Vintage Engagement Rings: A Modern Choice

Couple kissing in rain. Clay Banks, courtesy Unsplash


Art Deco diamond and platinum ring

Getting engaged is one of life’s most exciting and romantic moments. And one of the most fun aspects of getting engaged is the beautiful engagement ring that looks so fabulous that you can’t stop looking at it. So how did engagement rings come into being and how did the diamond engagement ring become one of the most coveted love tokens on the planet? It all started with the ancient Romans.

Roman Engagement Rings

The Romans made rings from bone, ivory, copper, flint and iron as well as gold rings for those who could afford them. It was common practice to have two rings — a gold ring to wear out in public and an iron ring to wear at home.

Art Deco old European cut diamond and platinum ring

We can also thank the Romans for starting the practice of wearing an engagement ring on the fourth finger of the left hand. They believed that the vein in the finger next to the pinky on the left hand led directly to the heart, referring to it as the “vein of love”. The romantic notion of wearing a ring on the finger that connects to the heart caught on and continues today.

The First Diamond Engagement Ring

Engagement rings got the official nod of approval in 850 when Pope Nicholas I decreed that gifting a ring symbolized a man’s intent to marry. As we moved into the middle-ages engagement rings were elaborate affairs with generally a ruby or sapphire in an opulent setting. Gimmel rings were also a popular choice during those times. Another big advance in the engagement ring story came in 1477 when Archduke Maximillian of Austria proposed to Mary of Burgundy with a diamond engagement ring, the first one on record.

Georgian diamond and 18-karat gold halo ring

By the 1700s engagement rings were becoming more common. In 1727 diamonds were found in Brazil, leading to a steady and regular supply of these gems, which were a must have for fashionable Georgians. The cluster ring featuring a diamond center stone with smaller diamonds around it was popular for engagement rings and sometimes featured colored gemstone accents. It was during this era that England’s King George III gave Queen Charlotte a diamond engagement ring widening its acceptance.

The Tiffany Setting

Platinum and diamond in a Tiffany six prong setting, signed Tiffany & Co.

Three major events happened to further the diamond engagement ring’s place in society during the 1800s. It started with the industrial revolution, which  created a tremendous amount of wealth and a burgeoning middle class with money to spend. Next came the discovery of diamonds in South Africa in 1867, which provided an abundant supply of the sparkling gems. Then in 1886, it was Tiffany & Co. that sealed the deal when it debuted the Tiffany Setting, a simple hoop with the diamond set high and six prongs holding it in place, allowing maximum light to flow through the stone creating exceptional sparkle. It was a sensation then and continues to be one of the most desired styles today.

Early Victorian rose cut diamond, enamel and 15-karat gold ring

Edwardian era engagement rings often centered on a diamond set in platinum with elaborate detailing from millegrain and piercing that gave the rings a light and airy look. The Art Deco era continued the movement of platinum (or sometimes white gold) engagement rings, but the white-on-white lacy look of the Edwardian days gave way to geometric forms often accented with ruby, emerald, sapphire or onyx to enhance the linear shapes. The late 1930s and 1940s saw gold return to favor as platinum was declared a strategic metal and was reserved for war use. Diamonds were often pulled from existing pieces to create a new engagement ring. Diamonds solidified their position as the number one choice for engagement rings during the 1940s. As young soldiers went to war overseas it became a common practice for them to give their sweethearts a diamond ring as a promise to marry upon their return.

Twentieth Century Engagements

Art Deco diamond, ruby and platinum ring.

After World War II ended, the 1950s saw a return to platinum settings in engagement rings. The most popular styles of the time were quite simple — a center diamond, prong set, embellished with two side stones. The popularity of this style continued for many years with gold once again becoming more favored from the 1960s to the 1980s. In the 1990s styles shifted once again and fancy shape center stones became more popular as did a mix of yellow gold and platinum for a two-tone setting. Moving into the early aughts, the halo ring became ubiquitous and continues its reign as a beloved setting with platinum once again becoming the metal of choice.

In recent years, more couples are selecting vintage or antique engagement rings. There are plenty of vintage engagement ring choices, you just have to  find the one that expresses your personality and your personal love story.

Featured image (top of page): Clay Banks, courtesy Unsplash

First: Art Deco diamond and platinum ring; Second: Art Deco old European cut diamond and platinum ring; Third: Georgian diamond and 18-karat gold halo ring; Fourth: Platinum and diamond in a Tiffany six prong setting, signed Tiffany & Co.; Fifth: Early Victorian rose cut diamond, enamel and 15-karat gold ring; Sixth: Art Deco diamond, ruby and platinum ring.   

Authored by Amber Michelle