Beloved by old souls and trendsetters alike, vintage engagement rings evoke romance with their dreamy scrollwork and intricate designs. Add the fact that the Victorian Era is known as the “Romantic period” and an antique design becomes the perfect way to profess your love to your forever person.
In this article, we’ll cover the basics of what makes a ring vintage, discuss the eras that inspired retro design and go over some helpful ring buying tips when considering the 12 most popular engagement ring styles.
What’s in a Name: What Makes a Ring “Vintage”?
Guaranteed to fit the bill as the “something old” on your wedding day, the term “antique” refers to anything at least 100 years old, while the term “vintage” is classified as anything at least 20 years old. However, when we talk about vintage engagement rings, we are normally referring to the ring’s style and design instead of its actual age.
If your loved one is dropping hints that they want an antique engagement ring they are probably a fan of rings with intricate metalwork, geometric patterns and fancy filigree. Since what’s categorized as “vintage” often comes down to specific design elements versus the piece’s age, jewelers sometimes use the term as an umbrella term, even for pieces with more modern components.
Eras of Inspiration
There are four major eras credited as the inspiration of vintage design: the Victorian era, the Edwardian era, the Art Deco era and the Retro era.
Victorian Era (1835-1900)
Named after Queen Victoria, art, style and customs of the Victorian era were widely influenced by this adored monarch. Victorian jewelry was no exception.
Jewelry from this period often features the Queen’s favorite stones such as turquoise, amethyst, opals and blue enamel. The Queen was also famous for wearing pieces with secret meanings, such as her famous serpent bracelet that channeled, “the wisdom of the serpent,” and a heart-shaped locket that included strands of her late husband, Prince Albert’s, hair. After the Prince’s passing, the Queen popularized a trend later dubbed “mourning jewelry” which included sleek styles in black enamel, jet and onyx.
Thanks to revolutionary inventions such as the telephone, the automobile and the lightbulb, jewelry became more affordable to the growing middle-class during the Victorian era. Plus, the discovery of diamonds in South Africa near the end of the 19th century allowed common folk to purchase their very own diamond engagement ring, something that seemed like a dream only achievable for the wealthy, for the first time.
Some themes you will find in a Victorian style engagement ring include secret messages, hearts, serpents, crossover rings, old mine cut diamonds and flowers.
Edwardian Era (1901-1916)
Named for King Edward VII of England, the Edwardian era took place from 1901 until 1915. Jewelry from this period falls within the Art Nouveau movement and reflects a time of transition where the romantic influences of the Victorian era and the industrial feel of the approaching Art Deco era could be seen everywhere.
A common practice to wear your wealth on your sleeve, many jewelry pieces from this time feature six or more stones meant to display your worth to the world. Despite these flashy statements, the Edwardian era dumped the colorful gemstones of the Victorian era in exchange for more monochromatic designs in silver, yellow gold and platinum. However, what these pieces lack in color is made up for in intricate metalwork as Edwardian engagement rings single-handedly brought back the lost art of filigree.
Some themes you will find in an Edwardian style engagement ring include a mix of romantic and geometric design, wedding bands with elaborate scrollwork and muted color pallets.
Art Deco Era (1920-1940)
In the midst of the Roaring 20s, Art Deco was born. The height of luxury and glamour with an industrial twist, jewelry of this era is represented by geometric shapes, rich colors, sharp lines and symmetrical ornamentation. Designs in the 1920s - 1940s took a huge turn from that of decades past. Once again, jewelry trends followed suit as colored gemstones and bold settings made their way onto the scene.
Every flapper girl’s dream, engagement rings of the Art Deco era sparkled with rubies, sapphires, emeralds and black onyx acting as the center stone. Of course, the classic diamond remained in good favor and rings often featured baguette diamond accented bands, sleek diamond solitaire settings and halos to enhance linear shapes. Platinum engagement rings were hot, hot, hot and were used in many designs to symbolize modernity and progress.
Themes you will find in an Art Deco style engagement ring include colorful gemstones, strong lines and shiny platinum hues.
Retro Era (1935-1950)
A stark contrast to the times, jewelry from the Retro era marks a moment of brilliance amongst terrible hardships such as the Great Depression and World War II. Spanning from 1935 until 1950, many women took to the workforce and Retro era jewelry allowed them to flaunt their femininity in a professional world filled with boxy business attire and male counterparts.
Also referred to as cocktail rings, pieces from this period are heavily influenced by Hollywood glamour and feature bold, three-dimensional designs and mixed metals. These styles are eye-catching and playful, often highlighting girly details like ribbons, flowers and bows for a hint of extra flair. Unlike eras past, jewelers of the Retro era mixed precious metals to create unique shades such as green and rose. Gold and silver were also incredibly prominent.
Themes you will find in a Retro era engagement ring include colorful bands, glitzy designs and feminine details.
Inspiration has gleamed from recent decades too. In the 1960s, Jackie Kennedy’s two-stone diamond and emerald engagement ring brought colorful gemstones back into popularity. Circa 1970, geometric ring designs and disco-inspired pieces partied their way onto the dancefloor. Princess Diana’s sunburst halo sapphire stone engagement ring made waves in the 1980s. And the 1990s, the most recent decade that qualifies as “vintage,” is known for both bold and minimalistic wedding rings.
Vintage Diamond Cuts
Thanks to old school techniques, stones of eras past feature different shapes and dimensions than what we see today. Here are five of the most popular vintage cuts and what made them unique.
Single Cut: Dating back to the 1300s, a single cut diamond typically has 18 facets, a large table and an octagonal girdle. The culet of these stones can be pointed or flat and this style is very old.
Rose Cut: Popular during the Georgian and Victorian eras, the rose cut dates back to the 1500s. This cut can have anywhere between 3 to 23 facets and features a dome-shaped crown with a flat bottom. Pretty like a flower, this cut got its name due to its resemblance to a rosebud.
Old Mine Cut: Featuring a high crown, a large, smooth culet and a small table, old mine cuts are similar to the modern cushion cut. This cut was prevalent during the Georgian and Victorian eras and dates back to the 1700s.
Old European Cut: Similar to the old mine cut, old European cut diamonds have a large, flat culet, a small table and a high crown. But what sets this cut apart is its circular girdle which allowed the stone to act as the antique version of today’s round brilliant cut. This cut features 58 facets and dates back to the 1800s. It was most commonly seen in the Victorian, Edwardian and Art Deco eras.
Modern Round Brilliant Cut: Known for its ability to make a diamond of any carat weight sparkle, today’s round brilliant cut is one of the most popular stone choices in the world. Born in 1919, the round brilliant cut is famous for its ability to maximize a diamond’s fire and brilliance. This cut features a circular girdle and has 58 facets. But, unlike the old European cut, this cut does not have a culet. This style of cut first became popular during the Art Deco and Retro eras.
Shopping for Vintage Style Jewelry
As mentioned above, when shopping for antique jewelry it’s common to find that not every piece conforms to a single design period. Instead, vintage jewelry often incorporates styles from multiple eras, including some modern elements. But this is good news because it means that you have options. Whether you decide to mix and match styles or go for a strictly one-era kind of piece, the perfect vintage engagement ring is out there for you.
Where Can I find Vintage Engagement Rings?
Buying online cuts out the middleman, and 12FIFTEEN Diamonds offers several vintage-inspired pieces including engagement rings and wedding bands with vintage-era elements. Or, if you’re looking for something a little more timeless, check out our Guide to Classic Engagement Ring Styles. If you can’t find exactly what you’re looking for, consider starting with just a loose diamond or upgrade an heirloom piece with our sister company, Forever Artisans.
There are also pros to shopping locally, such as the ability to try on rings and shop with your loved one in-person. Also, depending on where you’re based, you might have a brick and mortar vendor with one-of-a-kind vintage pieces that you won’t find anywhere else. However, one big downside to browsing in person is the price tag. Footing the cost of payroll, rent and fixtures can add up and you can expect to pay more for an antique engagement ring from your local jeweler than you will if you buy one online.
Still not sure which vintage engagement ring is right for you? Check out our selection at 12FIFTEEN Diamonds.