Many girls (and some women) still imagine the day when a man gets down on one knee, holds out a gorgeous engagement ring, and asks the time-honored question “Will you marry me?”. Often, though, that dream has been replaced by a modern one: walking into a jewelry store (or the even more modern dream, shopping online) to choose the perfect ring symbolizing their engagement to the “perfect” man.
There are some brides-to-be with different types of dreams, however. They may envision their weddings as throwbacks to earlier, more romantic eras and long for vintage engagement rings to match. They may wish for a ring which once belonged to the bride’s or groom’s mother or grandmother, symbolizing the continuity of marriage in the family through the generations. They may believe that an engagement ring once an important part of another bride’s life carries good karma and a rich, fascinating background, or may feel that it’s not responsible to contribute to the depletion of the earth’s resources by buying a new ring.
For all of these women, whether their reasons are romantic, sentimental or rational, buying a vintage engagement ring is the perfect way to translate their dreams and feelings into true meaning on their wedding day.
Vintage engagement rings can be more or less expensive than new ones. They can be simple or ornate. They can be show-stoppers or they can be simple and elegant. They might not even be true vintage rings: they could be antique, estate, or even brand-new yet vintage style engagement rings.
All of those differences often confuse women looking to buy a truly unique ring which embodies both style and meaning – so before we get into the details of buying a vintage engagement ring, let’s define what we’re really talking about.
What Defines Vintage Style?
There’s a specific meaning for the term “vintage engagement ring”, even though it’s often used interchangeably with “vintage antique engagement ring”, “estate engagement ring”, and even “vintage inspired engagement ring”. Each carries very different implications, however.
- Vintage engagement rings: The word “vintage” is usually used to connote a piece which is at least 25 years old, although that benchmark is sometimes increased to 30 years or shortened to 20 years. The jewelry industry doesn’t rigorously define the term, though, so it’s generally used to mean “old”.
- Antique engagement rings: Again, there’s no hard-and-fast definition, but an antique is generally considered to be at least 50 years old. So an antique ring would also be vintage, with antique the more desirable label. That’s why you’ll often see references to vintage antique engagement rings.
- Estate engagement rings: The term “estate jewelry” was first used to refer to collections of jewelry which were part of the estate an owner left behind after her death. The phrase implies that the jewelry is old and valuable, and most likely ancient or vintage. In reality, it’s now used to refer to any piece which is previously-owned and valuable, and usually 50 years old or less.
- Vintage style engagement rings: These are, quite simply, new rings designed to look like real vintage or antique ones. They are made from new stones and settings, but have the appearance of being created many years ago. These are often called vintage inspired engagement rings.
There’s certainly nothing wrong with vintage style wedding rings; many quality ones are just as breathtaking as the older pieces which inspired them. However, it’s crucial to know what you’re buying before you pull out the credit card, because there are big differences between vintage style and real vintage engagement rings, with advantages and disadvantages to each.
Advantages and Disadvantages of Vintage Style
For many brides-to-be, the primary advantage of vintage inspired engagement rings is the same as it is for true vintage diamond engagement rings: they are a statement. They can show that you not only place a premium on style – but also on the timeless values represented by the styles of days gone by. Quite a few women prefer the classic but now unique look of a vintage ring over what they see as cookie-cutter settings and stones sported by the majority of brides.
Vintage rings, whether authentic or simply vintage style, will also attract attention. In a world where female celebrities (and those who watch them, to a lesser extent) compete to show off the biggest and most ornate modern engagement rings possible, most older, classic styles make a distinct and positive impression because they are usually understated, glamorous and elegant.
The biggest advantage to vintage style engagement rings is that they can be customized and crafted to your specifications. When you purchase a true vintage ring, you don’t get to select the stone or the setting; even if you love the ring but wish the original owner had chosen a different size or cut of diamond, that’s too bad. What you see is what you buy. It’s a totally different situation when you decide on a vintage inspired engagement ring – you can select the setting and stone (plus side stones if you choose) which best match your vision of a vintage ring. And there are a huge number of vintage style settings from which to choose.
Another advantage can also be price. If your heart is set on a truly exquisite look, finding and paying for that ring can be much more expensive than having it recreated for you in a vintage style. Real, high-quality antique engagement rings can be horrifically costly.
Finally, there’s always some degree of risk when purchasing a vintage or antique ring. If you haven’t done proper research, you may have been fooled into believing that you’re paying for a piece which is nowhere near as valuable as you first believed. And a previously-owned ring may have damage not easily detected, which could leave you with a chipped or broken stone or setting shortly after you become the ring’s new owner.
The only real disadvantage to buying a vintage style engagement ring is if your heart has actually been set on owning “the real thing” but you’ve settled for a new, vintage style one instead. When you’re going to (hopefully) be wearing a ring for the rest of your life, the last thing you want is to feel regret whenever you look at it. Think twice – and then think once or twice more – before purchasing a vintage inspired ring, if your real wish is for a true antique.
How To Know If Your Vintage Ring Is Real
To get two advantages out of the way quickly, it’s possible to find some vintage rings which date back 25-50 years, or even some vintage antique engagement rings, which cost less than their modern equivalents. The chances are that they won’t be extremely high-quality pieces, they may have some nicks or scratches, and they won’t be as stunning as their astronomically-priced antique cousins. However, if the reason you want to own a vintage engagement ring is romantic or sentimental, buying a less-expensive older ring which was once the prized possession of a woman from another era might fulfill your wishes perfectly. And if you’re one of the environmentally-sensitive brides-to-be who we mentioned at the start of this article, choosing a previously-owned ring will allow you to own a beautiful engagement ring without the consumption of additional natural resources.
A more conventional advantage to these engagement rings (vintage ones, that is) is that some of the styles used 25, 50 or 100 years ago simply can’t be replicated unless you engage the services of a custom designer. You can shop online or at a high-end jewelry store and find rings which look just like vintage princess cut engagement rings; if what you really want is an authentic Georgian look, though, you’re only likely to find it by buying a true vintage engagement ring from the period. Vintage emerald cut engagement rings can easily be duplicated by shopping around for similar settings and cuts of stone, but a true Edwardian-style ring is something you’ll be unlikely to own unless you find a real one from an antique jewelry dealer or at auction. Be prepared to pay for it, though.
The other big advantage to true antique or vintage engagement rings is their value as “conversation pieces”. Everyone will comment on a woman’s ring when she gets engaged. Everyone will ooh-and-ahh at a huge rock or a stunning, sparkling stone. When you have a vintage engagement ring, though – they’ll honestly want to know more about it: how old it is, where it came from, how you got it, the story behind it. The impressions made by flashy rings are short-lived. The impressions made by vintage diamond engagement rings are real and long-lasting.
We’ve already mentioned the primary disadvantage to vintage rings: they require that you be extremely careful when making your purchase. These rings have been worn regularly and have aged considerably so they have often been damaged, and some types of damage are difficult to see with the naked eye. There are also many sellers claiming to have legitimate antique or vintage engagement rings who are really trying to scam buyers.
Before purchasing any antique or vintage ring, be sure that it has been appraised by a professional. If it hasn’t, insist on having it appraised by a certified gemologist before finalizing the deal. Also ask the appraiser if there is any visible damage which needs to be repaired, and whether it will affect the value of the ring. In any case, be sure to have the prongs holding the stone in place checked and re-soldered if necessary, because those are often the first thing to go on a ring. Finally, when figuring the final price of a vintage ring, remember that you may have to pay for repairs and resizing.
Any ring that you love is the perfect ring. However, there are a few classic choices which will give engagement rings (vintage varieties in particular) that extra wow factor.
Vintage halo engagement rings are still around if you search hard enough. The halo style, with a circle of small diamonds surrounding the center stone, was first seen during the Georgian and Victorian eras, and became extremely popular around the time of the Art Deco period because of its focus on geometric patterns and symmetry. The halo design fell out of favor for quite some time, but is back in a big way in the 21st century, meaning that it’s easy to find a myriad number of modern yet vintage style halo rings reminiscent of the early 20th century. With their striking look and historical background, vintage halo engagement rings (whether true antiques or simply vintage inspired) are an ideal choice for the bride who wants a ring with character as well as an impressive stone.
Art Deco engagement rings are still fairly easy to find at antique stores or dealers, or by online searches. These pieces are quite popular at the moment because they usually combined diamonds with a platinum setting, the same combination chosen by many brides today. There are many variations on these rings, from simple, crisp geometric designs to extremely intricate and ornate creations; the finest specimens are quite expensive, but that’s where vintage inspired engagement rings can fit the bill. The popularity of Art Deco, as well as platinum, has led many companies to release entire lines of Art Deco inspired rings, making it easy to have the exact vintage style ring you want at a lower price.
And of course, some of the easiest-to-find pieces are vintage princess cut engagement rings or vintage emerald cut engagement rings; the princess cut as we now know it is only about 35 years old so you won’t find any true antiques featuring that cut of diamond, but the emerald cut is closer to 75 years old so there are plenty of antique and vintage emerald cut rings for sale. Naturally, with both cuts extremely popular today, it’s easy to create a vintage style princess or emerald cut diamond ring with new materials.
Vintage engagement rings aren’t for everyone – brides-to-be with modern tastes often find them too stuffy or old-fashioned for their tastes. For those whose sensibilities often make them feel that they should have been born in an earlier age, however, a vintage engagement ring can let them publicly express their feelings in the perfect way.