If your style leans towards the Golden Era of Frank Sinatra, Duke Ellington and Ella Fiztgerald (and you think you were born in the wrong era when you watch Downton Abbey), chances are, antique rings will be a good way to bring in a permanent vintage addition to your wardrobe. While the unique beauty and character of these types of rings outshine many modern engagement rings, there are a few things you will want to know before buying antique rings.
Antique Rings: The Basics
Throughout the jewelry industry, there is a fair amount of debate about when a ring is officially classified as “antique”. Some jewelers feel that a ring must be around the 100 year mark in order to be considered an antique ring. Naturally, any ring made in the early 1900’s will fit that category and there are even many from the 1800’s floating around antique shops across the world. However, as time has gone on, jewelry appraisers are loosening their firm stance on the 100 year rule and are allowing for minimums of 50 years old. Generally speaking, though, some less professional jewelry stores will allow the term “antique” or “vintage” to be used for rings as new as 30 years old, which are not technically antique but are still far from being new. One of the most popular eras in which to find engagement rings is via the Art Deco period of the early 1900’s up through to the 1930’s and then beyond up through to the 1960’s.
How Do Jewelers Know the Age of Antique Rings?
Because there are many antique and vintage replicas being sold in stores to unsuspecting consumers, it is critical that you visit with a reputable antique jeweler and/or appraiser to make your purchase. Often times, antique shops may not have true antiques and still command high prices to those not well versed in jewelry appraisal. When you go to a professional jeweler and appraiser, they will be able to identify certain characteristics that provide information as to the age of the ring.
Here are a few things experienced jewelers will look at in a ring:
One of the biggest tell-tale signs that a ring is antique is by looking at the type of metal used to create the ring. For instance, we know that white gold was not available until around the 1950’s, so this provides an immediate narrowing down of the date range. Also, metal in the 1800’s was not as refined and pure due to different processes used back then compared to modern times. Many rings over 100 years old may be made of silver, and not just yellow gold.
By looking at the engravings, shape of the lines, the details, beading and any other unique style elements (also known as motif), an experienced jeweler would be able to determine the era of the ring. Just as in our day, there were style trends back then that were followed.
3. Gemstones Used in the Setting.
Unlike modern rings where we are generally used to diamonds, antique rings often will have wider range of gemstones in their settings. Stones such as turquoise, sapphires, rubies, emeralds, and even opals were used. Diamonds would have been cut by hand and quality will vary from ring to ring. You may not achieve the same perfection in diamond cuts as you would expect today, but that is part of the old world charm you find in antique rings.
4. Cut of the Stones.
As mentioned above, you won’t find the same type of cuts as we see today in modern times. Along with different styles, they had different capabilities over one hundred years ago. For instance, the Old European cut (featured below) is an example of a cut that we don’t see today, and is one that a jeweler can more closely pinpoint the date upon examination:
Where to Buy Antique Rings
For starters, you can either buy online with only the most reputable of stores (Lang Antiques, for instance) or you can do some research by calling around to your local jewelry stores and see who they consistently recommend. You could also look at estate sales and find some gems in there, but be sure to get the ring appraised prior to final purchase to ensure you are getting exactly what you pay for.
For more in-depth research, please visit our other articles on antique rings: