and large shapes.
Most Retro Era rings were crafted after the war. They celebrate the shapes of the tanks, planes, and large military machines of war.
The Retro Era is also when a clever marketing campaign placed the diamond on a pedestal it occupies to this day. The message that “Diamonds are a girl’s best friend” and that “Diamonds are forever” are slogans we repeat even now. Especially when you consider the impact Hollywood had during those years.
Another note to remember is that WWII led to all the platinum resources being directed to the war effort. And there were even restrictions on gold use as well. That’s why older Retro era rings are often made from palladium and silver. Sapphires and rubies were still widely used. And the designs still favored geometrical lines.
Practical Tips for Buying a Vintage Engagement Ring
Once you’re familiar with the styles of each era, it becomes easier to narrow down your choice. Searching for the design that speaks to you or your future spouse is the fun part of buying the ring.
However, it’s also crucial to approach this purchase strategically. Keeping in mind a few practical tips and several dos and don’ts can make all the difference.
Certification and Paperwork
When you decide to spend a substantial amount of money on a vintage engagement ring, you want to be sure you are getting what you’re buying. There are three things that you want to certify:
- The quality of the primary diamond (4Cs)
- The age of the diamond
- The age of the mounting/setting
Vintage ring reports should include all three factors in their certification. If the ring is a vintage recreation ring only numbers 1 and 2 will be listed.
Unless you’re absolutely certain that you can trust the word of the seller, never purchase a vintage ring without a valid certification.
Difference Between Fine Jewelry and Costume Jewelry
Not all vintage jewelry was of high quality. Just as there is fine jewelry and costume jewelry now, the same thing existed 100 years ago.
If you frequent antique shops in search of the perfect vintage engagement ring, this is an important distinction to know about. A costume ring might seem flashy and almost identical to the original vintage, but they’re of much lower quality.
This will mean that the ring is not a precious metal, the gemstones are cheap, and the craftsmanship is sloppy. You might feel like you’ve found a bargain, but more often than not, it’s just a costume ring.
Make sure that you ask all of these questions before you make your purchase.
Only Shop in Reputable Stores
You can find an authentic vintage engagement ring in many different places. But if you’re not sure how to distinguish an original on your own, going to a reputable dealer is the wise thing to do.
It’s not just about having an excellent choice of rings – or about not making a mistake and buying a fake – it’s about receiving guidance and even advice on how to handle the ring.
And perhaps a backstory on it too. Before you commit to a ring, make sure to do some research. There are many excellent stores online that will provide excellent service.
Talk to the Jeweler
If a ring has captured your attention, it’s time to learn more about it. Apart from asking for the gemstone’s paperwork, you can ask if the ring was ever altered.
If any significant restoration happened, you should know about it. You can ask if the ring’s gemstone is fragile or not.
Learn how you should properly clean the ring. Finally, you can ask if they can perform the ring’s resizing if it doesn’t fit your fiancé’s finger perfectly.
Finally, talk about their return policy. If they don’t provide at least a 7-days return policy, that should be a very large red flag.
Avoiding Common Mistakes
If you choose to go with a vintage engagement ring replica, that’s great. But only if you make this decision consciously. If you pick a reproduction thinking that it’s an original vintage ring, that’s a pitfall you should avoid.
There are many modern rings in the style of one of the vintage eras. Art Deco is particularly problematic. There are many contemporary reproductions of Art Deco rings. But they don’t feature the same quality or durability as the original rings.
If you can’t ask anyone to authenticate the ring for you, there are a few things you can do by yourself. Verify if the stone is set correctly. If the stone is loose, that’s a bad sign.
And if you can’t recognize the fine craftsmanship but rather everything looks a bit amateur, then you’re not viewing a fine vintage ring.
Another common mistake to avoid is choosing rings with pearls and opals. They are beautiful but not an ideal choice for an engagement ring. The reason being that they are more prone to wear and tear. And an engagement ring is meant to last a long time.
Looking to Past as a Bridge to a Happy Future
There is something beautiful and special about using a physical piece of history in the present as a symbol of hope for a great future. Undoubtedly, that’s one of the main appeals of a vintage engagement ring.
But let’s not neglect the fact that vintage engagement rings are little works of art. The elaborate metalwork, the various gemstones and cuts, and the prominent connection to nature are all that make these rings stand out from the crowd of modern era counterparts.