The engagement ring has evolved over generations. Some things changed dramatically but some things stayed the same, like the love of diamonds. While diamonds in and of themselves have changed quite a lot. Let us take you on a journey of fine jewelry through the ages using our collection of vintage engagement rings starting in the 1860s and ending in the 1960s.
The oldest rings in our collection are from the mid 19th century. This decade is part of the Victorian era which spanned from 1837-1901. Jewelry from the earliest part of the Victorian era or from the era predating it, the Georgian period, is very rare.
During this time period silver and gold were the most prevalent metals. Platinum has a very high melting point and technology wasn’t developed until the late 19th century to be able to easily work with it in jewelry. Hand engraved warm toned golds were very popular. Authentic antique engraved bands from this time period are coveted to this day.
Modern round brilliant diamonds became possible during this time period. The first of which was the old mine cushion. While the old mine isn’t perfectly round like the modern round brilliant it was different from any diamond before it. The most notable features are a bulky uneven shape, an eye visible culet and a tiny table.
But the first brilliants were anything but symmetrical and had all sorts of facets and outlines depending on the rough stone they were fashioned from.
Natural pearls were prized in the 19th century. Note the pinkish luster of the pearls, patina under the mounting, and heavier more asymmetrical prongs all typical of the era.
Prior to this the rose, table and point cut were the most prevalent shapes.
Presented here is a quintessential late Victorian style but with a slight unique flare, a yellow gold buttercup setting. Even more special though is the diamond cut featured is a rare Peruzzi cushion invented in the 17th century by Venetian lapidary Vincenzo Peruzzi.
As we close the 19th century, jewelry and diamonds begin to take on a more polished and uniform look with more advanced technology.
A note on overlapping design eras. While there are clear date distinctions. For example the Victorian era ends in 1901 with the onset of the Edwardian era, which then ends in 1910. When we date a ring as circa 1900 it can fall either under Victorian or Edwardian depending the on the design style. Especially during the years of transition there was a lot of design overlap.
The late Victorian and early Edwardian era brings with it glittering diamonds and new masterful jewelry design. The cluster setting shown here was popular in decades past but begins to take on a more delicate look with finer prongs and more brilliant diamonds like old mine or even old European which begin to be popular during this time.
The chubby proportions and faceting of this antique marquise cut diamond are typical of the time period and quite different from marquise diamonds of the 20th century.
Two toned engagement rings are quite popular during this time. Often seen with a platinum mounting and a gold band. Typical because diamonds of this time period were often warmer in color and the coolness of platinum offset the warmth of the stone.
It was at the beginning of the Edwardian era that yellow gold and silver began to take a back seat to a "new" metal called platinum. Platinum has a high melting point which limited its use in jewelry until the invention of the oxyhydrogen torch. With this innovation in the late 1800s platinum mania swept through Europe and Russia. And following suit in the early 1900s, popularity of platinum reached the United States and captivated the American public.
Old European becomes the diamond cut of choice while old miners continue to be popular as they also evolve to have more precise faceting and symmetry.
Art Nouveau was a design movement that spanned from 1890 to 1910. Jewelry from this time period took inspiration from the natural world featuring sinuous lines and botanical motifs.
As jewelry making technology advances we begin to enter the height of jewelry craftsmanship which peaks during the forthcoming Art Deco period. The Edwardian era saw a surge in popularity of elaborate and feminine settings featuring delicate filigree and metal lace work all hand crafted by lifelong master jewelers.
Diamond cutting advances with the ability to cut perfectly round shapes and ultra glittery cuts. The old European diamond surges to the forefront of popularity. This beauty inspired the forthcoming transition cut and finally the modern round brilliant diamond. While the old Euro (as its fondly called) can be found even a few decades before it wasn't until the early 20th century that it became ubiquitous as new technology also became ever-present.
Since old European cut diamonds were hand faceted without uniform parameters, these stones are truly one-of-a-kind. These big, bold and round diamonds are set in crisp platinum settings and exceedingly desirable during this day.
Another fabulous cut to make itself known during the early 20th century was the innovative and brand new Asscher diamond. The Asscher cut was created in 1902 by Joseph Isaac Asscher and was the first diamond cut to be patented. The cut is similar to an emerald cut in the square shape but with cropped corners and modified faceting which creates a more brilliant look.
The Asscher cut was extremely popular, particularly in Art Deco jewelry designs. It reached its peak popularity in the 1920s, which is one of the reasons many modern brides see Asscher-cut diamonds as “antique” or “vintage.”
As we near the 1920s the Art Deco design movement begins to inspire everything from jewelry to architecture of the day. Rings from this time period begin to exhibit more sleek shapes as design begins to move away from the traditional elegance of the past.
Probably the most popular vintage era, the Art Deco period spans 1920-1935. Something to note only rings that display Art Deco design motifs are deemed Art Deco. However regardless if jewelry from this period is Art Deco or 1920s period, it is stunning!
Engagement Rings from this time period feature clean modern lines. Solitaires in a variety of prong and mounting styles are popular.
The target setting is one of the most recognizable Deco styles of the period.
The distinguishing features of the Art Deco style are simple and clean shapes. Often made from expensive materials like platinum, diamonds and other precious gems like emeralds and sapphires these stones are set in geometric or stylized forms. Though Art Deco objects were rarely mass produced, the characteristic features of the style reflected admiration for the modernity of the machine and for the inherent design qualities of machine made objects (e.g., relative simplicity, symmetry and unvaried repetition of elements).
The 1930s is a continuation of the Deco design movement. Jewelry taking a huge influence from the streamline skyscrapers of the day, most famously the Chrysler Building in New York. There's a heaviness to jewelry during this time featuring weighty settings and solid prongs.
Diamonds begin to take on new proportions like the marquise cut diamond above. The old European cut diamond continues to be the most popular diamond for an engagement ring however the transition cut begins to take shape as well. These cuts, also sometimes called early modern cuts, are precursors to the modern round brilliant. These diamonds were some of the first to have standardize proportions.
In the 1940s you can see the transition from Art Deco high design sensibility to Mid Century Modern which spanned roughly from 1950 to 1965 but some argue earlier. Mid Century engagement rings offer little ornamentation with uncluttered and ultra clean lines taking the streamlined ideology of the Deco movement but pairing it down to the most simple forms. Form follows function is the ideology of the day.