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How To Choose the Perfect Vintage Engagement Ring

(6 minute read)

So, you’ve met the love of your life and you’ve decided to ask for her hand in marriage. Let us be the first to say congratulations!

Of course, you’ve probably worked out that before you can get down on one knee to pop the question you’ve got a very important decision to make…

Perhaps she’s dropped a few hints, pointed through some shop windows or left some tabs open on your browser.  She doesn’t want the kind of mass-produced ring that she’s seen on the finger of a thousand other girls on Instagram.  She has a distinct style; a taste for the unusual and an individual sense of fashion that goes beyond whatever is trending on the high street right now. She is unique, and what she wants from you is a vintage engagement ring that is as unique as she is!

Now without any further ado, let us help guide you through this most personal and romantic of decisions in 3 simple steps to guarantee a "YES!"

Step 1:

Check her out!

What kind of jewellery does she wear on a daily basis?  Pay specific attention to these helpful indicators:

  • Does she usually prefer to wear silver, yellow or rose coloured metal?  If she usually wears silver coloured jewellery then look for a ring in white gold or platinum.  If she normally goes for yellow or rose colours then go for yellow or rose gold.  Get this one right and she'll have an immediate appreciation for the attention that you've paid to the subtleties of her sense of style and taste.  Pay attention to any earrings, watches, bracelets and necklaces that she wears day to day for clues!
  • Does she have a lot of gemstones of a particular colour?  This should be obvious from just a quick glance at her collection.  If she has very few colours in most of her jewellery then you can be pretty sure that she’ll love a diamond (spoiler: most girls do)!  If she does seem to have a particular leaning to one specific colour then you should consider a vintage engagement ring that will complement the rest of her jewellery.  Red rubies, blue sapphires and green emeralds can really help a ring stand out from the crowd!  If you’re not sure and she’s not given you any clues then keep it simple; there's truth behind the saying “A Diamond is Forever”. They're durable, beautiful and timeless.
  • Stone shape.  Bit of a tricky one.  Most women prefer stones of certain shape. Again, you might be able to work this out from her everyday jewellery by paying close attention.  Round stones are the most popular by far so unless you're pretty sure she'd prefer something else then that's a good way to go.  If you see lots of square, rectangles or ovals in her jewellery then that’s a hint that she’ll want to replicate those shapes in her engagement ring.

These are the most common stone shapes:

        

Left to Right: Round, Princess Cut (Square), Emerald Cut (Rectangle)

Round - BlueNile, Square - Pinterest, Emerald - Personal Purseblog.com

        

Left to Right: Pear, Oval-  Marquise

Pear - Kirk Kara, Marquise- Raymond Lee Jewellers, Oval- NatalieMarieJewellery.

If your better half doesn’t own or wear much jewellery day to day or maybe she has a jumble of different styles, shapes and colours in her collection then no need to fret!  You can always get a bit of insider knowledge by asking a close friend or relative of hers to go on a little fact finding mission for you.

Just make sure you tell them to be subtle about it so they don’t ruin the surprise!

And don't worry if this isn't making a lot of sense yet, we'll show you some examples of all of these shapes, colours and styles a little bit further down.

Step 2:

Simple vs Complex.

On one end of the spectrum you've got a solitary round diamond proudly set in a plain gold band and on the other you have a complicated clash of colours, shapes and sizes of stone all rolled up into a dazzling piece of statement jewellery. Neither is necessarily better or worse than the other, but every woman will have a preference.

        

Left to Right: Simple to Complex

Lillicoco, BlueNile, Pinterest


The trick here is to trust your instincts, you know her better than anybody else after all. You’ll have a feeling for what sort of ring she would prefer not only from the jewellery that she wears day to day but also from her general sense of style.  Does she like to keep it simple and down to earth or does she enjoy making a big impression?

Keep this in mind as we move into…

Step 3:

Your options.  These are the basics:

  • Single stone or solitaire.  Classic, chic and forever fashionable.  Hard to go wrong and the most popular choice, even when it comes to vintage engagement rings.  If you want to keep it straightforward but also think she’d like a bit more embellishment then you can look at rings with diamond or gemstone set shoulders too.
    Lillicoco

    • 3 stone.  Another fairly traditional style, but you tend to see them a bit less often these days.  If you want a mix of diamonds and other gemstones then a 3 stone ring can be a great way to go.
    Lillicoco

    • Traditional cluster.  These generally have a round or oval centre stone surrounded by 6, 8, 12 or 14 diamonds around the edge which form a flower or daisy design. These rings can really make a statement!

    Lillicoco

    • Then you have everything else!  With antique and vintage engagement rings you’re lucky to have access to a broad selection of styles to break the mould. There really is something out there for everyone!  With all of history’s highlights to choose from you can find stunning engagement rings from the Georgian, Victorian, Art Nouveau, Edwardian and Art Deco periods.

      If these styles aren't quite right, have a look at some historical inspiration. Here are some of the most popular styles throughout the ages:

      Georgian (1714-1830)

      For the Romantic.

      Georgian engagement rings are characteristically romantic and full of sentimental messages and motifs. Designs such as the "Lover's Eye" and secret inscriptions on the back of rings were very popular, as were acrostic* "DEAREST" and "REGARD" rings.

      Paste (an alternative stone to diamonds) and foil-backed gemstones were used frequently. Rose cut Diamonds and Flat cut Garnets also make regular appearances.

      *In an acrostic ring the gemstones Diamond, Emerald, Amethyst, Ruby, Emerald, Sapphire, Topaz spell out the word "D.E.A.R.E.S.T" - very cool!

              

      Left to Right: Acrostic "D.E.A.R.E.S.T" Ring from Woolley and Woodhouse Auctions, Rose Cut Diamond Cluster Ring from HawkAntiques, Flat Topped Garnet Ring from BrilliantEarth.

      Victorian (1837-1901)

      For the quirky princess.

      In the nineteenth century the public were completely obsessed with Queen Victoria and they avidly mimicked her sense of style. In her younger days flowers, hearts, bows and beautiful Lover's Knots were eminently popular and these features are present in many items of Victorian jewellery.

      When Prince Albert proposed to Her Royal Highness with an unusual snake motif ring it immediately become a highly sought after design and they remain popular today; just look at Bulgari as the perfect example of this! They were often set with a Ruby or a Diamond in the head, but many were left as plain Gold with textured serpent scales.

      When her beloved Albert passed away in 1861 Queen Victoria went into a long period of mourning. Her dress and indeed the dress of the country reflected this. She wore more sombre jewellery often including black Onyx, Jet and dark Garnets.  You will sometimes find rings made of enamel with "in loving memory of" and a name engraved to memorialise a deceased relative. This "Mourning Jewellery", although not an ideal engagement choice for most, could be a fit if your girlfriend has something of a Gothic streak!

       

           

      Left to Right: (Early Victorian) Lovers Knot Ring via RubyLane, Snake Motif Diamond Ring via Pinterest

                   

      Left to Right: (Late Victorian) Queen Victoria's Enamel & Gold Mourning Ring- Crown Copyright image via The Royal Collections courtesy of Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II, "In Loving Memory Of" Heart Shaped Mourning Ring  from Charlotte Sayers, London.

      Art Nouveau (1880-1910)

      For the nature lover.

      Art Nouveau was a decorative Arts movement that swept through the US  and Western Europe in the late 19th century. It was characterised by intricate linear designs and flowing curves inspired by natural forms.

      Popular motifs included animals, insects, plants and flowers. Designers used a vast array of colours and gemstones to capture the beauty of nature in their Art and detailed, realistic enamel-work and gems with a magical lustre were favoured above all others. Popular materials included Pearl, Mother-of-Pear, Opal and Moonstone.

          

      Left to Right: Enamel & Pearl Mistletoe "Plique du Jour" Ring via Tadema Gallery, Moonstone & Seed Pearl Ring from A Brandt & Son, French Topaz & Diamond Dragonfly Ring c1910 by Ean Ibels.

      Edwardian & Belle Epoch (1901-1915)

      For the girly girl.

      Edwardian and Belle Epoch rings take on a more slender and daintier feel. They epitomise elegance and femininity with a lightness of touch that you rarely see in other jewellery.

      Edwardian and Belle Epoch engagement rings are easily recognisable by the fine filigree-work; you can see pretty patterns emerging from the form of metal and the gaps in the ring's structure, a bit like antique lace!  Girly motifs such as bows and flower garlands were all the rage.

      More often than not rings were made from white materials, especially White Gold, Platinum and Diamonds, occasionally punctuated with a dash of Ruby or Emerald. 

                                

      Left to Right: Belle Epoche Ring with bow detail & Emerald accent from Lang Antiques, Lace-like Diamond cluster via 1st Dibs, Hexagonal filigree set ring also Lang Antiques.

      Art Deco (1920-1939)

      For the retro minimalist.

      Art Deco jewellery was inspired by sky-scrapers and Egyptian Art. Here you'll find simple geometric shapes galore in straight-forward, minimalist designs... Think squares, rectangles, circles and octagons!

      A limited colour palette was in vogue: with Diamonds, Emerald and Black Onyx among the most favoured materials. Bullet (or target) rings were especially popular.

         

      Left to Right: Diamond & Onxy Target Ring from Richard Ogden Jewels, Emerald Cut Diamond & Emerald Ring by Magpievintage, Twin Diamond Geometric Ring via Pinterest. 

      In conclusion, we hope that by this point you'll a much better understanding of the different styles of vintage engagement ring available to you and an idea about what type of ring might suit your soon-to-be fiancé the best.  Of course if you're in any doubt then...

        Bonus Step:

        Give us a call!

        With over 10 years of experience in helping lost lovers find their own perfect vintage engagement rings Stacey Lillico loves nothing more than sharing her knowledge and passion with anybody looking to find that special hidden gem!

        Ring us on (+44) 0117 925 4798 or email enquiries@lillicoco.com


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