Antique rings carry centuries-old stories and require a gentle touch. These pieces must be stored separately from other jewellery and soaked occasionally in warm soapy water (with a soft-bristled toothbrush) to clean.
Popular ring motifs include bows, flowers, and clovers; and metal work depicting natural themes. Georgian rings often feature gems in Old Mine and table cuts.
The material that a ring is made from will be an important clue to its age. Look for the metal type, hallmark (metal purity) and maker’s mark. A reputable antique dealer will provide this information.
If you purchase a ring with a gemstone, the gem certificate should be included. Reputable antique dealers will also offer estimations of diamond grades based on analyses.
Antique rings of the Georgian era (1714-1830) often incorporated fede and gimmel motifs as well as Celtic, Greek and Roman designs. Fede rings had inscriptions and more elaborate gimmel rings had compartments in which memento mori figures were hidden.
Today, many people wear antique gold split rings with engraved charms for decorative purposes. Split rings have an opening section that can be prised apart to add a charm. They are the simplest and most subtle way to showcase your personalised style and history. Authenticity isn’t always critical with these rings however. They still have a long and colorful history to share with future generations.
Vintage and antique are two terms that have become synonymous, but it is important to understand their differences, especially when making a jewellery purchase. An expert jeweller will be able to differentiate between the two and determine which era your ring belongs to.
Often, the most telling sign of an era is the style, ornamentation and symbolism. Graceful lines, depicted scenes and cultural events can all serve as clues to pinpointing a ring’s production date.
Additionally, the facets and shapes of a gemstone can help identify its era. For example, table cut diamonds have a flat bottom with a domed top and few facets, while Old Mine and Rose cuts are rounded square shapes that premiered in the 1500s and are common for rings dated through 1900s. Also, cathedral rings feature two arches that support a center stone, similar to the appearance of a church. These are typical of the Art Deco era that saw opulence and geometric patterns flourish.
As an alternative to buying a new piece of jewellery, antique rings offer an interesting and unique look and often come with a rich history. Often, they also carry a premium in value due to their age and rarity.
Edwardian period rings were generally airy and light compared to their Victorian counterparts, with intricate metalwork known as filigree in designs including bows and ribbons; flowers, moon and stars, and leaves; oak and trefoil; crescents, horseshoes, and shamrocks. Diamonds were a popular gemstone, as well as peridot, amethyst, emerald, chrysoberyl, and pearl. Gold (including rose, old mine and old European cuts) was used, and carved cameos were a common design element.
Mourning rings were a popular choice during this era. These rings were designed to hold a lock of hair, or a memento mori. They could be engraved or encased in glass, and often featured three lucky charms (often a star, a horseshoe and a shamrock). These rings were worn on the left hand.
Choosing a piece of jewellery that is sustainably-sourced and crafted can be challenging, as modern supply chains involve multiple different countries with their own environmental and social impacts. Fortunately, antiques have a leg up in this area: They predate industrialisation. As such, they require less energy and resources to produce, and they often carry a lower carbon footprint than their contemporary counterparts.
The time period a ring is from will also influence its design and craftsmanship. The use of ornamentation, depicted scenes and geometric patterns can all help to pinpoint era. In addition, the cutting styles of a diamond or gemstone will provide clues to its age.
Additionally, many antique pieces will have been passed down through several generations before landing in the hands of new owners. This allows for a higher level of sustainability in the sense that the ring may not need to be repaired or cleaned as frequently with a machine, or resized using an invasive procedure that uses more resources.