Posted on February 11, 2014 by

The Evolution of Vintage Engagement Rings: Part One

From the filigree necklaces we see on Downton Abbey to today’s double halo set diamond rings, jewelry has gone through both extreme and subtle changes over the past 100 years.  In this series we are going to take a look at vintage engagement ring styles as far back as the Edwardian era and the evolution of styles up until the mid 20th century.

1901-1920 Edwardian

Edwardian engagement rings took their cue from both the Arts and Crafts movement of 1860-1910 and the Art Nouveau movement of 1890-1910.  Large center stones, enamel embellishment, and scenes from nature were all very prevalent in Arts and Crafts inspired jewelry.  Conversely, Art Nouveau inspired jewelry was mostly about intricate metalwork called filigree.

This ring, appraised at a PBS Antiques Roadshow in Hawaii is an Edwardian engagement ring.  The center stone is an old mine cut diamond and the setting is a gorgeous display of hand worked filigree and milgrain.  The beauty in Edwardian rings is found in the detail put into every aspect of the ring, from the height of the crown to the small diamonds set into it and along the band.

Edwardian engagement ring with old european cut center stone

credit: PBS

This next ring is also a great example of an Edwardian engagement ring.  The mix of metals–platinum and yellow gold—and cluster style was very popular during this time.  The sapphire center stone is a good lead-in to Art Deco, the next style on our list.

edwardian ring with cluster style halo and sapphire center

©Victoria Sterling and ©Ruby Lane

1920-1935 Art Deco

We are all entitled to our taste and opinions, but if Art Deco jewelry isn’t your favorite you’re dead to me.  (JK!)  Symmetry, geometric shapes, and bold colors define the style of Art Deco rings.  With the rise of the production of synthetic sapphires, they became a very popular choice for jewelry during this age.  While one of the signature looks of Edwardian jewelry was the use of mixed metals, Art Deco jewelry was all about platinum.  If you’re looking at a piece of jewelry that you can’t figure out and it has yellow gold, it is likely not Art Deco.

This art deco ring features a bright green jade as well as a mix of sapphires and diamonds.  The sapphires are French cut which was very popular during the 20’s and 30’s.  The diamonds are round, but are set into very symmetrical lines.

jade art deco ring with sapphire and diamond detail

credit: PBS

Here’s another fun Art Deco piece.  Lest you start thinking halos are a recent invention, you can enjoy the look of this 8 carat sapphire circled by a triple halo of colorless diamonds.  The ring itself is a beauty, but since the center stone is a synthetic sapphire (pricey at the time, but no longer so) it was appraised at only $4,000-$5,000.

art deco sapphire engagement ring with triple diamond halo

credit: PBS

1935-1950 Retro/Post WWII

During the 1940’s metal was in short supply and the opulence of the pre-WWII era was very much frowned upon.  Most of the rings we see coming out of the the Post WWII era feature thin metal bands and small diamonds set into illusion settings.  Just as the modern halo setting gives the illusion of a larger diamond, the illusion setting in the 1940’s and fishtail setting of the 1950’s were all about using the metal to enhance the appearance of the center stone.

This is a great example of the kind of ring your grandmother or great-grandmother may have gotten engaged with circa mid-1940’s.

1940's engagement ring with illusion set center stone

credit: Leigh Jay Nacht Inc.

I’m going to assume that if your great-grandmother didn’t get engaged until the mid-1950’s you’re probably too young to be reading this, so let’s talk about your grandmother’s ring.  If your grandmother got engaged in the 1950’s, it’s likely her ring featured a fishtail setting for a round diamond as well as detailed milgrain work and diamonds on the band.

1950's engagement right with fishtail setting

credit: Leigh Jay Nacht Inc.

When I got engaged, and I have an Asscher cut diamond, my grandmother said, “I have a square diamond too!”  My grandfather gave her the ring in about 1951, maybe 1950.  It’s a round brilliant cut diamond set in a fishtail setting.  This story either illustrates how the fishtail setting really gave the appearance of a square diamond or that my grandmother and I are just about opposites.  (I had very clear specifics about the kind of diamond I wanted for my ring while she hasn’t even looked at hers long enough in the past 60 years to notice the shape of the actual diamond!)

This was part one in a series about engagement ring styles and vintage engagement rings.  I hope you join us when we add part two to the series!


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3 Responses to The Evolution of Vintage Engagement Rings: Part One

  1. Beth says:

    Love the Art Deco style! Can’t wait to see part 2.

  2. Liz Law says:

    This is very interesting article
    Thanks.

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