So you know that she wants a vintage engagement ring, but what now? This handy and comprehensive guide, written by the experts at Estate Diamond Jewelry will hopefully shed some light on a journey fraught with potential pitfalls for the uninformed, and make the whole process much easier than it otherwise might be.
A Quick Rundown on the Vintage Eras
We believe that understanding the vintage jewelry eras is very important. These terms are repeated endlessly throughout the vintage jewelry scene, and recognizing the vintage jewelry eras is the first step to beginning to understand vintage jewelry.
The Victorian Era spanned from 1836 – 1901
The Edwardian Era spanned from 1901 – 1915
The Art Deco Era spanned from 1920 – 1939
The Retro Era spanned from 1935 – 1950
The earliest era is the Georgian Era, spanning from 1714 – 1835, unfortunately, there aren’t many genuine Georgian Rings available on the market anymore. Most of the genuine Georgian rings are not in a stable enough condition to wear on a daily basis. The Art Nouveau Era, spanned from 1895 – 1910, and partially overlapped the Victorian and Edwardian Era. The Art Nouveau designs and motifs however, didn’t really lend themselves to be easily adapted to the traditional vintage engagement ring. The rings shown above can be found here.
The Four C’s and Diamond Quality
The Four ‘C’s of diamond classification are Carat (size), Clarity (flawlessness), Color (how “white” it is) and Cut (the quality of the cut and how the finished stone appears). A reputable dealer will happily go over each of these with you for any stone that catches your eye. Even if you have a modest budget, it is important that you feel comfortable and have a good understanding of the stone that you are interested in.
Also, bear in mind that compromising in one area will get you a strength in another. If size is important to you, you may have to compromise on clarity or color to find a diamond within your budget.
The Classes of Diamonds
Carat – The larger the number the heavier the diamond weighs. One carat weighs 200 mg.
Color – The whiteness of the diamond. The whitest diamonds are ranked as a D. The diamonds get more yellow as the letters move closer to Z.
Clarity – The clarity of a diamond ranges from F (no inclusions), IF, VVS1, VVS2, VS1, VS2, SI1, SI2, I1, I2, and I3 (included).
Cut – The cut measures the perfection of the facets of the diamond. There are four standard rankings: excellent, very good, good, and fair. (Please note that antique diamonds tend to rank lower on this scale because they were cut by hand.)
For a comprehensive walk-through on everything that you need to know about diamonds, click here.
Determining Antique Diamonds
Determining the age of a diamond accurately is very hard, even for experts, but we can give you a few tips to help you at least determine if the diamond is old.
- The culet. If you look down the center of the diamond and see a culet (a rounded facet at the bottom) there likelyhood of the diamond being old is extremely high.
- The table. The table is the flat surface at the top of the diamond. Current GIA standards favor a larger table surface. Older diamonds will usually have much smaller tables.
- The girdle. A frosted girdle is good indicator that the diamond is old.
For more information on dating antique diamonds and why antique diamonds are treasured, click here.
The Style and Design
Most people have heard the term “solitaire ring” without ever really fully understanding what it means. A solitaire ring is simply a ring with a single stone, usually but not exclusively a diamond, and has become an iconic representation of an engagement ring. But solitaires, as popular as they have become in recent years are just one in an almost endless array of designs for engagement rings.
There are several popular periods for antique engagement rings, many of which have gone on to influence modern day designs significantly. One of the most important periods for design generally, and which had a terrific impact on ring design was the Art Deco period of the early 20th Century. Art Deco is demonstrated by symmetrical, even at times quite aggressive designs that lend themselves perfectly to drawing the eye to the diamond of the engagement ring.
Considered a little more “edgy” that earlier style periods, both in construction and intent, the symmetry of engagement rings from this period manages to stay clear of straying into what might otherwise have been early “bling” by the considered cut and placement of the stones. It isn’t unusual to see a center diamond surrounded by a pavement of small sapphires or rubies, or even other diamonds. This can allow the center diamond to be a little smaller and, therefore, a little less expensive whilst appearing bigger than it really is.
The fact is, though, that style is a very personal thing. Find something you like, and then ask yourself will your future fiancé like it. Actually looking at her current ring collection before you start shopping, or the ones she wears at least, will give you some idea of what to look for. If she has rings she wears all the time, don’t be afraid to look for an engagement ring that might compliment them, whether by color or design.
Platinum is the metal of choice for the band of the ring, due to it being hypoallergenic, but the choices extend to gold in many colors, giving a wide range of choices. Antique rings from the Victorian Era will very likely have silver in them as well.
To understand a little bit more about vintage motifs and styles, click here.
Only you can decide how much your budget should be. Of all the questions that you and your fiancée will be asked about the ring, “How much was it” won’t – or at least shouldn’t – be one of them. As long as you stay within your budget, don’t be drawn into overpaying for a ring just so that you can brag about the cost.
If your fiancée is really the one for you, you could put an old beer can ring pull on her finger and it wouldn’t matter. (Don’t do that, by the way, the tactic only works in movies.) Leave the cost boasts to the celebrities.
De Beers, the diamond mining and dealing giant first coined the phrase “A month’s salary that lasts a lifetime” to boost sales within a falling diamond market during the lean years of the 1930s. They upgraded it to “Two month’s salary…” by the 1980s, so it seems their campaign paid off.
So is two month’s salary a fair price? It all depends.
Will it be a single solitaire diamond, or one with more stones in the setting? Will it have different stones such as sapphires or rubies as well as the diamonds. How big will the stones be? What will the quality of the stones and the setting be?
Any one of them can make a huge difference to the cost of the ring. The key is NOT to see the vintage ring as an investment, although it will more than likely rise in value, but to see it as part of your life story. A permanent, irrefutable element in a story that now involves two people.
Set your budget and have a cast iron determination to stay within it. Or at least within 20% of the top end if you see something you really like. Whether this is two month’s salary or just enough so you can eat this week makes no difference. The main thing is to find a ring that you’ll both love. An engagement ring isn’t just a piece of jewelry, it is the guardian of a treasured moment that you will share forever.
Quality and Assurances
This is where finding a reputable dealer with a sound background and credentials becomes crucial.
Most vintage engagement rings will have one primary (and possibly many accenting) diamonds within the setting. As mentioned above, diamonds come in a wide range of qualities and, by extension, values. The best diamonds sell for very high prices and have lots of nuances, but that doesn’t mean lower valued stones should be overlooked.
To all but the practised eye of an expert, many of the internal flaws and color tints that lower some value from the stone will be all but undetectable to an untrained eye, even yours. A trained and honest salesperson should be able to navigate you along the path, educating you along the way, and helping you make this important decision.
Certifications and Insurance
If you have a budget that allows you to consider a diamond in excess of 1 carat, you should get a certification or appraisal into the grading of the stone. These are independently produced and certify the quality of the diamond should you need it at any point for insurance or other purposes.
Speaking of insurance, make sure you get the right level of cover for the ring you buy. There are specialist jewelry insurers as well as cover being usually available from your home and contents insurer. Have the ring re-valued every couple of years and make sure you upgrade the cover if needed. Not that the emotional value of an engagement ring can ever be measured, but loss and damage does happen and a “free” replacement is better than paying twice.
For more information on how to insure your jewelry, click here.
A Final Thought
The value of an engagement ring can’t just be measured in dollars, it’s far too important to simply be a financial thing. What it signifies is a partnership that is taking a significant step forward and which will define you both for decades to come. Above all else, buy an engagement ring that shows the purchase wasn’t just about you. We all like, and need, to feel appreciated so keep that in mind when you make the single biggest “I appreciate you” statement of your life.
This post was written and brought to you by Estate Diamond Jewelry.