When shopping for engagement rings, one of the first things you’ll want to consider is which style ring you want. If you know you prefer a new, modern ring, great! There are so many options for that. However, if you think you want something a bit more romantic, a vintage engagement ring might be more your style.
The good news about vintage engagement rings is not only are they better for the environment (since no new mining or energy consumption is being utilized for your ring), but they’re incredibly unique. You might also already have one in your family or your partner’s family, such as your grandmother or even great grandmother’s. If a vintage or antique ring is being passed down to you (more on the difference between the two, below) you’ll want to consider if you are going to use the setting, the diamond, or both. But before we talk about what to do in that instance, let’s get into the basics…
What is a Vintage Engagement Ring?
Technically speaking, the term “vintage” as it relates to furniture and jewelry is between 20-99 years old, though people tend to consider it more like 40-99. After all, something from 2002 hardly seems vintage at this point! However, where the experts all agree is that the term “antique” is reserved for items that are at least 100 years old.
With that said, if you search for vintage or antique engagement rings online, you’re bound to see a slew of results for items that are newly made with a “vintage feel.” So they are technically not vintage, but instead invoke a charm for a certain decade such as the 30’s, 40’s, 50’s, and beyond. Which is totally fine!
The good news is there’s no need to be confused about whether you should get an actual vintage ring or just one that looks like it’s vintage. It just matters that you love it.
As you shop for vintage (or vintage-style rings) it also helps to familiarize yourself with the terms you’ll see. This will help you decide which style and era you like the most. Some phrases you’ll likely find are :
Old European Cut Diamond:
This antique diamond cut was popular in the 19th and 20th centuries. It is round in shape and was designed to maximize carats (rather than brilliance). Because they were hand-cut and polished, they have a more unique shape than machine-cut ones produced today.
This graphic helps show the difference between old European cut, old mine cut, and modern diamonds.
Art Nouveau Era and Art Deco Engagement Rings
You’ll find rings from several historical eras, especially these, which were the most popular of the 20th century. While the Art Nouveau period (1890-1910) celebrated more curves, the Art Deco period (from the 1920’s to the 1930’s) was all about dramatic lines and geometric shapes.
Are Vintage Rings Cheaper?
Sometimes, but not always. That’s because the price of precious metals such as gold, silver, and platinum have increased in value, especially yellow gold. Colorful gemstones and pearls don’t go up in value drastically, but diamonds do tend to retain their value despite periods of fluctuation.
To compare prices, let’s look at two similar diamond engagement rings: one is vintage and one is new.
This vintage ring (above) from 1stdibs is circa 1935. It has a platinum solitaire setting with a 1.70 carat old European round cut diamond that has a VS1 clarity and J color and costs $10,861.
A similar ring from James Allen with a platinum solitaire setting and 1.70 round diamond with VS1 clarity and J color is $10,690.
Now, it’s hard to compare apples to apples a lot of times because vintage rings tend to have more interesting designs than a lot of their modern counterparts. But when it comes down to it, resellers are pricing their rings based on the metal and carats used (plus a bit of nostalgia).
If you do choose to use an heirloom ring, you could save considerable money depending on what part of the ring is still useable. Oftentimes couples will keep the original setting and opt to replace or add in new diamonds (while preserving any that are currently in it for an updated design, or a new piece of jewelry altogether, like a necklace). Or, they may choose to use the diamond for a new setting entirely (the most cost-effective option, since diamonds are usually most expensive part of the engagement ring).
Where Do You Buy Vintage Engagement Rings?
Thankfully you no longer just have to rely on the old musty antique store in your town. There are so many reputable online options (some with brick and mortar locations as well) for vintage, antique, and estate diamond jewelry. No matter where you purchase your ring, make sure they have a highly-trained staff which includes a credentialed gemologist and jewelry appraiser. If you are buying a ring with diamonds, the resellers will ideally be able to give you a GIA grading report and ring certification (read more in our How to Buy a Diamond Guide).
If you are buying online, a generous return policy is also a must. Make sure you have a clear understanding of how long you have to try a ring on, and what type of shipping insurance they offer in case something happens to it in transit.
Instagram has become one of my favorite places to find vintage engagement rings online. Hashtags you’ll want to search for include #vintageenagementring #antiqueengagementring #antiquejewelry and #vintagejewelryforsale. You can also add on the time period you like the most, such as victorian era or art deco era.
Below are some of my favorite retailers. As mentioned above, some of these stores have retail locations while others sell exclusive online. You’ll also want to note that some stores sell vintage-inspired in addition to actual vintage and antique engagement rings, so be sure to check if you have your heart set on an oldie but a goodie.
For more inspiration, check out some of our recent finds:
Vintage Engagement Ring FAQ
First, you’ll want to make sure you are only buying from a reputable company (with lots of online reviews!) that has a certified gemologist and appraiser on staff. If you are buying a diamond from them, they should be able to provide a GIA Report (a full scientific rating of your diamonds’ cut, clarity, color, and carat weight). This applies to not only vintage rings, but new engagement rings as well.
While precious metals for any ring (new or old) tend to increase in value, antique rings may not increase in value just because they’re older. Also, antique diamonds tend to be warmer in color (which gives it a higher letter on the color scale, which is ranked from best to worst), which will actually drive their value down.
Aside from getting the ring’s paperwork, you’ll want to ask the jeweler the following questions to get an idea of the craftsmanship:
1. What is the age of the setting?
2. How old is the stone?
3. Is the stone fragile?
4. Has the ring likely been altered?
5. Is this ring certified? Can you provide me with the documentation?
6. What is your return policy?