What To Know When Buying An Antique Engagement Ring Photo Credit: Erstwhile Jewelry

Buying an engagement ring is a scary business. Whether you are buying for your future fiancee or if you are one of the 65% of brides who are involved in the purchase. Either way, it is the abiding symbol of the most important relationship of your life. So you want to make sure you get it right!

Today we’re going to be focussing on what you need to know about buying an antique engagement ring. But before we delve into this there’s a quick recap on a couple of important points to be done! Seeing as 75% of engagement rings purchased have a diamond gemstone, here’s a quick rundown of the 4 key factors to know when purchasing an engagement ring with a diamond:

The 4 C’s of diamonds

The quality, and therefore value, of a diamond is determined by four important factors known as the 4 C’s.

Carat

A carat is the unit of weight by which a diamond is measured, with 0.2 grams equalling one carat, and the value of a diamond rising exponentially to its size.

Clarity

Most diamonds contain both inner and outer flaws, which are measured on a sliding scale and known as the diamond’s clarity. Fewer flaws obviously mean more value, but it’s important to note that up to a certain point flaws are not visible to the human eye, so buying a diamond with flaws that are only visible under a microscope can save quite a bit of money!

Color

Contrary to what may seem obvious – this doesn’t actually refer to the exact color of a diamond (pink and other colored diamonds are known as fancy colored) but is a sliding scale that refers to the presence of yellow color in white diamonds. The purer the color white the greater the value.

Cut

Once again, contrary to what may seem obvious this doesn’t refer to the shape the diamond has been cut into, but in fact refers to the quality of the depth and dimensions of the cut which have a huge impact on a diamond’s sparkle and lustre. The better the cut, the more sparkle and greater value.

All reputable jewelers should be willing to talk you through the 4 C’s of your diamond, but if you need further assurance you can request to only see “cert diamonds”. These are diamonds that come with a certification to prove their authenticity, with the most well known certificate coming from the Gemological Institute of America. The GIA also has a fantastic iPhone app describing the 4 C’s in more detail, a really handy tool to have when visiting jewelers!

Right! With the gemstone lesson out of the way let’s delve into what makes antique engagement rings different. The main influence on the style of antique engagement rings is the period when the ring was made. Each jewelry period has its own distinct style and also method by which jewelry was made.

Georgian Period

The Georgian period spans across the reign of four kings of England (George I – IV) from approximately 1714 – 1837. Buying jewelry from this period ensures you will get a truly unique piece, almost all pieces were handcrafted by makers and made before any mass production techniques were used.

Engagement rings from this period were heavily influenced by nature, often crafted into the shapes of leaves, birds and even insects! So if you’re a nature lover you’ll love designs from the Georgian period.

What To Know When Buying An Antique Engagement Ring

Photo Credit: Fay Cullen

Victorian Period

The Victorian period spans the reign of Queen Victoria of England, approximately 1836 – 1901. The Queen had a great love of her family and that romanticism showed in the jewelry and engagement rings of the period. Flowers, hearts, bows and birds were prominent as was the gemstone Opal, which the Queen was a great admirer of.

Halfway through the Victorian period, 1867 to be exact, huge diamond mines were discovered in South Africa and diamonds became extremely popular. The discovery of platinum in Russia and also vast reserves of gold in California in 1849, allowed the diversification karat levels in gold, making it more accessible and cheaper. An engagement ring from this period will ensure a classic romantic look, while still maintaining an element of natural influence so prominent in the Georgian period.

What To Know When Buying An Antique Engagement Ring Photo Credit: Erstwhile Jewelry

Art Nouveau Period

The Art Nouveau period lasted from approximately 1890 – 1919, actually encompassing the latter Edwardian period. This period defined the turning of the twentieth century and the dawning of a modern age. With the suffragette movement in full force by 1900 the period celebrated the female form and free-flowing asymmetrical lines defined many pieces.

Design and craftsmanship of pieces was paramount, and materials and gemstones took on a secondary importance. This means engagement rings from the period have some truly beautiful designs and artistry, while coming in a range of materials and gemstones. So if you like the design of the period and have your heart set on a particular stone, a good search should mean you’ll find your dream ring!

What To Know When Buying An Antique Engagement Ring Photo Credit: Tadema Gallery

Edwardian Period

Lasting from approximately 1895 – 1914, the Edwardian period was encompassed by the Art Nouveau period, and similarly was defined by incredibly high levels of craftsmanship. Tracing the reign of King Edward of England and his Danish bride designs were often more elegant, with fine filigree work popular. Unlike the Art Nouveau period which used a wide variety of materials and gemstones, diamonds and platinum were the order of the day for the Edwardian period.

Delicate and cosmopolitan designs defined engagement rings of the period and if you like to go for a graceful look, then you can’t go wrong here.

What To Know When Buying An Antique Engagement Ring Photo Credit: Fay Cullen

Art Deco Period

The Art Deco period lasted from approximately 1920 – 1935 and marked a huge shift in style. While previous periods often kept same stylistic elements the Art Deco period was marked by bright colours and sharp straight lines. Emeralds, sapphires and rubies were the favoured gemstones and were prominently used in engagement rings.

The period was defined by the liberation of the jazz era and popular culture heavily influenced the edginess of the jewelry. If you’re a sucker for large retro style and have always had a love for jazz an Art Deco engagement ring could hold a particularly special meaning for you.

What To Know When Buying An Antique Engagement Ring Photo Credit: Fay Cullen

Retro Period

The Retro period lasted from approximately 1935 – 1950 and was marked by the Great Depression and World War II. Platinum was wasn’t available to jewelers during this time and synthetic rubies and sapphires became popular. Designs became chunky and square and illusion settings – giving the appearance of a larger stone – became popular in engagement rings, reflecting the financial hardships of consumers at the time.

Some of the more famous makers such as Tiffany & Co, Cartier and Van Cleef & Arpels made their mark on the jewelry world during this period. As such engagement rings from the Retro period are bold and if you’re a fan of some of the more famous jewelry brands, you can find a range of looks that were popular within the Hollywood elite at the time.

What To Know When Buying An Antique Engagement Ring Photo Credit: Lang Antiques

Where to buy?

You may think buying an antique engagement ring or estate jewelry means visiting independent antique jewelry shops personally, and while there is no substitute for seeing the item you’re buying with your own eyes before purchase, this isn’t the only way to do it. There are now a number of websites where independent jewelers list their stock – such as Etsy, Libertons, and 1st Dibs – allowing you to research jewelers’ stock prior to arranging visits to see engagement rings in person, saving time and money.

The paramount thing when buying an engagement ring is that you feel comfortable wearing it. This will be a ring you wear for the rest of your life, so make sure you get something that suits you. Antique ring styles span a huge variety of looks, materials and gemstones, and by knowing what period suits your look and spending time to research options online you can narrow your search down and really save time to hone in on your dream ring. Couple this knowledge with an understanding of the 4 C’s and what questions to ask a jeweler when purchasing, and you’ll be sure to get a high quality ring that you can enjoy for a lifetime!


Jonathan is the owner of Libertons, an online antique jewelry marketplace. He’s an avid blogger, lover of good coffee and can usually be found rummaging round vintage markets on a sunny weekend!