What to Know About Vintage Engagement Rings

Antique engagement rings

​The Spruce / Margot Cavin

Brides looking for something a little different should consider an antique engagement ring. Not only will it have an inherent uniqueness and charm, but antique engagement rings also are typically less expensive, often have better craftsmanship, and are an instant heirloom.

What Is an Antique Engagement Ring?

An antique engagement ring specifically refers to one more than 50 years old. An estate engagement ring is anything less than 50 years old and may refer to a used ring bought only last year. For the most unique and charming rings, ask to see rings made before 1950. Some jewelers also use the term vintage engagement ring, which different jewelers use to mean different things. While most use it as a catch-all term meaning "an old ring," others use it to mean a ring that was made to look like it was from another era—for example, a ring made in 1940 that has the filigree look of the Edwardian era.

Antique Engagement Ring Styles

  • Victorian Antique Engagement Rings (18351900): Often set in yellow or rose gold, Victorian rings have both simple elegant designs to very intricate ones. Many Victorian settings feature rows of diamonds, cut with an extra facet on the bottom (called a "mine cut"). Many Victorian rings also included pearls, although these are not recommended for everyday wear. The classic Tiffany six-prong diamond solitaire was introduced in 1886.
  • Edwardian Engagement Rings (19001920): When the oxyacetylene torch was invented, platinum became the vogue metal for antique engagement rings. Jewelers began crafting lacy and pierced shapes, mill graining, scrollwork, and filigree detail on the mountings. Along with rose-cut diamonds, brilliant sapphires were especially popular during the Edwardian era.
  • Art Deco Engagement Rings (19201930): The 1920s were an age of machinery, exploration, and jazz. Art Deco antique engagement rings reflect the era with a streamlined geometric look. Early Art Deco rings diverged from pale Edwardian designs with colorful, contrasting gemstones, although soon went to a platinum diamond-packed look for a glittering streamlined look, just like the Chrysler Building. Art Deco rings are currently the most popular antique engagement rings for newly engaged couples.

Things to Know About Antique Engagement Rings

  • Unusual Center Stones: While diamonds are currently the most popular stone for engagement bands, this wasn't always true. Be careful of softer stones such as emerald, pearl, and opal, which may have internal cracks or may be easily damaged.
  • Craftsmanship: Look carefully at the craftsmanship of the ring. If you were to try to commission a modern jeweler to match the work on an Edwardian ring, you would end up spending much more than what you'd pay for an authentic ring of the era. Avoid poor replica rings that mimic the style but can't hold a candle to the quality and character of an older ring.
  • Settings: If you are on a budget but want the look of a larger diamond, consider an antique engagement ring from the 1930s or '40s. The diamonds in these bands were often set in an elaborately carved setting, which made the diamond appear larger.
  • Diamond Quality: Remember that today's standards of quality don't necessarily apply to older diamonds. While bright white is now considered the best diamond, people once searched for slightly rose, green, or yellow diamonds. Methods of cutting were different, and the scientific ability to see internal flaws was not as advanced.

Where to Buy an Antique Engagement Ring

Whenever purchasing antique jewelry, look carefully at the descriptions of each piece. Make sure they will give you in writing a complete description of the piece, including age, size, condition, color, carat, clarity, and cut. Preferably, they will have a certified gemologist's report for you. As with any sizeable purchase, ask all of your questions about the piece before you hand over any money. And make sure you know the return policy, should you be unhappy with your purchase.

Antique engagement rings can be found at a variety of places including antique stores, jewelers, estate sales, pawnshops, and online. Novice buyers should stick to jewelers and antique jewelry specialists who will be able to guide you in your purchase. Always make sure you are going to a reputable seller.