How to Buy an Estate or Antique Engagement Ring

Let’s face it, ladies and gentlemen. Deciding to propose is the easy part these days. It’s ring buying that can be the really tough part. There are seemingly endless options of styles, colors (if any), settings, stone shapes, and more. And with movies like The Great Gatsby and Princesses like Kate Middleton, antique and estate engagement rings have also made a wild comeback to add to the ring-buying process.

Since we knew little about how to buy an estate or antique engagement ring, we asked Estate Diamond Jewelry to to walk us through some of the basics. Our hope is that you leave with everything you need (including an entirely new vocabulary) to go forth on your antique ring search.

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To start out, it’s important to know that antique and vintage jewelry are not the same thing. Vintage jewelry can be an antique, but it’s more of an ode to a classic style. To be an actual antique, the jewelry must be at least ~100 years old. In short, all antique jewelry is vintage, but not all vintage jewelry is antique. You can read more about that here.

Next, there are 5 different eras of antique jewelry that span from the early 1700s to the early 1900s, and each have a distinct style to them. Here’s a bit more about each one:

Georgian (1714-1837) – Georgian jewelry is often composed of a high-karat gold or silver and common stones include foil-backed diamonds, topaz, and garnet. Jewelry from this era is very hard to find.

Victorian (1837-1901) – The Victorian era is split between the Romantic, Grand, and Aesthetic periods. The styles during the three sub-periods differ quite drastically and jewelry from the latter periods is much easier to get your hands on. Generally, stones in this era included garnets, amethysts, turquoise, pearls, and diamonds.

Edwardian (1895-1915) – Jewelry from this period has clean lines similar to those from the Art Nouveau era (info below), but it usually incorporates a more traditional and delicate motif from the Victorian Era. Platinum, diamonds and pearls are among the most used materials.

Art Nouveau (1890-1910) – Jewelry from this era is also referred to as Arts & Crafts, Jugendstil, Liberty Style, Secession, and others depending on the country of origin. The designs tend to be flowery, draping and very delicate!

Art Deco (1920-1940) – Art Deco design is geometrical, angular and clean (you’ll see architecture with the Art Deco vibe too). Emeralds, rubies and sapphires tend to be used most and designers commonly worked with jade, onyx, and enamel set in platinum. Art Deco is the most famous period among the five eras of antique jewelry and Estate Diamond Jewelry has tons of them here.

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To learn more about the five eras, head here.

Now let’s touch about the anatomy of an estate or antique engagement ring. These unique parts of the ring are perhaps what make antique rings stand out the most. While the quality of the diamond (the 4 C’s as you’ve probably heard) might be what the search for a new engagement ring emphasizes, the highest priority of an antique ring can be the following:

The Band – Edwardian Rings are often a mix of both platinum and gold, while most Art Deco Rings are platinum. Retro rings, on the other hand, will usually be gold.

The Setting – In general, antique engagement rings are very diverse, however, the center stone is usually bezel set or prong set. It’s more common for antique rings to have surrounding stones (rather than be a solitaire diamond), and most times those additional stones will be diamonds, sapphires, emeralds, rubies, or onyx.

The Gallery – The is the area beneath the main stone. It can be simple, but in most vintage engagement rings, the gallery can be quite intricate, and adorned with smaller stones, filigree and milgrain (explained below).

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While we did cover a lot, there are probably a few terms that still have left you scratching your head. We want you to leave here feeling like an antique ring pro, so here’s an antique engagement ring dictionary that Estate Diamond Jewelry gave us to guide your search:

Bezel – A setting with a protective, metal rim that encircles the perimeter of the diamond.

Brilliance – The brightness or white light that is returned from the diamond when light hits it.

Estate – Estate Jewelry can either be vintage or antique. It refers to jewelry that was previously owned or was inherited.

Filigree – Ornamental work of fine wire formed into delicate tracery.

Fire (or Dispersion) – The flashes of colorful light returned from a diamond when light hits it.

Halo – A row of stones (usually diamonds, sapphires or emeralds) that form a circle around the main stone.

Inclusion – An impurity on the inside of the diamond, generally formed from the Earth.

Milgrain (or Miligrain) – Beading detail that embellishes the edges of jewelry metal. Milgrain is very popular on antique jewelry/

Old Mine Cut (or Old Miners Cut) – The round cut that preceded the Old European Cut and the forerunner of the modern brilliant cut.

Old European Cut (or Old Euro Cut) – Old European cuts as having small table facets, heavy crowns, and overall “deep” or “steep” proportions. These diamonds were popular from the 1890’s until the late 1940’s.

Pave – A ring featuring tiny accent diamonds set closely together on the band.

Prongs – The most commonly used diamond setting, especially popular to display solitaire engagement rings. To create a prong setting, a diamond is inserted into three or more metal prongs that form a basket-like base.

Scintillation (or Sparkle) – Reflections of light that are caused by movement of the diamond.

Semi-Mount – A ring that is already decorated with diamonds and has space for a central, featured diamond. Again, this alone does not include a center diamond.

Setting (or Mountings) – This is the part of the ring on which the diamonds sit and holds the diamond in place.

Solitaire – A diamond engagement ring with one featured (center) diamond

There you have it – a basic, yet comprehensive guide on how to buy an estate or antique engagement ring.

We hope it will help you identify what you to look for when it comes time to shopping for that perfect ring, but if you have any more questions (or want to see a gorgeous selection of antique rings) head on over to Estate Diamond Jewelry.

Signing off with a few more of their rings that we loved:

Image 4 of How to Buy an Estate or Antique Engagement RingAnd then of course, some Kate Middleton-inspired sapphire rings…

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Be sure to check out Estate Diamond Jewelry on your way out!

This post is brought to you by Estate Diamond Jewelry.