Olde School: Antique Engagement Ring Shopping Guide

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    Modernists, Look Away!

    Trumpet & Horn. Trumpet & Horn

    You’ve decided you want an antique engagement ring—now what? Well, you can dust off your Janson’s History of Art from freshman year of college and glean the differences between Art Deco and Art Nouveau that way, or dig into this jewelry tutorial: It clues you in to the characteristics that tend to define—and differentiate—the engagement rings coming out of a particular era in history (specifically, Victorian, Edwardian, Art Nouveau, Art Deco, Retro and Modern). Once you’re clear on the jewelry...MORE design nuances that make each era unique, you can have intelligent conversations with jewelers who deal in antique and estate engagement rings, properly refine your Google searches and shop online with greater confidence.

    One place to start? Trumpet & Horn (of Claire Pettibone collaboration fame), a fairly new e-boutique offering an abundance of engagement rings, ranging from one-of-a-kind antiques to new pieces (with a vintage-inspired slant). In fact, I consulted the Trumpet & Horn team on the content of this post and of course asked them to provide their own insights, as well as some engagement ring examples to help put each discussion in context. 

    Whether you’re leaning toward Victorian, Art Deco or Edwardian, each engagement ring—26 in all—is a very good reason to go vintage. Bonus: Free shipping and free ring-sizing with all orders. Nice. And honestly, you can just scroll through and pin your favorites but it’s worth boning up on the facts before you shop. Not only will you be better informed, you’ll have a better understanding of what makes your antique engagement ring so special. Remember, each ring is one of a kind, so if you see something you like, jump on it. Happy hunting!

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  • 02 of 27

    The Victorian Era (1835-1900)

    LOOK FOR: Oval-shaped stones, navette rings and center stones of black onyx, opal, sapphire, ruby, emerald, garnet and amethyst. The 1867 discovery of diamond mines in South Africa facilitated the use of diamonds in fine jewelry, but throughout the Victorian era, it was more common for birthstones to appear in engagement rings. Queen Victoria herself had a snake motif engagement ring (serpents were a symbol of eternal love at the time) set with a beautiful emerald (emerald is the birthstone for...MORE May).

    FROM THE EXPERTS: “Diamonds and colored gemstones were still hand-cut during this time, so each and every piece is truly one-of-a-kind. From rose-cut diamonds to Old Mine and Old European cuts, we love how each of the different diamond cuts offers a different look, sparkling beautifully and with so much character. If you like super-unique, old and bold pieces set in gold, this is definitely your era.”

    PICTURED ABOVE: 18k Orleans navette ring with five cushion-cut emeralds in a frame of single-cut diamonds, $2,150, available at Trumpet & Horn

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    Victorian

    18k yellow gold Cottonwood Springs cluster engagement ring with a 1.15-carat Old European cut diamond center stone detailed with 1.2 carats of Old Mine cut diamonds set in a halo and along the sides of the ring. Circa 1880. $11,250, available at Trumpet & Horn

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    Victorian

    14k rose gold Lake Baikal engagement ring with a 1.42-carat, rectangular step-cut Ceylon sapphire center stone framed in a halo of 10 Old Mine cut diamonds totaling one carat. Circa 1880. $9,750, available at Trumpet & Horn

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    Victorian

    14k yellow gold Gables ring with a .40-carat step-cut Columbian emerald center stone in a halo of 10 Old Mine cut diamonds totaling .9 carats. Circa 1895. $5,500, available at Trumpet & Horn

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    Victorian

    14k yellow gold Idyllwild ring with a cabochon turquoise center stone framed in a halo of Old Mine cut diamonds. Circa 1890. $2,600, available at Trumpet & Horn

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    Victorian

    14k yellow gold and 18k rose gold Archcliffe ring with an Australian opal center stone framed in a marquise-shaped halo of 12 Old Mine cut diamonds totaling 1.6 carats. Circa 1890. $6,750, available at Trumpet & Horn

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    The Edwardian Era (1900-1915)

    LOOK FOR: Old European cut diamonds and sapphires, and cluster settings (the precursor to today's wildly popular halo setting). Light, delicate and lace-like metalwork. Advances in metal fabrication allowed for the use of platinum in jewelry, which makes jewelry dating much easier. (If an engagement ring is made with platinum, you can be fairly sure that it was made in the early 20th century or later.) Since platinum is a harder and stronger metal than gold, Edwardian era jewelry makers...MORE could create engagement rings that were intricate and detailed, yet structurally sound. Milgraining—a small decorative border of platinum beads finishing the edges of a jewelry design—was used extensively during this period, as was the use of filigree.

    FROM THE EXPERTS: Edwardian engagement rings were beautiful and feminine, with soft lines, ribbons and floral motifs. Incredibly intricate, delicate details mark the Edwardian era. This level of delicate detail just isn’t seen anymore today, and we love these pieces because they are ridiculously romantic. We find that a lot (if not most) of our 'wow' pieces tend to be Edwardian.”

    PICTURED ABOVE: Platinum and 18k white gold bombe-style Amersham engagement ring with a .68-carat diamond center stone and six diamond accent stones totaling .18 carats. Circa 1915. $5,250, available at Trumpet & Horn

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    Edwardian

    Platinum Fairmont bombe-style engagement ring with a .44-carat Old European cut diamond center stone and detailed with eight diamond accent stones, filigree, engraving and milgraining along the edges. Circa 1915. $4,850, available at Trumpet & Horn

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    Edwardian

     Mixed white metal (18k white gold, palladium and silver) Ravenna engagement ring with a .60-carat rose-cut center stone in a setting detailed with chevron-patterned engraving and subtle milgraining. Circa 1905. $4,100, available at Trumpet & Horn

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    The Art Nouveau Era (1895-1915)

    LOOK FOR: Sensual, nature-inspired, eclectic themes, and gemstones of diamonds, moonstones, opals, enamel, agates and pearls. The Art Nouveau era overlapped the Victorian and Edwardian periods with jewelry designs that emphasized artistry, hand-craftsmanship and creative joie de vivre.

    FROM THE EXPERTS: “It was a very romantic, art-focused period. The era was short-lived, though, and ended when machinery and Art Deco architecture became more mainstream (the jewelry, as we’ll see later, followed...MORE suit). The Art Nouveau designs in our collection are so special, and so unusual. When brides-to-be and collectors see these rings, their reaction is always, ‘Wow, I’ve really never seen anything like that before.’”

    PICTURED ABOVE: Platinum and 18k yellow gold Earlmar Drive engagement ring with a bezel-set .98-carat solitaire diamond center stone and rose-cut diamond accents. Circa 1905. $9,250, available at Trumpet & Horn

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    Art Nouveau

    Platinum and 18k yellow gold Gatewood engagement ring with a bezel-set 1.08-carat Old European cut diamond center stone, intricate scrolling. milgrained edges and 22 single-cut diamond accents totaling .25 carats. Circa 1910. $10,200, available at Trumpet & Horn

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    Art Nouveau

    Silver-topped, 14k yellow gold Herringbone ring with a 1.74-carat Old Mine Cushion Brilliant cut diamond center stone with two bezel-set rose cut diamonds and four “petals” each accented with a single rose-cut diamond. Circa 1905. $12,250, available at Trumpet & Horn

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    Art Nouveau

    18k yellow gold Highmeadow engagement ring with a .95-carat cushion-cut ruby center stone and eight Old Mine cut diamonds totaling .28 carats. Circa 1910. $6,250, available at Trumpet & Horn  

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    Art Deco Era (1915-1935)

    LOOK FOR: Platinum (and sometimes white gold) settings with clean lines, sharp angles and geometric details. Old European cut diamonds, emerald-cut diamonds, marquise-cut diamonds and rings that incorporate accents of diamond baguettes or calibré-cut sapphires, rubies and emeralds. Princess Mary (the Duke of Windsor's sister) received an emerald engagement ring in 1922, a moment that ignited a demand for the stone in engagement rings. When the Duchess of Windsor got engaged in 1936, her...MORE Cartier engagement ring—a 19.77-carat emerald cut in a clean, tailored rectangular shape—similarly reflected the trends of the time.

    FROM THE EXPERTS: “We love the angles, the geometric designs, the use of fabulous and interesting combinations of gemstones that distinguish the Art Deco era. The jewelry of this time period was very much influenced by industrialization, and architectural wonders like the Chrysler Building and other impressive structures. King Tut’s tomb was opened in 1923, and after that, there was a huge bang of Egyptian revival pieces. If you want something geometric for your engagement ring, and love clean lines, go Art Deco. Rings from this era are perfect for the minimalist who wants something more unique than a round diamond solitaire.”

    PICTURED ABOVE: Platinum Clearbrook engagement ring with a rectangular step-cut 1.05-carat emerald center stone flanked by a pair of bezel-set triangular step cut diamonds. Late Art Deco (circa 1935). $12,500, available at Trumpet & Horn

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    Art Deco

    Platinum Burnsville engagement ring with a 1.30-carat Old European cut diamond center stone in a hexagonal frame and detailed with ornate filigree, milgrained edges and 19 Old European cut diamond accent stones totaling .30 carats. Circa 1930. $12,250, available at Trumpet & Horn

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    Art Deco

    Platinum Ashland engagement ring with a bezel-set 1.01-carat Old European cut diamond center stone, shoulders lined with six diamond accent stones and milgrained edges throughout. Circa 1930. $8,200, available at Trumpet & Horn

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    Art Deco

    Platinum Niagara Falls engagement ring with a .73-carat Old European cut diamond center stone and 20 single cut diamond accent stones totaling .40 carats. Circa 1930. $7,100, available at Trumpet & Horn

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    Art Deco

    Platinum Wicker Park engagement ring with a .38-carat Old European cut diamond center stone flanked by two bezel-set diamond baguettes, and milgrain-edged diamond accents totaling .30 carats, $3,800, available at Trumpet & Horn 

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    The Retro Era (1935-1950)

    LOOK FOR: Platinum, 14k yellow gold and rose gold settings. Transitional cut diamonds (similar to an Old European cut), cushion-cut diamonds and colored gemstones, and large emerald-cut diamonds (like Grace Kelly’s choice of a 10.47 emerald-cut diamond engagement ring from Cartier).

    FROM THE EXPERTS: Hollywood, and all its glamour, is a big influence on Retro-era engagement rings. During, and after World War II, expensive, platinum jewelry was put on hold—rose and yellow gold were popular, and...MORE mixed-metal styles. We love the bold, big colored gemstones that came out of the 1940s the most because they are usually super unusual and way over-the-top.”

    PICTURED ABOVE: 14k rose gold Delfino engagement ring with a .47-carat oval-cut sapphire center stone framed in a halo of 14 diamonds totaling .20 carats. Circa 1940. $3,250, available at Trumpet & Horn

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    Retro

    14k white and yellow gold Alcott engagement ring with a .26-carat Old European cut diamond center stone and eight diamond accent stones totaling .08 carats. Circa 1940. $1,650, available at Trumpet & Horn

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    Retro

    Platinum Edge Hill engagement ring with a .95-carat round brilliant diamond center stone and six diamond accent stones totaling .10 carats. $5,500, available at Trumpet & Horn

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    Retro

    Platinum-topped 14k yellow gold Copper Beach ring with a 6.08-carat oval cabochon fire opal center stone surrounded by .60 carats of round brilliant diamonds. Circa 1945. $4,250, available at Trumpet & Horn

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    The Modern Era (1950s onward)

    LOOK FOR: White gold and platinum designs that are light and textural, as opposed to the solid, high-polished look of the Retro era. Round, cushion-cut and emerald cut diamonds. Tapered baguettes (as opposed to the straight baguettes of the Art Deco period) are characteristic of this era, as are engraved finishes, braided rope accents and sapphire engagement rings.

    FROM THE EXPERTS: “Post-war 1950s was a time of great economic growth that lead to a rise in the upper middle class....MORE Platinum-and-diamond engagement rings are back in a big, big way. The designs are opulent, and the bigger the stone, the better—think of Elizabeth Taylor and all her wonderful jewels from Richard Burton. Platinum and diamonds rule but not in a delicate, intricate way like the Edwardian era. Think bolder and chunkier, similar to what the big box stores are manufacturing today.”

    PICTURED ABOVE: Platinum Soundview engagement ring with a 1.56-carat round brilliant diamond center stone surrounded by diamond baguettes totaling .30 carats and round brilliant diamond accent stones totaling .32 carats. Circa 1950. $11,500, available at Trumpet & Horn

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    Modern

    Platinum Malibu engagement ring with a 3.46-carat sapphire center stone and six channel-set diamond baguettes. Circa 1950. $10,750, available at Trumpet & Horn

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    Modern

    Platinum Lakeridge ring with a 6-carat, heart-shaped aquamarine center stone and round brilliant diamond accent stones totaling .15 carats. Circa 1950. $4,500 available at Trumpet & Horn

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    Modern

    Platinum Royalston engagement ring with a 1.55-carat Old European cut diamond center stone and round brilliant and diamond baguette accent stones totaling .45 carats. Circa 1950. $13,750, available at Trumpet & Horn