Beloved for their romance, wedding rings have long been recognised as the ultimate symbol of love, commitment and fidelity. Steeped in history, antique wedding rings possess a particularly irresistible charm. But where did the tradition stem from? The wedding ring’s origins can first be traced back to the ancient Egyptians, who placed such rings on the fourth finger of the left hand of their lover, believing that this was where the “vein of love” ran directly to the heart. Incredibly, this tradition has endured over the centuries, continuing to inform tradition as we know it today. Often made out of braided reeds, the circular shape of the band was believed to symbolize a promise of eternal, life-long love.
Antique Wedding Rings Through The Years
History of Wedding Rings
The Ancient Greeks and Romans were also no strangers to the custom. Following Alexander the Great’s conquest of Egypt, they too adopted the tradition of giving rings to their loved ones as a token of their devotion. It was then during the early Roman period that ancient wedding rings first began to be made out of metal, and by the 2nd Century CE, most rings were made out of Gold.
Rings during these early years took the form of a “fede” or “gimmel” ring. Traditionally composed of two interlocking hands to represent love and partnership, the design is thought to be the inspiration for the contemporary wedding band. It was often custom to have an engraved image of the betrothed couple or simply a short, personal verse on the band itself. Such rings were highly popular in Medieval Europe, and it was during the 12th Century that the Christian church first declared marriage to be a holy sacrament. Wedding rings became an integral part of this church-sanctioned ceremony, acting as a material marker of a betrothal.
Evolving over the following centuries, wedding rings have remained a consistent symbol of commitment and loving devotion through the years. Beginning with the Georgian era, join us as we chart their fascinating history, delving into the wonderful world of antique wedding rings!
Georgian Wedding Rings
We’ve all read about great romances of Georgian era marriages in the likes of Jane Austen novels. So what were these like in reality? The Georgian period actually witnessed a rise in marriage-related laws, which further formalised the process. The Clandestine Marriages Act of 1753 was the first such legislation introduced to require a formal ceremony of marriage. Similarly to today, weddings would take place in a church, with the exchanging of rings deemed the highlight of the event.
Georgian wedding rings reflected the experimental, innovative style that characterised this period of jewellery-making. It was during this era that rings began to be set with precious gemstones, namely Rubies, Sapphires and Diamonds. As is apparent in their fascination with mourning jewellery, the Georgians possessed a great desire to preserve memory within their jewels. The poesy ring was popularised as a result of such a desire, its name taken from the French “poésy” to describe a poem or motto inscribed inside a ring. These intricately engraved rings sought to capture the moment of love associated with nuptials, and were sometimes highly personalised. Old English expressions of love such as “I Love My Choyce”, “Noe Joy In Life Like A Good Wife”, and “Keepe Faith Till Death”, were inscribed on these bands.
Georgian wedding rings were most commonly crafted from 18ct or 22ct Gold, but Pinchbeck, an alloy of copper and zinc, was also used as an affordable Gold alternative.
Victorian Wedding Bands
The Victorian period, lasting between the years 1837-1901, ushered in a new era for wedding bands. Sentimental, sumptuous and romantic, Victorian wedding rings have it all! We have categorised the period into early, mid and late, as each boasted their own distinct style. As we know well, the Victorians adored symbolism in their jewellery, so it comes as no surprise that wedding rings were rife with imagery too.
Early Victorian (1837-1860)
Often dubbed the “Romantic Period”, the wedding of Queen Victoria and Prince Albert in 1840 was highly influential on the popular fashions during the early years of Victoria’s reign. Most notably, Victorians sought to emulate their Queen’s engagement ring, which took the form of an entwined snake ring with an Emerald head and Ruby eyes. Antique snake rings remain a highly popular choice today, a motif which has endured over the years as a symbol of everlasting love.
During the Victorian era, it was still commonplace for only the bride to receive a wedding ring. Victorian 22ct Gold wedding rings, or those made of 18ct, were the most common. A glossy slab of Gold was highly sought after, with bands either retaining a plain and simple, polished appearance, or ornately engraved natural motifs such as leaves and flowers.
Much like with her snake ring, Queen Victoria’s sporting of an orange blossom headdress on her wedding day set an equivalent trend for engraved rings. Crosses, gothic symbols, and letters were also popular choices. In keeping with their predecessors’ traditions, Victorian wedding rings often featured personalised engravings on their inside bands too.
Following Prince Albert’s death in 1861, Queen Victoria entered a period of mourning, which was heavily reflected in the jewellery of the era. Aside from the popularisation of memorial rings, designs generally became more sombre, and darker gemstones came into fashion. During this period, Victorian wedding rings were also influenced by the legalisation of 15ct, 12ct and 10/9ct Gold, beginning in 1854. Wedding rings were more accessible to all, with metals Silver and Rose Gold becoming much more sought after too.
Another of our favourite antique wedding rings are undoubtedly Gold buckle rings, which grew in demand during the mid Victorian era. Much like their Gold band counterparts, Gold buckle rings are bursting with romance, symbolising commitment and strength. Overall, however, designs during this period became less intricate, favouring the understated beauty of the glorious Gold wedding band above all else.
Late Victorian (1890-1901)
The later Victorian years were characterised by the debut of the Diamond solitaire engagement ring. Popular motifs present in Victorian wedding rings from this period included bows and ribbons, oak leaves, knots, birds and grapes, to name but a few! Rings also became more mass produced, marking a shift away from traditional hand-crafted jewels. Platinum also began to be more widely used as a setting for gemstones, in place of Gold or Silver, whilst popular gemstones for wedding and engagement rings included Peridot, Aquamarine, Opals, Amethysts, Chrysoberyls and Emeralds.
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Edwardian Wedding Rings
Falling within the realms of the “Belle Époque” or “the beautiful era” in Western Europe, the Edwardian period (1901-1909) is distinguished for its delicate, luxurious, feminine beauty. Known for his lavish tastes and decadent lifestyle, King Edward VII had a particular penchant for expensive material goods, jewellery included! Accordingly, wedding rings during this period reflected these tastes, again becoming more intricately detailed, with the need for highly skilled craftsmanship returning.
Milgraining, a technique which involved placing small beads of metal around the border of jewels, came into fashion. Ornate filigree designs were also popularised during this era. Inspired by nature, filigree was composed of intricate, lace-like metalwork, which created a light, airy look on rings during the Edwardian period. Such intricacy often encircled a large central gemstone such as a Diamond. Romantic bows, ribbons, garlands and flowers are common motifs evident in antique wedding rings from this period. Queen Alexandra’s adoration of flowers no doubt was influential in facilitating these trends, which are still attractive choices today for their timeless femininity.
Particularly abundant during the Edwardian period was Platinum. Cartier, the Royal Jeweller, initiated this trend, helping to popularise the metal during this pre-war period. A combination of Platinum and yellow Gold predominated, whilst more unique gemstone cuts were also invented. Unique antique wedding rings are highly sought after, and we think that Edwardian treasures are a wonderful place to start. King Edward VII’s reign might have been short, but it was nonetheless sweet! Leaving a beautifully decadent legacy, we can certainly appreciate the distinct ethereal character of rings from this era.
Art Deco Wedding Bands
The Art Deco era, spanning the years 1920-1939, influenced everything from architecture to fashion and design. Distinct for its geometric designs and statement gemstones, Art Deco wedding rings were all the rage in the 1930s. Whilst bold, flashy engagement rings were highly fashionable for contemporary women, simpler designs such as Platinum wedding bands also took centre stage. Often taking inspiration from nature, these rings were engraved with floral, foliate designs, and were faceted or smooth in form.
Perhaps the most famous legacy of Art Deco era jewellery is the Platinum Diamond Eternity Ring. A sturdy, solid Platinum band studded with scintillating Diamonds - what’s not to love?! As an emblem of the everlasting love between two people, eternity bands truly make the most romantic choice when selecting an antique wedding ring.
Whilst Diamonds and Platinum might be the most classic combination that we see, during the 1920s and 1930s, Sapphires, Rubies, and Emeralds were also common embellishments. Delicate filigree and foliate designs often accompanied these gemstones. In 1934, for her marriage to Prince George, the Duke of Kent, Princess Marina of Greece and Denmark chose three eternity bands as wedding rings, emulating the colours of the Union Jack with her choice of gemstones. Whilst patriotism may not factor into your choosing an antique wedding band, there are myriad options, suitable for all tastes!