In recent years, antique engagement or antique wedding rings* with a history are getting more and more popular among the young hipster market worldwide, as this group of consumers usually prefer more customized jewelry. Today’s couples are drawn to such old fashioned engagement rings because these rings usually do not look too perfect, and are most of the time only one-of-a-kind, making them stand apart from their peers. Other significant advantages of such vintage engagement rings are that they are often less expensive than new wedding rings, and can be passed on to the next generation as heirloom engagement rings.
That said, the earliest uses of engagement and wedding rings are attributed to the ancient Greeks, Romans and Egyptians. For instance, Romans used iron rings to represent strength and permanence, and the Greeks started the tradition of wearing the ring on the fourth finger of the left hand because in that finger was thought to be where the ‘Vein of Love’, or ‘Vena Amoris’ was, which was directly connected to the heart. But scientists have shown this to be actually false. And during the 9th century and in 1215, Pope Nicholas I and Pope Innocent III made the idea of a gold ring a betrothal requirement to prove the groom’s wealth and ability to care for a wife.
However, diamonds were very rare and expensive to be available or affordable till much later, in the 1920s. In historical records, the first diamond engagement ring was given to Mary of Burgundy by her betrothed husband, the Archduke of Maximillian of Austria in 1477. In the late 19th century, the discovery of abundant diamond deposits in Africa led to the sudden popularity of diamonds and designs for wedding rings became more intricate and elaborated.
The popularity of men’s wedding rings started during World War II, when many soldiers were faced with years of separation from their wives, and these rings served as reminders about the women they had left behind. However, due to the fact that metal were needed for military purposes, many rings used more gold and silver than platinum at this time.
In general, engagement or wedding rings are only considered vintage or antique if they are at least 50 years or more. The following are some historical ring styles for your reference.
Different Styles of Antique Wedding Rings
Gimmel Wedding Rings (1500s to 1600s) – European husbands would give a gimmel ring with two interlocking bands to their wives.
Poesy Wedding Rings (15th – 17th century) – Poesy rings, which are gold finger rings with a short description on their surface, are very popular during the Renaissance period from the 15th to 17th century in England and France. The descriptions or quotations were mostly from contemporary courtship stories, love poems or popular literature, and inscribed on the inner ring surface.
Wedding Thimbles (Early 17th century) – In early colonial New England, a wedding thimble usually substituted for both engagement and wedding ring, as the Puritans did not like to wear ornaments and jewels due to their beliefs in living a simple life. However, it was rumoured that some women would cut off the tops of the thimble after the wedding to symbolize that a woman’s sewing was over and the dowry was complete, and the rim was worn as a ring. However, this was disputed by some historians as a 17th century urban myth.
Georgian Rings (1714 – 1830s) – These Greek inspired rings, usually made with very intricate metal works that include acorns, doves, flowers, leaves, or scrolls, are now very difficult to find but if you managed to find out, it will be truly cherished. Rings created in this era were usually 18 carat gold, and silver or silver plated of more than 18k gold. Adding on to the designs were also royal blue glass, coral, mother of pearl or shells.
It was important to note that before 1750, all rings were made using hand hammered alloys and sand casting methods. After that, rings were then made using machines.
Early Victorian Vintage Wedding Rings (1835 – 1900s) – These antique wedding rings are usually yellow or rose gold with simple and elegant designs, with many including diamonds and pearls too, due to the sudden supply of diamonds from Africa.
Edwardian Engagement Rings (1920s) – These were the days of platinum-made rings, with rose-cut diamonds and sapphires with unique and exquisite details, style and delicacy. Edwardian rings are noted for their light, and airy look, and intricate detail of design.
Replica Art Deco Engagement Rings (1920s to 1930s) – Art deco designs were very popular during this time due to their modern geometric designs and flashy colors, designs associated with a modern era and new social freedom. These antique rings come with contrasty-coloured gemstones, and throughout the later part, more diamonds were used.
There are basically many other historical ring styles throughout the many different cultures, though those above are a good guide. In general, if you are looking for a antique wedding ring, look for rings that are manufactured before 1950, or as early as 1920s, as these wedding rings tend to be more unique.
Top 10 Recommendations
While antique wedding rings and engagement rings can be found at places such as antique stores, jewellers, auctions, pawn shops, nowadays most people just purchase them online. Vintage ring hunters usually end up on eBay, Etsy, or the following specialised e-stores. Here below, we bring you the top 10 antique wedding rings to consider for your wedding.
Art Deco French Cut Diamond Wedding Ring (US$6,750)
This art deco diamond wedding ring from The Three Graces has two rows of 5 fantastic early French cut diamonds of an estimated 3.2 carats, set within a silver mount. Some 18k yellow gold add more than a touch of glamour and mystery to this circa 1925 beauty.
Antique Victorian Rose Cut Diamond Engagement Ring (US$1,635)
This vintage wedding ring from EngagedwithDiamonds on Etsy is a vintage one from the 1800s, with rose cut diamond and 14k pink gold.
Art Deco Diamond Three-Stone Ring (US$6,950)
This is a beautiful, early-Art Deco three-stone 1 carat vintage wedding ring, handcrafted in white gold – circa 1920s from Lang Antiques.
The Gilda Ring (US$4,240)
This vintage Gilda Ring from Brilliant Earth is decked in 14k yellow gold, only one-of-its-kind around.
Glowing Ruby & Diamond Crossover Ring (US$42,860)
This circa 1980 ruby and diamond ring from Georgian Jewelry has a gorgeous oval faceted natural ruby of 2.27 carats, with a sparkling 1.64 carat oval brilliant diamond. Along each of its side are also 6 graduated baguette diamonds.
Trumpet & Horn carries a stunning vintage-inspired platinum, emerald and diamond ring with a 1.64ct cushion cut emerald, and surrounded by 18 calibre cut emeralds and 30 rose cut diamonds, plus 4 more rectangular cut emeralds on the shoulders of the ring.
Ruby and Diamond Ring (US$7,200)
This 18k white gold Victorian style ring from Cynthia Findlay Antiques has a 1 bezel-set oval faceted cut ruby, 2 bezel-set round brilliant cut diamonds and 20 bead-set round brilliant cut diamonds.
Vintage Diamond & Platinum Estate Engagement Ring (US$7,495)
Gesner’s vintage engagement ring, circa 1990s, is made of platinum and diamonds and weighs about .95ct, with a cost of US$7495.00.
Pear Shape Diamond Cut Down Micro Pave Set Double Halo Platinum 950 Engagement Ring (US$22,000)
This diamond engagement ring from another Etsy seller, OroSpot, is made of platinum 950, and a cluster of diamonds around.
Edwardian Diamond & Ruby Engagement Ring (US$14,000)
This remarkable vintage engagement ring from Erstwhile Jewelry is made in platinum on gold and centered with an estimated .80 carat marquise cut diamond. The diamond is set in an Edwardian setting with rubies and single cut diamonds.
Choosing Antique Wedding Rings
Check out the craftsmanship of the ring carefully by asking to see photos of the craftsman’s previous projects. Look at the setting of each stone to ensure that it is held firmly in place, with no noise when you shake the ring or probe around it.
Remember that what you apply in today’s standards to diamonds do not apply to vintage wedding rings. Instead of bright white colors, you might want to look for slightly red, green or yellow diamonds. There might also be some internal flaws in the cutting of the diamonds, as technology of cutting were not so advanced then.
Also, be sure to ask your seller everything that you need to know about the ring, including age, size, condition, color, carat, clarity and cut, as well as ask for a certified ring report and the return policy.
And if you are looking for vintage reproductions, avoid those that are made using the latest technology and manufacturing tools, and ask your jeweller whether the piece you are looking at is one-of-a-kind, because some jeweller does produce unique rings in small quanitities even though they are reproductions. If possible, go to a reliable and popular supplier in your own location or area.
*Note: A wedding ring or band is a ring that indicates that the wearer is married, while an engagement ring indicates that the person wearing it is engaged to be married, and this is true especially in Western cultures. In this article, ‘antique wedding rings’ will in general refer to both types of antique rings.