In February I wrote a story on how alternative bridal rings have become the new norm—how the indie market and emerging designer’s creativity ignited a movement in engagement rings 10-15 years ago that is going stronger than ever today. I talked about women wanting more individuality and wearing rings that speak about themselves rather than their statements of status and their peers and the choices of different types of diamonds matching to lifestyles and personalities. It’s an area that has evolves with time, as new bridal designers continue to enter and shake up the market and more and more established companies following their lead for custom, limited edition, unusual stones and one of a kind pieces.
Additionally, the cultural shift in the new millennium towards a renewed appreciation for jewelry with history coupled with instantly available information on the internet has led to something ‘old’ becoming the ‘new’ ring for brides-to-be. Whether you’re attracted to feminine floral or lacey openwork or you prefer streamlined silhouettes, there is an antique or vintage ring that’s right for you.
Michael Khordipour, owner of M. Khordipour and Estate Diamond Jewelry, who sells engagement rings from many eras, explains: “Approximately 10 to 15 years ago, we saw a real boom in women looking at Edwardian and Art Deco engagement rings. The time was right. There is such diversity in these early 20th century styles and it began to appeal to women wanted to stand out rather than blend in and who desired one-of-a-kind pieces. Since then, they have branched out and also favor styles that range from Victorian all the way through Retro `40s styles.” He adds, “ It continues to be a growth category and we need to keep finding the rings to keep up with the demand.”
The combination of story, rarity, the character and personality that is inherent to the craft and details of antique and vintage rings, the instant sustainability that comes with choosing a ring that has been around for 50-100 years, and the diversity of styles all fit with what today’s bride is looking for when she accepts a proposal. There is also the investment and appreciation value of a ring that has a past and provenance and a beautiful antique cut stone for when it gets passed down to the next generation.
Whether it’s your first engagement, second wedding, or a sudden realization that your personal style has totally changed over the past 20 years, antique-through early 20th-century rings provide a wealth of diamond cuts, colored gemstones, styles and details. They also represent authenticity and one-of-a-kind qualities and traits.
It is always important to shop around, get comfortable with the styles of different time periods and choose one that you fall head over heels for, one that accommodates your lifestyle and, like the man you are marrying, one you love deeply, compliments you and feel you can live with day to day.
“Authentic, platinum-set diamond Art Deco engagement rings have been going strong for many years, and they continue to be the largest category of period rings to which women most often are drawn. But women of varied demographics more recently have been coveting antique yellow gold engagement rings; the warmth of the gold is flattering to a variety of skin tones,” says Elizabeth Doyle of Doyle & Doyle, the New York-based antique-vintage jewelry store and online shop. “The yellow gold is often seen in earlier styles, which offer meaningful motifs, colored gemstones, and symbolize a couple’s undying love for each other, just like the time period in which they were first given. When customers come to us, they are looking for a ring that’s distinctive, a style that they won’t see coming and going.”
Khordipour agrees, “years ago women compared their engagement rings to their peers, but these days the best rings are the ones that say I am a unique individual and our relationship is different than anyone else’s and this is what the ring should represent. “
Khordipour and Doyle talk us through a tour of the popular ring styles and the aesthetics of different time periods to help find the ring that will attract, engage and make you want to say “I Do” to the unique character of antique and vintage rings:
“Due to the length and the cultural and societal changes of the Victorian era, (1837-1901) it was split up into three periods: Romantic, Grand and Aesthetic. Rings ranged from sentimental motifs of double hearts tied together to entwined snakes like the one Prince Albert gave to Queen Victorian upon their engagement. Due to the Industrial Revolution and more advanced stone-cutting techniques, there is a range of beautiful mine-cut and rose-cut rings in round, oval and cushion shapes in both diamonds and colored gemstones. “Says Doyle, “A very popular style is the solitaire that focuses on the center stone, but has just enough detail on the mounting to make it truly special & unique. This style is great mixed and matched with a variety of bands and works equally well with antique and contemporary jewelry. Another style that is very popular is the cluster, which is often a more affordable, alternative, yet gives the appearance of being a larger center stone. These styles also come with a stunning natural ruby and/or sapphire center gems. You can find cluster styles throughout different centuries but these Victorian looks with their chunky mine cut diamonds have a subtle magical appeal.”
“The Edwardian period, which ranged from approximately 1905 to 1915, was also known as Belle Époque in France. The change in fashion of the day as well as the discovery and use of platinum as a metal for jewelry allowed for lighter, airier and more open designs. Intricate filigree and piercing work surrounded diamonds in platinum fused to 18K gold and eventually pure platinum.” Explains Khordipour. The garland style with its leaves and floral motifs also provided the design around cushion, mine-cut and the newer European-cut diamonds. “Styles for engagement rings range from wider to tapered bands with filigree and piercing work surrounding center round European diamonds or more tapered bands with pretty, lacey patterns on the shank. There are versions with pops of color in side stones of emerald, ruby and sapphires or inset in the band.” Khordipour adds.
“This movement, which spans the early 1920s through 1935 was a time of speed, the machine age, and advancements in travel, architecture and fashion. Chanel’s sporty chic and elegant classics took Paris by storm and then crossed Europe, the Atlantic, and finally hit the US. Hemlines were up, necklaces plunged down, and the Jazz Age and the right to vote in the US offered women newfound freedom. This all crossed over into the wonderful world of jewelry. “During the beginning of the Art Deco movement, the single center-stone diamond ring took on a whole new meaning. Although many designers of the era still appreciated the character of cushion and European cuts, the advances in diamond cutting—creating what we know as the brilliant cut today and eventually emerald and Asscher sparkled with creativity and a three-dimensional beauty with piercing work and engraving all around the shank. There were also styles that were streamlined, geometric and pared down. Rings with side diamond or smaller stones set into the design of the ring featured baguette side diamonds, trillion and marquise shapes.” Doyle explains.
“As we moved to the latter part of the era, globalization and influences from various cultures began affecting the designs, which took on Asian or Egyptian influences with diamonds, accented by onyx and colored cabochon-cut gems as center stones,” Khoridpour adds.
RETRO 40s/ Mid 20th Century
During World War II, platinum was used for the war efforts and jewelers found new ways to be inventive with gold and semi-precious or synthetic gemstones at the time. After the war was over, pieces took on a more fluid approach to the clean lines of the Art Deco movement with shapes and details that represented the pleats of fabrics. “Center stones tended to be smaller and an integral part of the total design of the ring. Gemstones in baguette and princess cuts followed the lines of the designs. We saw may three stone rings, for example, a center stone of an emerald cut with two baguettes on the sides or a marquise center stone. After the war, we went back to using platinum as the metal of choice for engagement rings.” Says Khoridpour.
Then in 1947, the diamond engagement ring became big business with the genius of an advertising agency. The single line ‘A diamond is forever’, the brainchild of advertising executive Frances Gerety of N.Y. Ayers was devised for diamond distributors DeBeers. The slogan reinforced the diamond as the gem for engagement rings and created a belief that diamonds were the key to a couple’s enduring love. It was a history-making moment but from then up until the late 20th century and the new millennium with its innovative new talents, it did little for the personality and individual beauty and craftsmanship of the engagement rings that came before.
Fast forward to the 21st century and there are more and more women mesmerized by the range of choice, rarity and quality in antique and vintage rings. “They are interested in something that would be more fitting to who they are, rather than keeping up with whose rock was bigger and comparing the diamonds in their six-prong-set Tiffany solitaires.” Says Khordipour.
The selection is out there. The most important aspects to learn and gain knowledge about before buying an antique or vintage ring and to look out when out shopping include:
-To figure out the style, metal and time period you are most attracted to.
-Has the ring withstood the test of time as far as the overall design and the durability of the metal. Platinum will always be the most popular of metals for this reason but it’s important to look at the details of the ring such as piercing work and other elements that make up the design.
-To learn some terminology and about the look/shape of the early diamonds we talk about below:
Old mine cuts (OMC) have more of a cushion shape and 58 facets. They were cut by hand, traditionally with a small table, high crown and a large culet, which creates a juicy, chunky look to the stone, giving it’s subtle sparkle tons of character and personality.
Like mine cuts, Old European Cuts (OEC) diamonds were cut by hand, also had 58 facets and were round yet still not perfectly round. Due to advances in gem cutting technologies technology led to the tables being a bit large. The culet is still visible to the eye in this cut but is smaller than in an old miner all leading to more sparkle and a more refined look. This cut was the precursor to the brilliant cut.
-It’s important to remember that each of these center stones cut by hand is unique and one-of-a-kind and no two are exactly the same.
– You can get early 20th century rings with old mine and European cut diamonds with GIA Grading Report for stones over 1-carat and if removing the center stone won’t damage or ruin the design of the ring. For the styles in which the diamond can’t be removed, a store or dealer, who are GIA certified we give the client their best guess about the grade of the gem.
-Elizabeth Doyle suggests, “When buying an antique or vintage engagement ring the most important thing to consider is the overall beauty of the ring. Don’t focus too much on stats or looking for what you think you should get. Instead, look for the ring that speaks to you. A charming stone in a mounting with a great design and beautiful workmanship will stand the test of time. A truly special ring will always be sought after and will tend to retain its and you will continue to be happy with it.”
Reputable Antique and Vintage stores in your town, as well as dealers at antique fairs or those that come recommended to you, are all good places to hunt for the ring of your dreams.
For those of you who prefer a smaller more private setting, on June 21-June 23rd, avid antique and vintage jewelry collector, personal shopper and designer Ashley Zhang is coordinating a Ring Shopping Weekend. Although all styles of Victorian through Vintage ‘70s rings will be on hand, Zhang will be featuring a large selection of engagement rings from the same time period. She has gathered pieces from her own collection as well as never seen before rings from New York City’s most renowned vintage dealers that run the gamut in price and style. For those who are searching for their perfect match in a ring style currently, this would be a perfect place to check out your options. It is by appointment only. To set one up email at [email protected]hleyzhangjewelry.com / ashleyzhang.com or call (347)268-3526.