Complete Guide to Buying a Vintage Engagement Ring December 31, 2020 – Posted in: Jewelry Blog

Buying an engagement ring for your loved one is a special time indeed. Modern engagement rings might be gorgeous, but they struggle to compete with vintage and antique rings. 

In contrast, vintage rings carry the weight of the past with them – that’s precisely what makes 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. And give you some practical advice to keep in mind. 

What Makes a Ring Vintage? 

antique diamond engagement ring
A genuine antique diamond engagement ring. Circa 1920

The term “vintage” is often overused in the jewelry industry. But there are pretty clear factors that make a ring vintage. In purely technical terms, a vintage engagement ring is any ring made over 20 years ago. 

On the other hand, an antique ring is older than 100 years. Essentially, every antique ring is also vintage. And shopping for a vintage engagement ring usually means choosing a piece that’s at least 60-70 years old. Put simply, vintage is quite different from a modern ring. 

In fact, it looks like it’s from another era. There’s an aura of sophistication about it. These rings were usually handmade, and the craftsmanship is unique. 

The engagement ring exchange (the proposal) is one of the most important traditions of a young couple. Some will prefer to have an engagement ring that no one used before. But others will appreciate that someone else who was in love has worn it previously. 

Why Choose a Vintage Engagement Ring? 

Retro vintage engagement ring
A very rare Retro Era Ring. Circa 1940. Learn More.

There are so many options for beautiful and one-of-a-kind vintage rings, it can seem impossible to choose. You might decide to give up and stick to a modern ring instead. But before you do, it’s important to reflect on why anyone would choose a vintage ring in the first place. 

We already mentioned that a vintage ring is unique. It’s worth noting that again. You might buy a modern ring that no one around you has. And perhaps you will never meet anyone with the same ring. 

But the fact is that if you bought it in one of the thousands of jewelry stores in the US, there’s a high probability that many people in the country have the exact same ring. 

And not to mention variations in terms of color, metal, and gemstone, which would make the ring very similar but not identical. If you’re really set on having a unique engagement ring, vintage is the only way to go. 

Any ring can become a family heirloom, but you’re already a few steps ahead with a vintage ring. With a vintage ring, you’re incorporating a piece of history to blend into your future. You’re adding a second story to the ring, regardless of not having all the past details. 

Think of Princess Diana’s stunning sapphire ring that now belongs to Duchess Kate Middleton. It was a family heirloom, and you can create the same with your vintage ring. 

Finally, vintage engagement rings don’t carry any conflict diamonds. For couples looking to do the ethical thing, this could be the main reason to go vintage. 

You can find modern ethical diamonds too, but you’d have to do extensive research first. With vintage rings (and especially antique rings), the chances of buying conflict diamonds are next to zero.

How Much Does a Vintage Engagement Ring Cost? 

Vintage Jewelry Collection
Collection of Vintage Engagement Rings from Estate Diamond Jewelry

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. 

  1. The value of the gemstone is the first category. If it’s a diamond, then the Four C’s play the most important role. The cut, colorclarity, 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 $100,000. 
  2. The second category is mounting. And that includes the metal and the cost of labor. Platinum vintage rings are going to be the most expensive. Vintage rings are traditionally handmade, and those 60 years old and more will usually cost more. 
  3. The third and final category focuses on the rarity of the ring. Rare rings mean premium prices. And if the engagement ring in question has a signature of a major jeweler, that will raise the price even more. 

Ultimately, most people will search for something that fits into their engagement ring budget. Fortunately, there are more affordable 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. 

Authentic Vintage Engagement Rings VS. Reproductions 

French Cut Platinum Ring

There is another essential topic we need to cover regarding vintage and antique rings. Sometimes, vintage is used to describe “vintage-like” or “vintage-inspired” rings. 

These rings are reproductions of existing vintage pieces. They might even look good from a distance, but they can never display the same level of craftsmanship as the original ring. Using molds to reproduce a ring will never capture all the fine details that are supposed to be there. 

But even if they could, the reproductions don’t have the most valuable feature of the vintage engagement ring. They don’t have the history, the sentimentality, and they can never become instant heirlooms.

Very Important Note: There is another category of reproductions that needs to be mentioned at this point.

There are modern vintage style rings that were handcrafted using the same techniques as the antique eras. These rings are also fitted with antique diamonds in the center. There are only a few jewelers in the world who can create engagement rings on this level, but there are a few companies out there who sell them.

This might be a great option for someone who loves vintage style and vintage diamonds but wants the ring to be brand new. Click here to shop our collection of handcrafted vintage style rings.

The Eras and Styles of Antique and Vintage Engagement Rings 

Choosing a vintage engagement ring usually means having a strong sense of style. Modern rings probably don’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) 

Georgian Era Party with Jewelry

The rings, or any jewelry, from this time period are incredibly rare. That said, a genuine Georgian era engagement ring can still be found. This historical period marks the reigns of King George I-IV, hence the Georgian era. 

But it officially ends with the reign of William IV. Thematically, this is when the fascination with nature began. 

Jewelers created flowers, butterflies, and ribbon work. As well as other common nature motifs such as doves, acorns, and wheat stalks. But 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 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. But what were the popular gems of the Georgian era? 

Emeralds were incredibly popular, but 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’s never just one big stone at the center. 

As for mounting materials, Georgian epoch engagement rings feature 22-carat and 18-carat gold. More affordable pieces were made from 15-carat or 10-carat gold. Platinum rings were not available, if gold imitations were. 

Victorian Era (1837 – 1901) 

Victorian Era Women with Jewelry at Ball

The reign of Queen Victoria was famous for many things. But its impact on art, design, architecture, and jewelry make 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 the 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-Victorian, 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. 

Yellow and rose gold were the materials of choice. As for motifs, clover, doves, and butterflies were still all the rage. That said, gothic symbols with snake themes also made an appearance. 

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. 

Jewelers used stones such as crystals, opals, pearls, and black glass. Historically, this is also when the significant diamond discoveries in South Africa occurred. 

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. 

Aquamarine, opals, sapphires, and other colorful gemstones were still used, but the diamond cast a wide shade at this time. But metals such as silver, yellow, and rose gold were still the dominant choice. However, at that time, platinum was just arriving on the scene. 

Edwardian Era (1901 – 1910) 

Edwardian Era Party with Women Wearing Jewelry

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) 

Art Nouveau Ceiling

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 Art Nouveau, 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, Art Nouveau artists 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) 

Art Deco Era Party with Jewelry and Music

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 (1930 – 1960) 

Retro Style Engagement Ring

The vintage engagement rings from the Retro era are all about the diamond, clean and simple metal, and large shapes. 

Most Retro Era rings were after the war, and celebrated 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 to be 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

Estate Diamond Jewelry Showroom Appointment with Afshin
Afshin from Estate Diamond Jewelry with a customer in the NY Showroom

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. 

Difference Between Fine Jewelry and Costume 

Perhaps this sounds like a strange piece of advice. But 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 original vintage, but they’re usually of low quality. 

This means that it’s probably gold-plated and that the gemstones are not precious. You might feel like you’ve found a bargain, but more often than not, it’s just a costume ring. 

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. 

Certification and Paperwork 

UGL Diamond Certification on Table
A UGL certificate. The UGL are expert is evaluating vintage diamond and rings.

When you decide to spend a substantial amount of money on a vintage engagement ring, you want to be sure what you’re buying. Modern engagement rings come with a lab report that confirms the stone’s quality. 

Some vintage rings may come with the report too, so if possible, ask for the paperwork. If you’re unsure how to determine if the gemstone is real, hire an expert to perform an authentication. 

The important thing is that you receive some outside verification that you have bought something authentic.

Talk to the Jeweler 

If a ring has captured your attention, it’s time to know 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. 

And 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. 

Avoiding Common Mistakes 

vintage engagement ring with old European cut diamond

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 genuine 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.