The above list of names can create some confusion. One very important piece of information that we should bear in mind before exploring engagement rings is - No jeweler ever sat down to create an ‘Edwardian’ engagement ring or an ‘Art Deco’ engagement ring. These terms were not in use until many decades later when, in retrospect, a characteristic style had become recognizable. As there was no cut-off date for these stylistic changes we find Edwardian-Art Deco engagement rings, Victorian-Edwardian engagement rings and other blurry boundaries. Nevertheless, we hope you will find the following definitions and descriptions enlightening.
Even though the term ‘antique’ generally defines an object being over 100 years old, the terms Antique or Vintage may refer to engagement rings that go as far back as the Georgian period (1714 – 1830) and includes Victorian Rings (1837-1901), Edwardian Rings (1901-1915) and Art Deco Rings (1920-1930s).
Thus these two terms loosely refer to jewels created before the Second World War, during and after which the styles of all types of jewelry took a dramatic turn, inaugurating what we now refer to as Retro Jewelry, and sometimes Mid-Century Modern Jewelry (or more simply Mid-Century Jewelry). This sudden stylistic change was partly due to the shortage of platinum required for military use, largely limiting the composition of Retro Jewelry and Mid-Century Modern jewelry to white-gold, yellow-gold, but much more characteristically, rich hued rose-gold which had virtually disappeared from the scene since Victorian Jewelry.
Dramatic changes in jewelry design took place at the turn of the last century, reflecting the changing role of women. As women became more self-confident and independent, their engagement rings became bolder and more assertive. Diamonds emerged as the central element in antique and vintage engagement rings.
The first decade of the 20th century introduced the electric light bulb, the radio, widespread ownership of motorcars, and, relevant to the subject at hand, the skills to fabricate platinum, and the mining and distribution of the vast diamond resources discovered in South Africa.
Edward succeeded Victoria as the reigning Monarch of England and his wife, Princess Alexandra of Denmark, was a living showcase for the fabulous platinum and diamond jewels produced during this time. Feminine, hand tooled, platinum and diamond engagement rings were produced for the modern, affluent woman of the early 1900’s. The surpassing quality of the design and craftsmanship of these antique engagement rings, (or vintage engagement rings) was so impeccable that the original jewels remain extremely desirable and seductive today.
The designation ‘Estate’ Engagement Ring carries within it the widest variety of periods and styles. Antique Engagement Rings, Vintage Engagement Rings, Edwardian Engagement Rings, Art Deco Engagement Rings and Victorian Engagement Rings may all be included in this general, catch-all category. Often enough however, the term is appropriated as a euphemism to connote merely ‘used’ or ‘second-hand’ engagement rings, perhaps as little as a year or two old, in the same way that ‘pre-owned automobiles’ have come to replace ‘used cars’. However, whereas a 1999 Ford Taurus is far from being classified as a ‘classic’ automobile, any number of ‘classic’ diamond rings may be called an ‘Estate’ Engagement Ring or an ‘Estate’ Diamond Ring without demeaning its superior beauty, rarity and value.
A word of caution: We frequently see brand new Vintage Engagement Ring reproductions represented as “Estate Engagement Rings”. I view this as being, at best, a misnomer and at worst a purposeful misrepresentation. Reputable antique and estate jewelers, clearly denote a newly fabricated piece as an Art Deco ‘style’ engagement ring or Edwardian ‘style’ engagement ring, etc.
The Georgian Era was named in honor of George I, II, III and IV, the reining Kings of England between 1714 and 1830. The beginning of the era was marked by a time when the wealthy and aristocratic wore an almost obscene abundance of jewels. Bejeweled buttons, pocket watches and diamond-set shoe buckles were worn by men and children of the upper class, while elaborate parures (sets of gem encrusted matching necklaces, rings, bracelets, earrings and tiaras) were lavishly draped on the elite women of high society.
Although stunning and elaborate diamond rings were plentiful for members of the aristocracy in the 18th century, they were not made nor worn as engagement rings. These Georgian rings symbolized the sheer grandness of the lifestyle of the privileged. There is a slight exception to this in the case of the Georgian Crowned Heart Diamond Ring. These rings were intended and bestowed as a pledge of love.
Georgian jewelry is a rare commodity in the present day. The majority of the pieces were broken apart to make use of their intrinsic value or redesigned into pieces more fashionable for the decades that followed.
Lang Antiques has a small, but impressive collection of Georgian Diamond Rings. Because of their rarity and vintage, we usually don’t recommend them to be worn on a daily basis as Engagement Rings.
Engagement rings from the Victorian period are ‘antique’ by definition (with all Edwardian jewelry just around the corner). Victorian Rings are invariably rendered in yellow or rose-gold, and diamond engagement rings from the mid-Victorian to late Victorian periods are further enhanced with top layers of silver and platinum, respectively.
Three stone style engagement rings are representative of Victorian times, as are designs, shapes and motifs which are not associated with engagement rings in modern times: Interlacing hearts and initials, serpents symbolizing eternal love, and various representations of endearment from those particularly sentimental times. Old mine cut diamonds, fluid engraving and repoussé work, deep colored enameling and seed pearls are also indicative of Victorian engagement rings.
Edwardian Rings represent some of the finest examples of diamond and platinum jewelry in existence. Edwardian Diamond jewels were made to look as light and delicate as possible, reflecting the femininity of the Edwardian lady and complimenting the ethereal fashions of the time. Superlative attention was paid to every detail of the Edwardian jewel, and the quality of the craftsmanship explains why these treasures have survived to the present day.
Some essential identifying features of Edwardian Engagement Rings are delicate open pierced work and filigree work; designs incorporating gentle curves and scrolled patterns; fine milgraining, and tiny diamond accents (melee) set in platinum or platinum over gold. The overall effect being light, lacy and feminine.
Along with Edwardian engagement rings, Art Deco rings are the most coveted pieces in the vintage bridal market. The clean and architectural lines typical of the Art Deco jewels were inspired by Oriental designs, Archaeological revivals and Native American Designs. The notable feature of Art Deco engagement rings is a stately, geometrical symmetry evocative of the modern machine age: The Chrysler and Empire State Buildings, Movie Palaces, Ocean Liners and Busby Berkeley Films.
Art Deco engagement rings are often accented with channel (calibré) or bead-set sapphires, rubies and emeralds. Vivid, vibrant colors contrasted with white platinum and diamonds and characteristic black onyx and enamel. New cutting technologies allowed for new geometric shapes in diamonds and gemstones such as straight and tapered baguettes, triangles, trapezoids and kite shapes.
The finest examples of Art Deco engagement rings were hand fabricated and impeccably finished with hand tooled engraving and milgraining. No expense was spared in producing these masterpieces as the 1920’s were some of the most affluent times in our history.
Retro Jewelry introduced a radical shift in jewelry design. Influenced by a new optimism, prosperity and self-confidence following World War Two, Retro Jewelry and Mid-Century Jewelry is exemplified by large, bold, dramatic and often asymmetric designs most often rendered in rose-gold, rubies and diamonds.
It is also during this period that the Diamond Solitaire Ring entered the scene in a big way. More attention was now being focused on the size and shape of a central diamond simply set in white-gold or platinum four-prong or six-prong settings, flanked by smaller baguette diamond accents.
We also begin to see the increasing popularity of ‘Fancy Shape Diamonds’ – Pear Shape Diamonds, Marquise Cut Diamonds, Heart Shape Diamonds and Square-cut and Emerald Cut Diamonds (the modern version of Asscher Cut Diamonds)
Perhaps it is because of the new fascination with the Diamond Solitaire Rings that Retro Engagement Rings are virtually non-existent. Whereas Retro Diamond Rings (or cocktail rings), usually accented with contrasting colored stones, were all the rage, and large, bold Retro rings featuring semi-precious stones, such as Aquamarines and Citrines, were being flaunted by the movie stars of the day, a true Retro engagement ring is exceedingly rare.