Shopping for a Vintage Engagement Ring


As women, we all love sparkly, lovely, full-of-character diamonds, but would you know the first thing about where to start when it came to buying one? Especially if you were shopping for the ring. How do you know if it’s really a quality piece? How do you know what it’s worth? And what should you really be looking for—especially if you’re in the market for vintage rings?

Poor gentleman. Huge responsibility, pocket-emptying investment, yet shockingly scant information out there about how to navigate these shiny waters. Doing something so important (and expensive) shouldn’t be so mysterious, should it?

Megan Proby of 12th Table decided to help demystify the process on a recent trip to LA.

Here she’s sharing with us some straight and simple wisdom about finding and buying the perfect engagement ring with some help from vintage ring experts Trumpet & Horn.

1. What are the main differences between vintage rings and modern-day rings? 

Vintage and antique rings were made at least 20 years ago, and have been previously owned. Many vintage rings will have been made 100 years ago or more. This means that they are true heirlooms; real pieces of jewelry that have been loved for generations. Modern day rings are newly made, never previously owned. They are typically made in a factory, using a mold for the setting (as opposed to made by hand, like vintage pieces are). The diamonds in new rings are typically cut by lasers to precision specifications, whereas vintage diamonds were all cut by hand, so no two are exactly alike. In vintage pieces, most rings were designed around the stone, so the setting is meant to compliment the center stone to create one spectacular, one-of-a-kind piece. In many modern-day rings, it’s more of a “build your own” type mentality, where you pick your stone and setting separately and put them together, hoping they will look good together!

2.  What are five things every guy should know when shopping for a vintage ring? 

  • Shop within your budget. Never be intimidated or pressured when shopping for an engagement ring. This is supposed to be a fun and educational experience. Shop with people who are passionate and knowledgeable about their product, and don’t forget to ask questions.
  • A good, reputable company will always have a return or exchange policy. If they don’t, walk away.
  • Vintage pieces are different than modern rings – they are, special, one-of-a-kind pieces, and each was made as the original artisan intended them. For this reason, many places will not take customization requests for old rings. They were designed decades ago and it’s significant to keep their integrity intact by keeping them as-is.
  • Buying vintage is the closest you can get to being “green” with your engagement ring. Since the rings have existed for so long, there are no extra diamond mining, manufacturing, or labor costs associated with these rings, other than simple sizing and restoration.
  • If you are shopping for vintage rings online, make sure the company you’re shopping with offers free shipping and returns. There’s no need to make shopping for a ring online complicated!

3. How do you spot a replica from an original? 

The quality of the piece is always an indicator. Most antique rings are handmade, and a lot of modern rings are manufactured. Also, antique rings have different markings inside the shank to determine the karat of the gold or the maker of the piece. A big give away is the cut of the diamonds. If the ring is made with a brand new modern cut round brilliant diamond, then this is a newly made piece. Old rings will always have antique cut diamonds. Keep in mind, it’s sometimes very difficult to tell. That’s why it’s important to work with someone who is an expert in their field.

4. What about beautiful reproduction pieces? How does that work and what makes them different than standard new rings?

Every so often a jeweler will come across a vintage piece that they love so much they’ll make it again. A good jeweler can make newly made pieces by hand that have that authentically vintage look and feel. These pieces are different because they are handmade with the same tools used hundreds of years ago, with the exception of electricity. Trumpet and Horn, for example, uses antique cut stones and recycled metals to make sure the vintage-ness of the piece really comes across, even though the piece itself is newly made.

5. How do you know what a vintage ring is worth?

What a ring is worth and the value of the ring can be very different things with very different components. There are many different things that go into the value of a ring. There is the diamond or colored stone value, the rarity/one of a kind value, the quality, the provenance and even the popularity value. However, the one thing that doesn’t add value to an antique ring is the labor. Most of the time, you are saving money when buying an antique ring because you aren’t paying for labor.

6. What are the key styles/eras in vintage rings, and what are their defining characteristics?  

The main three eras antique/vintage pieces fall under are: Victorian (mid-late 1800’s), Edwardian (early 1900’s) and Art Deco (1915-1935). You can read more about each era in detail here.

7. What is the most important thing about picking out an engagement ring?

No one can pick out the perfect ring for your fiancé but you (or her!). It’s incredibly important to understand your girlfriend’s style and know her personality when picking out a ring. For example, if she’s super active or works with her hands a lot (think rock climbing, gardening, surfing, etc.), then you might want to pick out a ring that isn’t fragile/intricate or doesn’t have a lot of little diamonds, because antique rings are a bit more delicate than modern rings. The proof of their quality is in the ring itself (many are over 100 years old and still very much alive and well!), but it’s important to understand that engagement rings are NOT indestructible. If she is active, you should pick out a ring that fits her lifestyle for example, an Art Deco ring with a center diamond that is bezel set and not prong set.

Knowing her style and personality will help steer you in the right direction, and when in doubt, ASK! It’s heartbreaking when men guess on their girlfriend’s style and totally miss the mark. Don’t forget that she is the one who will be wearing this ring for the rest of her life, so it’s important to get it right. There is a big difference between a woman who wants a simple platinum solitaire, and one who wants a colored gemstone in a super unique, oxidized setting decorated with Rose Cuts. Vintage rings are so unique and so vastly different, that going in blind can be a disaster. Ask her mom, sister, or best friend for help if you don’t want to ask her what style she would like. If she thinks it’s coming, she HAS told at least one person what she wants!

Ring 1

Ring 1b

Ring 2

Ring 2b

Ring 3

Ring 3b

Ring 4

Ring 4b

Ring 5

Ring 5b

Ring 6

Ring 6b

Ring 7

Ring 8

Ring 8b

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If you are in the market for a vintage engagement ring, you might also like to explore Doyle & Doyle , The One I Love, Erica Weiner, Etsy, and Brilliant Earth.