The Ultimate Guide to Vintage Engagement Rings April 21, 2016 – Posted in: Jewelry Blog

Two heart-shaped diamond engagement ringsVintage engagement rings are not just a window into the past; they are modern testaments to gorgeous and ingenious jewelry designs from fascinating and innovative historical periods. There are, of course, many types of vintage engagement rings available on the market today, but for now, we’re going to focus specifically on how the styles of the Victorian, Edwardian, and Art Deco eras set the standard for engagement ring designs still respected today.

To understand the designs and approaches behind these rings, it is useful to understand the histories behind them, so we’re going to briefly discuss the history of each of these periods, and how these histories relate to the jewelry. We’ll also talk about the various ring designs you can find in each era, and point to various modern examples in case you’re interested in viewing them.

The Victorian Era

The Victorian era was a period in British history that took its name from Queen Victoria, and lasted from 1837 to 1901, in line with the 63 years of Queen Victoria’s reign. Although the Victorian era is commonly known for its rigid moral codes and equally constrictive women’s clothing, it was also a period of peace, economic prosperity, and expanding nationalism. The Victorian era saw a growing middle class in Europe and the United States, and jewelry itself ceased to be exclusive to the upper classes. Various forms of jewelry then spread throughout the middle class. Queen Victoria herself was very interested in jewelry, and her tastes shaped jewelry designs throughout the period.

In the mid-1800s, gold discoveries were made that caused gold to become widely available, and there was a flourishing of experimentation in designs and techniques. Diamonds were also found in South Africa in 1867, and this gem soon became a popular feature of Victorian jewelry.

Victorian Ring Designs

Among the different types of vintage engagement rings, Victorian rings are interesting in that their designs can be traced back to the various phases of Queen Victoria’s life. Initially, jewelry designs expressed joy and confidence when Victoria and Prince Albert were in love. Bright arrangements and whimsical designs such as birds, hearts, and flowers could be seen everywhere. After Prince Albert’s death, Queen Victoria entered a period of mourning, and darker flourishes such as onyx, black enamel, and jet found their way into the jewelry designs. After Queen Victoria recovered, designs brightened again and stars, crescents, and mythical creatures found their way into jewelry designs.

Victorian style engagement ringConcerning Victorian jewelry, another important fact to keep in mind is that high culture was reacting to the rationalism, mechanism, and standardization of industrializing society in the previous Georgian period, and moving toward a romantic perspective that embraced mysticism and emotional expression. Victorian artists turned away from modernistic styles and instead sought to revive styles popularized in the ancient and Renaissance periods. This cultural feeling played a part in the way jewelry designs tended to match Queen Victoria’s moods, in particular. Ring design was supposed to be expressive, as opposed to being standardized and calculated.

Modern Examples

Among the types of vintage engagement rings, Victorian-style rings have some truly stunning designs to contribute. Pictured is a ring with a cluster motif that was popular during the Victorian era, and you can also view equally gorgeous variations with emeralds and sapphires. Here is another incredible Victorian design, circa 1880. Unique and vintage and antique designs are rare, so it’s a good idea to act quickly if you come across a Victorian ring that you find particularly appealing.

The Edwardian Era

The Edwardian era represents the period in which King Edward VII reigned in Great Britain from 1901 to 1910. Many historians include the next 4 years as well, marking the end of the period with the onset of WWI. This era is commonly referred to as a period of leisure and buoyancy, with flamboyant and opulent sensibilities. King Edward himself was part of a fashionable elite that was influential on popular art and fashions, encouraging styles from Continental Europe and a taste for cosmopolitan trends.

Leisurely, pleasure-seeking activity on long, sunny afternoons formed part of a collective historical sense. Since leisure took up such a prominent theme in Edwardian culture, there was a flourishing of recreational activities, encouraging a demand for light and flexible clothing. Women’s fashion was a key driver of evolving jewelry styles, with more women preferring lacy and silky dresses and accessories, and feathers were a popular symbol and accent.

One particularly influential design philosophy during this period was Art Nouveau, which was an art movement that emphasized organic structures, curved lines, natural forms, and an insistence on the harmony of art and nature.

Edwardian Ring Designs

Considering the types of vintage engagement rings and their styles, Edwardian jewelry is best characterized by light and elegant designs that express grace and levity. The Edwardian era is best known for its filigree techniques, which involve delicate threads of platinum and other precious metals, lending a feathery or lacey appearance to the jewelry.

Victorian era designs and techniques were still popular, and much of the jewelry continued to be influenced by ancient Greek and Roman art, as well as other styles like the French Baroque aesthetic. Floral designs of many variations were widely used, as well as flowing, billowy motifs such as with bows and scrolls.

Edwardian ruby engagement ringDiamonds, platinum, and pearls were widely used in the Edwardian era. White-on-white was a prized combination, with diamonds, pearls, and platinum all the more available to produce it in beautiful and graceful designs. Platinum, in particular, filled a revered niche among craftsmen. With its strength and low profile, platinum was used to fashion thin yet strong settings, which held up gemstones while remaining virtually unnoticeable. Enabled by platinum and other materials, lightness and delicacy enjoyed a primacy in Edwardian aesthetics.

The Edwardian Legacy

Of the different types of vintage engagement rings, Edwardian style rings are famous for their delicate filigree designs, as seen in the ring pictured. Here are some other breathtaking designs that feature the unmistakable Edwardian combination of lacy, ornate platinum work and dazzling diamonds. Of course, platinum wasn’t the only metal in use at the time, with gold and silver making regular and stunning appearances in jewelry designs. As with Victorian rings, these precious Edwardian era pieces are completely unique, and thus very rare.

The Art Deco Period

Art Deco is usually considered less of an era and more of a visual arts design movement, but the period is best understood as taking place in the 1920s, 1930s, and 1940s when the style enjoyed international popularity after having emerged in France right before WWI. The name Art Deco came from the International Exposition of Modern Decorative and Industrial Arts held in Paris in 1925. This event was to showcase both traditional designs and modern, mechanistic designs, the latter of which the movement truly emphasizes.

Art Deco was the quintessential face of modernity, and as an art style, it appeared at a time of rapid industrialization. It embodies a bold and confident vision of progress and an enthusiastic embrace of technological development, as well as a love of luxury and fullness of life. Bold and bright colors, clear and sharp geometric shapes and ornamental designs were typical of Art Deco styles, with curves giving way to lines and rectangles, and organic, asymmetrical designs yielding to sharpness and symmetry.

Art Deco Ring Designs

Of the many types of vintage engagement rings, Art Deco style rings are among the most stylish and bold. Their designs express an easy enjoyment, individual exploration, and a freedom of thought, which was in line with the sensibility of the period. Reflecting the values of the movement, this type of jewelry tends to take on sharper lines and bolder, brighter colors.

As with the Victorian era, this time in history saw a rapidly growing middle class that was able to buy greater amounts of jewelry, with diamonds and engagement rings becoming especially popular. Platinum and gold were popular metals on the higher end, and white gold was developed to provide a more affordable and widely available alternative. Furthermore, new casting techniques allowed jewelers to offer ornate designs more efficiently to a wide audience.

The Art Deco period also saw the development of the brilliant cut, a new cutting technique that improved the brilliance, fire, and scintillation of diamonds. Soon enough, much of the middle class were enjoying the bold styles of Art Deco jewelry with incredibly beautiful and dazzling diamonds to seal their engagements and celebrate their lives.

Art Deco style square-cut engagement ringExamples and Extensions

An Art Deco ring is one of the most distinctive types of vintage engagement rings, typically featuring a plethora of dazzling styles and designs. Pictured is a gorgeous example: a Viennese Art Deco style ring with breathtaking diamonds set in it. Here is another classic example of the style. Notice the bold onyx band that surrounds the beautiful bullet cut diamond. Art Deco is the perfect vintage style for an engagement ring, and we have several examples of elegant and symmetrical designs that make for timeless pieces.

Art Deco sensibility is extremely versatile and can be combined with delicate filigree for truly stunning results. As an aesthetic, it appears both in whole works and in components, as in the band of this incredible vintage diamond halo ring.

As seen with the Art Deco rings that are combined with filigree and other accents, Art Deco certainly has a softer side. Such is apparent with this Art Deco ring that features a lovely leaf motif design. Pearl and Emerald also look wonderful with Art Deco designs.

Where to Look

There are many other types of vintage engagement rings, but this article has covered some of the most innovative and influential eras and periods that most vintage rings are based on. With a deeper knowledge of the Victorian, Edwardian, and Art Deco periods, we hope you’ll be able to narrow your search based on the art styles and aesthetics that appeal to you most.

If you are looking for a high-quality vintage or vintage-style engagement ring, Estate Diamond Jewelry would be delighted to help. We have specialized in rare, handmade jewelry for over 30 years, and we have gained a lasting reputation for unmatched quality and craftsmanship. Our diamond selection standards are unrivaled, and our jewelry features conflict-free and environmentally responsible diamonds. The jewelers working for us have perfected their craft to an art form. They create rare and unique designs faithful to the eras that inspire them.

Our jewelry is available for viewing by appointment at our showroom in New York, and if you are unable to visit the showroom, we offer our convenient Home Viewing Program. With this service, we’ll send your ring of choice right to your home, where you can examine it for up to 14 days and decide whether it is right for you. Either way, we want to ensure that you can fall in love with your engagement ring before you invest in it.

Take some time to browse our stunning selection of vintage engagement rings. We have organized our rings into several types of vintage engagement rings so you can browse by the era or style that you like. If you have any questions about our selection, feel free to call us at 212-265-3868 or email us at info@estatediamondjewelry.com.