Why spend the average price of $6,351 on a modern engagement ring when you can go vintage? Antique wedding rings are a unique alternative and can be a worthwhile investment.
What is an antique ring? Typically they are at least 50-100 years old, from a particular period or style such as Art Deco, Edwardian, or Victorian. Often found for great deals at estate sales, they have a charm and history that cannot be matched by a mass-produced piece.
It can be difficult to determine the value and pedigree of antique rings. If you’re in the market for an heirloom, it’s best to arm yourself with an idea of what gives these pieces their value. Read on to learn what to look for!
Gem cutting used to be done by hand with specialized tools. While the brilliant round is the most common diamond today, antique wedding rings will often have stones cut one of the following ways:
- Table cut: A cut with a square or rectangle shape, containing few facets and a wide flat top. One of the rarest and oldest gem cutting styles.
- Rose cut: A domed, round cut with a flat underside. Invented in the 1500s.
- Step cut: Often rectangular or square, this cut has elongated facets on the sides. This style surfaced in the 1800s.
- Old mine cut: Usually square with rounded edges, this style was popular in the 1800s-1900s. More facets than the previous methods meant more sparkle and light refraction.
- Old European cut: This cut is the vintage version modern gem cuts. Round, multi-faceted, and popular through the 1900s, old Europeans had the most sparkle of all the antique styles.
Besides cut, stones are often diverse in antique rings. Depending on the era you may see center stones of emerald, amethyst, topaz, ruby, and many others.
Diamond grading did not exist a century ago. Without modern standards of cut, clarity, or color, it’s normal for antique stones to be less brilliant than modern gems. Antique diamonds may be of more pink or yellow hues, with fewer facets.
One indicator of a ring’s age can be the hallmark, or artist’s signature, inside the band. While there is no universal hallmarking standard, specific maker’s marks like Cartier and Tiffany are well-documented and very valuable. An appraiser can help you identify markings on antique wedding rings.
Another quality to look for is the type of detail in the band itself. Antique settings could be hand carved or cast, and vary by era and style. Handmade filigrees will be imperfect, but a detailed ring design can significantly increase the value.
It isn’t uncommon to see a variety of metals in old rings. While gold was always a favorite precious metal, silver and platinum became more widely available in the second half of the 1800s.
Condition and Documentation
Just because a ring is antique does not necessarily mean it is highly valuable. A significant factor in worth is the condition of the ring.
Check the setting and back of the band for signs of repair or resizing. A ring in original condition is likely to have a higher value than one that has been modified. A well-loved ring can add character and desirability, but one that has too much wear can suffer a loss of value.
Sometimes antique pieces may have documentation available to authenticate them. Handwritten notes, receipts, documented research, or even a past appraisal can help you put a price on the worth of an item. Always ask if a piece has any documentation available.
Ready to Treasure Hunt for an Antique Wedding Ring?
Arming yourself with a little knowledge and research will make your hunt for the perfect ring a little clearer. Learning to identify the characteristics of valuable antique pieces will save time and hopefully lead you to an heirloom worth keeping in the family for generations to come.
Don’t be afraid to ask for the second opinion of an experienced appraiser if you think you’ve found an antique wedding ring worth bringing home.
For more tips, check out our guide on estate sale antique jewelry.