The 1stDibs Guide to Vintage Engagement Rings
Choosing the right engagement ring to enhance that key moment of proposal is no small undertaking. As you consider the options, exploring contemporary designs and antique treasures, another beguiling era is worth a look.
Vintage engagement rings date back 20 to 80 years and occupy the sweet spot between historic and modern. We’re here to help you find where your ideal style sits in this extended timeline of meaningful adornment.
The World of Vintage Engagement Rings
Trends come and go, but an elegant vintage piece never goes out of style. The design of a vintage engagement ring is influenced by each era’s artistic visions, cultural movements and preferences in materials, gemstones and motifs. But before we delve into all the details, let’s discover what makes an engagement ring vintage.
What Is a Vintage Engagement Ring?
“Vintage” refers to the time period when the engagement ring was made. It generally means anything that is between 20 and 80 years old. By contrast, antique engagement rings are at least 100 years old, made during the Georgian, Victorian or Edwardian eras, or even earlier.
Within the time span we call vintage, there are multiple periods defined by unique design styles and influences. We will take a closer look at their features, from the geometric shapes of Art Deco to the glamorous Retro period and the sleek minimalism of mid-century modern.
Why Choose a Vintage Engagement Ring?
Choosing between antique, vintage and contemporary engagement rings is a matter of personal preference and style. While older rings are imbued with history and impress wearers with romantic nostalgia, newer accessories can feel more aligned with current culture. Either way, engagement rings are always cherished symbols of commitment.
But vintage engagement rings have proven staying power. The cuts and designs that characterize the rings of yesterday are often so enduring and distinctive that their influence informs today’s engagement ring trends.
Vintage rings offer character and a level of craftsmanship that can be hard to find in contemporary rings. What’s more, a vintage engagement ring is a sustainable choice because it reduces the environmental impact of your purchase, since it doesn’t create a new need for natural resources or mining.
Popular Vintage Engagement Ring Styles
Each vintage engagement ring tells its own original story of creation and provenance. Every part of the ring contributes to an enchanting narrative of craftsmanship and romantic connection, from stones to setting. These details constitute a period’s unique style, making a vintage piece the perfect symbol of devotion for a special individual.
Art Deco Era (1920s–’30s)
Art Deco engagement rings are the oldest vintage ring style and will soon be considered antique.
Known for their bold designs, pronounced angles and gemstones cut in nontraditional ways, Art Deco engagement rings often feature a striking symmetrical setting with a large diamond at the center surrounded by smaller, often colored, gemstones.
Platinum was the metal of choice during this period; the use of platinum in fine jewelry was pioneered by Cartier, the legendary French jewelry house that helped define Art Deco. Platinum’s strength was suited to the application of decorative techniques such as filigree and milgrain that were popular during the era.
Featuring platinum four-prong, bezel or halo settings, vintage Art Deco diamond engagement rings stand out with rectangular and square step-cut diamonds, like the Asscher and baguette cuts. These are accentuated with colorful gemstones or surrounded by small diamonds.
Retro Era (1935–’50s)
An extravagant era inspired by Hollywood glamour, the Retro period features engagement rings with curved lines and glittering details.
Two-tone engagement rings with metalwork in yellow and white gold were very popular during this period.
Retro engagement rings are easy to spot if they have an illusion head setting in which multiple small diamonds or other gemstones are set close together in a cluster to create the illusion of a single, large gemstone. This specialized technique provides a captivating, cost-effective way to maximize sparkle.
Mid-Century Modern Era (1940s–’60s)
During the mid-century modern era, engagement rings transitioned from bold, intricate glamour to sleek, clean lines and understated sophistication. The solitaire diamond of this period is often showcased in a prong or bezel setting. Modern engagement rings may already exist as heirloom pieces in your family.
Design Details to Look for in Vintage Engagement Rings
Exploring the many design details of a vintage ring often uncovers hidden delights. Here’s a rundown of the various cuts, colors, precious metals and settings of vintage rings.
Symmetry has dominated engagement rings for centuries. From Georgian cluster settings to the filigree patterns of Edwardian engagement rings, these designs have been grounded in geometry, even when decorated with natural-world forms created with intricate metalworking techniques like repoussé and cannetille.
In the earliest vintage rings of the 1920s Art Deco period, angular gemstone cuts and geometric patterns took center stage. Jewelry designers embraced the daring spirit of the Roaring Twenties and found inspiration in the Machine Age of modern technology and industrialization, using stepped settings and precise angles in their work.
Bold Shapes and Colors
From the angular designs of Art Deco to the large, curved shapes and round gemstone cuts of Retro engagement rings, bold shapes defined the jewelry of many vintage periods.
Enameling introduced a painterly quality while the two-tone engagement rings of the Retro period, which often mix two different metals, brought a new and more colorful take on the rings’ bands and settings.
In contrast to the sharpness of Art Deco and the polished simplicity of mid-century modern engagement rings, the Retro era saw the rise of round and oval settings with large solitaires surrounded by halos of smaller diamonds.
The allure of large gemstones endures throughout the periods characterized as vintage. Solitaire settings and unexpected but stunning colored gemstones become popular with those searching for fashionable vintage engagement rings.
Vintage emerald engagement rings offer rich and compelling green hues that demand attention.
The radiant reds of vintage ruby engagement rings make these gemstones an uncommon choice for those who love jewelry with drama.
Tips for Buying a Vintage Engagement Ring
Working with a reputable seller is among the most important considerations when you’re in the market for a vintage engagement ring. On 1stDibs, you’ll find only vetted dealers whom you can trust for guidance and information.
When it comes to the design and era of the ring itself, here are the main features to consider:
- Gemstone: Are you looking for a particular stone or color?
- Cut: Is it a specific shape, such as round or square, or a certain cut, from step cut to rose cut — or both?
- Setting: Prong or bezel, halo or illusion, pavé or cluster . . . the choice is yours.
- Metal: Precious metals can include luminous yellow gold, rose gold, white gold and platinum.
- Period: Is it about the appeal of a vintage ring in general, or are you set on Art Deco, Retro or mid-century modern?
- Budget: Set a budget before you start shopping to keep your costs manageable.
Prioritize the aspects that matter most to you, so you can launch your search for a vintage engagement ring with knowledge, confidence and some guiding inspiration.
The Enduring Style of Vintage Rings
More than just a way to wear “something old” on your wedding day, vintage engagement rings are eternally chic pieces that have been admired for generations and will outlast trends of the moment. Embark on a romantic journey through time today by exploring the dazzling collection of vintage engagement rings on 1stDibs.