The popularity of antique and vintage diamond engagement rings has grown tremendously in recent years driven by consumers seeking a unique look or story, extraordinary craftsmanship, or a potential investment vehicle. As demand for antique and vintage engagement rings has risen, true antique and vintage diamond rings, particularly from the Edwardian (1901-1910) and Art Deco (1920-1930s) periods, have become more scarce.
Because the demand for antique and vintage engagement rings has outpaced existing supply, many jewelry manufacturers and sellers of antique and vintage jewelry have taken to selling “antique style” or “Art Deco style” rings or hybrid pieces marrying old stones with new settings.
Although many of these newly designed rings are quite beautiful in their own right and likely to satisfy many consumers, those wanting authentic, antique or vintage engagement rings, must use extra scrutiny when making their purchase to avoid getting a new engagement ring made to look like a ring from the 1930s or earlier. Although reputable sellers will always disclose the use of reproduction settings or the marriage of old stones with more modern mountings, consumers should study up on the basics before making their purchase because there are some unscrupulous or unknowledgeable jewelry sellers who may sell reproduction rings as original period pieces.
These days, in addition to knowing the 4 C’s of diamonds (cut, clarity, color, and carat), those in the market for an antique or vintage diamond engagement ring, should also know the basics on what to look for in a true period piece.
We’ve shared some tips below that can help you navigate this most important purchase:
- Know the definitions of Antique & Vintage. By definition, antique jewelry must be at least 100 years or older. Vintage jewelry includes jewelry that is at least 25 years old. Art Deco rings from the 1920s-1930s are vintage, not antique.
- Know the meaning of “Antique Style” or “Art Deco Style” Rings sold in the style of a period piece are later reproductions made to look old. They are not truly antique or vintage.
- Rings created from original Art Deco dies. Rings made from molds of original hand-carved dies that were fabricated during the Art Deco period are not Art Deco rings and should never be sold as such. In addition to using original dies, some jewelry manufacturers cast authentic antique & vintage pieces and create new molds as a means of reproducing antique and vintage jewelry. Jewelry made using these techniques is considered reproduction jewelry.
- The metal must match the time period. Victorian jewelry was either fashioned of yellow gold or silver over yellow gold. Platinum was not widely used in jewelry making until around the turn of the last century (circa 1900). White gold jewelry was first used around 1912, but not widely available until the 1920s when it became a substitute for platinum that was appropriated for the war efforts.
- Does the ring show signs of wear? You generally expect to see signs of wear on antique or vintage ring settings (unless they were seldom worn or kept only in a safe deposit box). Look for wear to the base of the ring shank and the high points of the ring.
- Are there signs that the ring was hand-crafted by an artisan or quickly mass manufactured? True antique and Art Deco rings were typically hand-crafted or die-cast by skilled craftsman. Today’s Art Deco or Antique reproduction diamond rings are often mass-manufactured quickly and do not show the same signs of craftsmanship that one would expect to see in an original piece. Some of the modern copies tend to have edges that are a bit raspy and the lace-like filigree often lacks polish inside of the punch work. Modern reproductions are often weightier than their antique or Art Deco counterparts and sometimes the filigree is asymmetrical.
- Is the cut of the stone consistent with the time period? The cut of the diamond should match the time period of the mounting. The first bruting machines for diamond cutting were invented during the late 1800s, so diamonds cut prior to this time period are generally of irregular shape. Rose cut diamonds and mine cut diamonds were used throughout the 18th century and old European diamonds were used from the mid-1800s through the early 1900s. Rose cut diamonds have a flat bottom and faceted dome shaped crown. Mine cut diamonds are cushion-cut in shape (not round) and feature a high crown, deep pavilion, small table, and large culet. Old European cut diamonds also feature a high crown and a small open culet. Old European cut stones feature 58 facets and are typically slightly off-round. Today’s modern round brilliant cut was not introduced until around 1919. Most Art Deco rings and all Edwardian rings will generally have a mine cut, old European cut, or transitional cut (Transitional cut stones are not exactly Old European cut and not exactly round brilliant. They were created during the period when diamond cutters were transitioning from Old European to the new standard of round brilliant.) [FOR ADDITIONAL INFORMATION ON GEMSTONE CUTS see this post by All About Gemstones: http://www.allaboutgemstones.com/old_european_diamond_cuts.html]
- When possible get a grading report with your ring from a reputable grading service. Grading reports from grading services like GIA, AGS, IGI or EGL certify the color, cut, clarity, and carat of diamonds and take some of the guess-work out of purchasing a diamond. Diamonds with GIA and AGS grading reports typically command the highest prices.
We hope that you find these tips helpful in navigating this most important purchase.