Fashionably Vintage

Do you marvel at the beauty and elegance of items from bygone eras? An antique ring may be just for you. Vintage jewelry, just like vintage clothing, is very hot and trendy, not to mention fashionable, easy to come by, and — best of all — green.

There are five basic styles and time periods of antique and vintage rings that are readily available: Victorian, art nouveau, Edwardian, art deco, and retro. Anything older than the Victorian era is rare and pricey. Anything newer is considered to be modern or contemporary.

Whether you are wearing a vintage gown and want jewelry to match the era or period pieces just appeal to you, you have a lot to choose from. Get swept up in the passion of the past while searching for beautiful vintage jewelry. There is something magical and timeless about old jewelry, like a testament that love is truly timeless. You can find vintage rings in many places — in thrift stores, antique shops, estate sales, pawn shops, and even at yard sales and online.

Victorian Jewelry

The Victorian era spanned the period from about 1836 to 1901 and coincided with the reign of Queen Victoria in Great Britain. Queen Victoria was a romantic, and the clothing styles and jewelry of the era reflected that with flowers, hearts, birds, bows, and intricate lacy designs. The serpent motif often appeared as well, and Queen Victoria is said to have worn a snake ring.

The Tiffany, or solitaire, setting was introduced toward the end of the nineteenth century. The six-prong diamond solitaire was introduced in 1886. A six-prong setting protects the side of the stone and lessens the chances that the stone will fall out and be lost.

Victorian engagement rings were often set in yellow or rose gold with very intricate and elegant designs. Opals were popular during the Victorian era because the queen adored them. Garnets, amethysts, turquoise, and seed pearls were also frequently used. Diamonds gained popularity in the later part of the Victorian period after the mines were discovered in South Africa. The discovery flooded the market with diamonds, making the stones readily available. Some Victorian settings featured rows of diamonds cut with an extra facet on the bottom called a mine cut.

Art Nouveau Jewelry

The art nouveau period overlapped with the Victorian era a bit, beginning around 1890 and ending around 1905. The art nouveau period represented the turning of the century and the coming of a new age. Materials were not as important as craftsmanship, so semiprecious and nonprecious stones were often used. Amber, opals, moonstones, citrines, peridots, copper, tortoise shell, ivory, carved glass, shells, pearls, and cabochon-cut gemstones were used. The feminine form was celebrated, and jewelry reflected this with sinuous flowing lines and soft curves. Nature appeared in the jewelry in the form of butterflies, dragonflies, poppies, orchids, irises, and lilies. Designs were very dramatic.

Consider eco-friendly rings made of nonprecious materials such as shells, recycled glass, or even custom carved wooden bands. Local craftsmen or artisans can create a beautiful one-of-a-kind ring for you, so check out what you have near you and support your local economy.

Edwardian Jewelry

The Edwardian period lasted from around 1900 to 1920. Platinum was the most popular metal after the invention of the oxyacetylene torch. Jewelers used the torch to craft lacy, intricate, and scrolling detail on engagement rings. Rose-cut diamonds and brilliant sapphires were the stones of choice during this era.

Art Deco Jewelry

The age of jazz, machinery, and new thinking — the roaring '20s gave rise to the art deco period from 1920 to 1930. The name was adopted from the Exposition of Decorative Arts and Modern Manufactures, held in Paris in 1925, where a new architectural and decorative style was unveiled. The style used geometric shapes and symmetry and bold, contrasting colors, specifically black and white.

The age of exploration and symmetry was reflected in the jewelry of the time with bold geometric shapes and bright colors. Hints of Egyptian, Asian, and Native American cultures were featured, especially in engagement rings. Bold colored stones were used. Diamonds were sometimes combined with platinum, and rubies, emeralds, sapphires, turquoise, and coral were used extensively throughout the 1920s.

Platinum was very popular in the early twentieth century for engagement rings and wedding bands until World War II restricted the use of platinum to war-related projects. This gave rise again to the popularity of yellow and white gold rings. Platinum has been making a comeback recently.

Retro Jewelry

The final vintage period is the retro period, which spans the years 1935 to approximately 1950. During World War II, women had to take over masculine roles, joining the work force and doing what they could while all the men were gone. Women's fashion became more severe and masculine, but the jewelry became softer and more whimsical. Gold once again became popular since platinum was restricted. Colored gold was used in interesting combinations of yellow, rose, white, and even green. Everything was big and bold, including the gemstones. Hollywood glitz and glamour ruled the scene. Aquamarines and citrines were fashioned into large rectangular settings. Colored gemstones were boldly used, as were synthetic rubies and sapphires. Cocktail rings were trendy, along with other oversized jewelry such as bracelets and watches.

Shopping Guidelines for Vintage Rings

When you buy anything expensive it is best to shop from a reputable dealer, but you never know where a great bargain may appear. Vintage rings can show up in estate sales, pawn shops, and antique stores. They can appear in classified ads and online auctions. However, be careful, especially when shopping online or from a private person. Get the ring appraised by a reputable outside source before you make your purchase. You want to know that what you are getting is authentic, not a reproduction, and that the stones are real gemstones and not colored glass. You may be surprised at how beautiful some older costume jewelry can be. Sometimes even the experts can be fooled at first glance.

During the reign of George I of Great Britain, which lasted from 1714 to 1727, it was popular to wear big, chunky wedding rings on the thumb, even though they were originally placed on the ring finger during the wedding ceremony.

When you shop online, make sure to get a complete description of the piece, including its size, condition, color, cut, carat, and clarity of the stones. You also want to know what metals were used, what size the ring is, and whether the ring can be sized. A dealer should be able to provide a certified gemologist report for you. Reputable online dealers of antique rings include the following:

  • Topazery (www.topazery.com) offers a tremendous selection of heirloom, antique, vintage, and estate jewelry from the 1800s to the present.

  • The Marlene Harris Collection (www.marleneharriscol.com) carries one-of-a-kind antique and estate jewelry.

  • Fay Cullen (www.faycullen.com) offers a very large assortment of styles, from Victorian to modern.

  • Sylvia's Antique Jewelry (www.sylviasantiques.com) carries a wide variety of antiques, including beautiful engagement rings spanning the eras from Victorian to contemporary.

Read all descriptions carefully. Several sites carry reproduction rings in addition to authentic period pieces, and they are all mixed in together. While the actual materials are no less real, the ring itself is made to look like a vintage ring but was really made within the last few months or years. Also make sure you know the refund policy before you type in your credit card number. You don't want to get stuck with a ring that isn't what it appeared to be on screen.

When you are shopping in person, inspect the ring carefully. Make sure the stones are sturdy in their settings and the prongs are not loose or sticking out. Check out the craftsmanship to avoid ending up with a poorly made replica. Remember that methods of cutting were different in the past and the standards that apply to today's stones are not the same. Also be careful of softer stones such as emeralds, pearls, and opals. These stones are easily damaged and may have internal cracks, so be sure to get them checked out thoroughly.

Above all else, when searching for the perfect ring, the most important thing is that you fall in love with it and that it means something to you. It is, after all, a symbol of your love.

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