Everything You Need To Know About Antique Rings
While all jewellery types carry sentimentality, rings are perhaps the jewellery item more associated with rich meaning and symbolism than any other.
Rings have been a favoured accessory for thousands of years – unique rings of braided reeds and hemp were exchanged between lovers as early as Ancient Egyptian times.
However, it’s in the last few centuries that rings have become common tokens for so many different things, having been exchanged and worn to symbolise everything from friendship, good luck, protection, promises, engagement and, of course, marriage.
Read on below for a closer look at the evolution of antique rings over the years…
Georgian Era rings (1714 – 1830)
The Georgian era was a time of great change for fashion and jewellery.
During this era, less certainly didn’t mean more – the aristocracy and upper classes were spending more on opulent clothes, shoes and, of course, jewellery than ever before.
Much of the jewellery produced in this era was hand-crafted by jewellery artisans using intricate, labour-intensive processes. Precious metals were painstakingly shaped into detailed designs using hammers and chisels.
One of the most popular motifs at the time was baroque, a design style characterised by extravagant, often nature-inspired, and symmetrical patterns.
This style was more easily utilised in larger pieces, such as necklaces and brooches, though this didn’t stop jewellers from putting an unbelievable amount of time and effort into replicating this style on a ring, despite how difficult this was to do by hand.
This effort didn’t go unnoticed, however. This era was one of the first in which the exchanging of engagement rings wasn’t just popular, but customary.
Georgian engagement rings were rather subtle in comparison to the jewellery worn for fashion purposes. One style of ring given to symbolise engagement was the poesy ring – these rings generally featured simple gold bands engraved with a short, romantic statement.
This was also the era that popularised the use of memorial jewellery, specifically the mourning ring. These rings, designed to preserve the memory of a loved one, featured motifs such as engraved initials, tiny portraits and even sometimes locks of the departed’s hair.
For more information on the trends of this era, take a look at our guide to Georgian jewellery.
Victorian Era rings (1837 – 1901)
The jewellery of the Victorian era is perhaps best represented by the jewellery worn by Queen Victoria herself, whose own taste greatly influenced the jewellery trends adopted by the women of the upper classes.
Queen Victoria favoured unique, intricate designs and owned a great collection of sentimental pieces.
Her engagement ring – one of the most iconic pieces within her collection – was designed in the shape of a snake and featured rubies, diamonds, and an emerald set into a gold band.
This may seem an odd choice for an engagement band now, but serpents were once a symbol of commitment and wisdom. It was also common at the time for engagement rings to feature birthstones instead of diamonds, hence the use of Victoria’s birthstone, the emerald.
Bright gemstones were rather popular in general during this era – sapphires, amethyst, rubies, and emeralds all found their way into the jewellery collections of rich women. Not all popular gemstones were quite as cheerfully coloured, however.
Black onyx and jet were utilised plenty during this period due to the growing popularity of mourning jewellery following the death of Queen Victoria’s beloved husband Prince Albert.
While mourning jewellery itself was nothing new by now, this era made the use of rich black gemstones in mourning jewellery the standard, with initials and doves now two of the most popular motifs featured.
Many of these trends are reflected within our own collection of Victorian era jewellery, such as this Victorian 4.68 carat purple star sapphire and diamond ring and this stunning cat’s eye and sapphire five stone ring from the very end of the Victorian period.
For more information on the jewellery trends of this period, take a look at our guide to Victorian jewellery.
Browse our selection of Victorian engagement rings here.
Edwardian Era rings (1901-1914)
Preceding the first world war, the Edwardian era was a time of understated glamour.
Bright gemstones – rubies, sapphires, emeralds – were still very popular in ring design, alongside diamonds, which were relatively affordable and easy to obtain at the time.
This led to the popularity of daisy rings, an Edwardian take on the cluster ring featuring a bright gemstone centrepiece surrounded by diamond ‘petals’. Floral motifs were still very common in jewellery design, often produced in tribute to Queen Alexandra’s famous love of flowers.
This was also the era in which jewellers began experimenting with the use of a wider range of precious metals in jewellery-making. Gold had long been the most fashionable metal in jewellery until innovations in the craft allowed for the use of platinum to grow in popularity.
For more information on the jewellery trends of this period, take a look at our guide to Edwardian jewellery.
Browse our selection of Edwardian rings here.
Art Deco rings (1910 – 1939)
While the official timescale of this period in design crosses over with the Edwardian era, the Art Deco era only truly began following the end of WWI.
After years of unrest and austerity, the end of the first world war beckoned in a period of decadence, with fashion and jewellery moving into an era of vivid colours, bold design and an attitude that less was never more.
Art Deco rings are a wonderful reflection of this moment in time, as well as the glamour that it inspired.
Jewellery design moved away from motifs inspired by nature or a desire for subtle elegance, with designers favouring bold, geometric shapes that allowed for the inclusion of large, bright gemstones – the bigger the better.
Cluster rings were still very popular, though they were unlike the cluster rings of years gone by – Art Deco cluster rings were much more extravagant.
While they still featured a bright gemstone at their heart, the diamonds surrounding this were no longer simply there to compliment the centrepiece – they were now bigger and just as eye-catching. Rectangular or square-shaped cluster rings also took precedence over the previously favoured circular cluster designs.
Trends in engagement ring design, however, were beginning to move closer towards the archetypal engagement ring style of the present day. Less than a century after Queen Victoria married Prince Albert wearing a golden serpent ring and, in a break away from the otherwise exorbitant designs of the era, engagement rings were now almost always identified by a plain band with a large central diamond. Popular diamond cuts of the era included calibre, old European and rose.
This was also the era in which the mass production of jewellery truly took off. Bespoke pieces remained incredibly popular, of course, but the idea of glamour and allure was no longer reserved for the rich in society.
Following the end of the war, everyone wanted to participate in this period of hedonism – mass production of jewellery allowed for those in the middle and lower classes to enjoy these pieces, too.
At Gatsby Jewellery, we have built up a beautiful collection of mesmerising, hand-selected Art Deco rings. Our 0.56 carat old cut diamond & onyx ring is a wonderful example of the geometric shapes that were so popular at the time, while this 24.02 carat natural Ceylon cabochon sapphire ring is a perfect reflection of the extravagance of the era.
For a further look at the rings of the Art Deco era, read our blog post on everything that we love about Art Deco rings.
Browse our selection of Art Deco rings here.
Rings from throughout history at Gatsby Jewellery
Here at Gatsby Jewellery, antique rings are one of our many specialities.
We have built up a collection of beautiful antique and vintage rings from some of the most beautiful periods in jewellery history. For those looking into buying antique engagement rings or antique wedding rings, we have an incredible array of options. Whether you’re searching for something subtle and elegant or unique and vibrant, there’s bound to be something within our wide inventory to suit every taste.
If you’ve been wondering where to buy antique engagement rings then look no further – we’d love to help you find your perfect piece of antique jewellery.
For more information or to arrange a viewing, get in touch with Gatsby Jewellery today.