For many, the topic of “antique wedding rings” immediately conjures images of grandma’s gaudy diamonds or tarnished bits of costume jewelry. But in reality, there are numerous styles of antique rings available, and many reasons to consider them.
Antique rings are often unique rather than mass-produced, and have personality and flair rarely seen in jewelry-boutique wedding rings. The craftsmanship and hand-labor put into older rings can also be deeply appealing, as can the symbolism of the time periods from whence they came. Additionally, the charm and romance idealized by older generations and the sentimentality of owning an item so deeply cherished by another set of lovers can heighten the meaning of a ring for its new owner. Antique rings today can be both beautiful keepsakes full of nostalgia, and treasured tokens of bygone eras.
Finding Antique Wedding Rings
For some, an antique wedding ring may already be available as a family heirloom or hand-me-down. Some couples may even find a wedding ring of appeal at estate sales, antique stores, or pawnshops. But if you are searching for something specific, tracking down an authentic antique wedding ring can be a complex endeavor best accomplished with the aid of a reputable antique dealer or a jeweler with special knowledge of antique jewelry. There are a host of beautiful and often very valuable wedding rings to be found on the market-many at bargain prices-but there are also a lot of cheap pieces of jewelry that you really don’t want to go presenting to your loved one on wedding day. The best way to find a piece that is specific to a particular period or style is to enlist professional help, or to shop online from a reputable dealer, but a great place to start is with a little education on what exactly the different “periods” of antique jewelry are, and how they are characterized.
Victorian Period (1837 to 1901)
This period was largely influenced by the rule of England’s Queen Victoria. Her tastes greatly affected the style of the times, and motifs such as flowers, birds, and hearts became popular. The price of both gold and diamonds dropped during this era, making them much more prevalent in jewelry, though diamond rings were often reserved for the wealthy. Wedding rings from the Victorian period are characterized by romantic flourishes, and are most commonly gold with more affordable colored stones-though some diamond pieces survive on the modern market.
Art Nouveau Period (1890 – 1919)
While the Victorian Period’s interest in nature continued on with animal and floral representations, the art nouveau period was more about art for art’s sake. Sinuous, delicate curves were popular, and wedding ring design became more about the beauty of the finished product rather than the value of the materials. Because of this, many art nouveau rings feature pearls, moonstones, amethyst, or other semi-precious stones rather than precious gems. Materials like bone and horn became popular alternatives to metal. Wedding rings that survive today from this period are therefore exceptionally rare, as many have degraded over time.
Edwardian Period (1901 – 1915)
Diamond engagement and wedding rings from this era in particular remain extremely popular. Platinum reached major milestones in jewelry making for its hardness and ability to be wrought into delicate patterns and settings. Diamonds and pearls are commonly seen in rings from this time, popular for their refined, white-on-white appeal. Edwardian period jewelry is often very detailed and reminiscent of garland or lace, a style brought into fashion by Edward VII’s Dutch bride, Alexandra. At the end of this era, platinum was declared a strategic metal for WWI, and white gold surged onto the market as a substitute.
Art Deco Period (1920 – 1935)
The roaring twenties took just about every trend from previous jewelry periods and turned them inside out. While the Edwardian Period’s white-on-white appeal was still strong, rings were now accented with bold rubies or vibrant sapphires. Flowing, floral motifs became clean, hard, straight edges, and square or rectangle-cut gems replaced the rounder rose-cut styles of earlier periods. Antique wedding rings from this period are still in high-fashion; they generally are made of white gold or platinum, and feature bold, geometric engravings sometimes livened up with colored gems.
Retro Jewelry Period (1935 – 1950)
Bold, clunky styles were all the rage in wedding rings during the retro period. Engagement rings in particular were huge and featured large, chunky-cut stones, but even wedding rings were unusually large and gem-clustered. In response to WWII’s luxury taxes, cheaper yellow gold stepped back into style, as did synthetic and semi-precious stones. World-famous designer Tiffany’s came onto the scene in a big way during this period, and designer wedding rings from this period are fun, colorful, and highly popular.
Antique wedding rings can be beautiful and lively alternatives to mass-produced jewelry store models, and if particular periods of jewelry making sound like they may be to your tastes, they are a great way to start the search. Of course antique jewelry can require specialized care, but with a little added attention, there is no reason why antique styles can’t be charming and romantic expressions of your affection for your significant other.