If you’re looking for a really special way to pop the question, it doesn’t get much more romantic than with an antique engagement ring. By buying vintage, you’ll be showing your beloved that you’ve gone above and beyond expectations to seek out a little bit of history that you can make your own. All vintage jewellery has its own rich story to share, and our pieces are all carefully chosen and repurposed, so you can begin a new chapter together.
The first documented engagement ring goes back to 1477, when Archduke Maximillian of Austria got down on bended knee on the imperial court of Vienna. He presented his betrothed, Mary of Burgundy, with a diamond ring as a symbol of undying love. Back then only the very wealthy ever saw diamonds, let alone wore them, so this was considered to be the ultimate sign of wealth and class. But romantic rings can actually be dated back to the ancient Egyptians, who believed circles were symbols of eternity. Wedded couples exchanged rings made out of braided reeds, which were worn on the left hand ring finger, because of the Vena Amoris - a vein that leads directly to the heart. A priest’s manual written in the 13th century describes the diamond as, "unbreakable and love unquenchable and stronger than death”
The Romans are believed to have started the tradition of betrothal rings instead of giving the bride money or valuables, but this was not so much about love as it was a sign of ownership. Gold rings were found in the ruins of Pompeii, and the shiny metal had become the material of choice during the Empire. They were also fans of owning two engagement rings; an iron ring worn at home and a gold ring worn in public. So, if you’re looking for an excuse to purchase a travel ring, blame it on the Romans!
In Renaissance times (1300-1600), goldsmiths created betrothal rings known as gimmals, which translates from the Latin word for twin, “gemelli”. These rings were sometimes worn in three parts styled with two clasped hands. During the engagement, one part was worn by the bride, one by the groom and the third by a witness. The three parts were then reunited as the brides' wedding ring, on the day of the marriage. Another variation on the gimmal is where it had 2 hoops that fanned open to reveal tiny figures - typically a baby and a skeleton, to represent the span of the couple's lives together - in little compartments under the gem settings.
By Victorian times, birthstones were popular for engagement rings. Prince Albert presented Queen Victoria with an emerald (the queen's birthstone) headed snake ring as a sign of commitment. The ring, which he designed himself, featured a snake whose tail twisted around into its mouth, symbolising eternal love.
Engagement rings during this time were still seen mostly for the upper classes, but all that changed with the discovery of diamond mines in South Africa in 1866. The DeBeers Mining Company was founded in 1873, and the rest, as they say, is history.
In 1886, Tiffany & Co. launched their infamous six-claw diamond solitaire setting in which a single diamond is perched atop a plain band, and this was the point at which young women began to expect to receive a ring as part of their proposal.
Edwardian era engagement rings were delicate and romantic, with new technology making it possible to create intricate designs from platinum. Jewellers fully embraced this technology and the resulting pieces featured fanciful scrolling filigree designs with pierced open work detailing, millegraining and knife-edge settings. Many engagement and wedding rings from this time were engraved with a laurel leaf pattern to guard against divorce, with oak leaves to symbolise strength and ivy for clinging devotion. Among the most popular styles of Edwardian engagement ring is the romantic daisy featuring a cluster of old cut diamonds, set to resemble a six-petalled flower.
The Art Deco era saw engagement rings that were defined by clean lines, simple shapes and geometry, and the single centre stone ring took on a whole new meaning during this period. Not only were there advances in diamond cutting, creating whiter diamonds with deeper culets, but jewelers of the day created three-dimensional objects of beauty with piercing work, filigree and engraving all around the shank. Not all engagement rings from this era featured graphic patterns and angular lines, though. Toi et moi rings, which originated in France and translates as “you and me”, became very popular during the Art Deco era.
By WW2 and the Great Depression, the popularity and affordability of diamond engagement rings were on the decline. Illusion settings became the rage, providing a way to cut, set and polish smaller diamonds in such a way that the eye was tricked into thinking they were bigger. In 1939, in an effort to boost the diamond trade and engagement ring industry, De Beers launched its ‘A diamond is forever’ campaign slogan that’s still famous to this day. The campaign worked, and by the early 1940s, engagement rings were leading lines of jewellery in many department stores around the world.
During the years that followed, engagement rings have changed with the times and fashions that accompanied them. But whatever the style, one thing is guaranteed - they are always the ultimate token of love. Whether it’s an Art Deco piece that adorned a flapper girl’s finger, a delicate Edwardian filigree design for a rosy cheeked lady or a big rock from the swinging sixties, the story of antique engagement rings is hard to resist.
Browse our Engagement Ring Collection today for the perfect way to celebrate your own love story.