Engagement Rings Through the Eras

Engagement Rings Through the Eras

Distinguishing the history of a piece of jewelry can be difficult without proper expertise - especially when you consider just how many eras of jewelry overlap. But with a sharp eye for details and a little background, you can gain a better understanding of your family heirlooms and favorite pieces from the past.

At Walton’s Jewelry, our GIA-trained staff has helped countless brides find the right jewelry for their big day in our 50 year history selling fine antique, estate, and vintage-inspired custom jewelry. To discover the perfect pieces for your wedding day, here is our guide to identifying engagement rings throughout the eras:

Georgian Silver and 14K Yellow Gold 2.00ct Old Mine Cut Diamond Ring

Georgian Era Engagement Rings

The Georgian period, spanning from 1714 to 1837, encompassed the reigns of five English kings and witnessed the creation of some of the most exquisite jewelry pieces in history. 

Characterized by dramatic and ornate styles, Georgian jewelry remains highly coveted today for its craftsmanship and rarity. Crafted from gold, diamonds, and precious colored gems, authentic Georgian jewelry represents the earliest and most exceptional pieces in our collection.

Georgian jewelry designs reflected intricate metalwork techniques like repoussé and cannetille, resulting in elaborate pieces featuring popular motifs such as flowers, ribbons, and foliage. Despite the labor-intensive processes involved, jewelers of the time aimed to minimize waste, leading to the development of innovative gem cuts like the Old Mine cut, Old European cut, and the delicately innovative Marquise cut.

Despite their rarity, many Georgian pieces were altered or repurposed over time, making authentic examples highly prized by collectors today.

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Victorian 18K Yellow Gold 3.01ct Old Mine Cut Diamond Ring

Victorian Era Engagement Rings

The Victorian era, spanning from 1837 to 1901, encapsulates Queen Victoria's influential 60-year reign and represents a rich tapestry of Victorian jewelry design across three distinct periods: Romantic, Grand or Mourning, and Aesthetic.

The Romantic Period (1837-1861) is perhaps most classically associated with Victorian era engagement rings and is characterized by sentimentality and the celebration of new love echoing the romance between Queen Victoria and Prince Albert.

The Grand or Mourning Period (1861-1885) began with the mourning of Victoria's beloved husband and the onset of the American Civil War. This period is also associated with the intricate Etruscan Revival style inspired by archaeological discoveries of the time.

The Aesthetic Period (1885-1901) witnessed a shift in jewelry design influenced by societal changes, including a growing middle class and increased women participating in the workforce. Simple geometric pieces often made of yellow gold and diamonds replaced the heavy opulence of the previous era, catering to women's active lifestyles and reflecting the enduring appeal of Victorian jewelry even 120 years later.

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Art Nouveau 18K Yellow Gold 2.86ctw Old European Cut Diamond Ring

Art Nouveau Engagement Rings

Art Nouveau jewelry emerged in France around 1890 as a response to the mass-produced jewelry of the Victorian and Edwardian eras. Characterized by delicate designs and inspired by the natural world, Art Nouveau engagement rings feature sinuous curves and flowing lines, often depicting flora, fauna, and organic themes.

During this period, artisans perfected handcrafting techniques, including various styles of enamelwork, exemplified by renowned artists such as René Lalique, Louis Comfort Tiffany, and Georges Fouquet. These artisans elevated jewelry-making to an art form, producing pieces that are not only visually stunning but also masterpieces of craftsmanship.

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Edwardian Platinum & 18K Yellow Gold 2.18ct Old Mine Cut Diamond Ring

Edwardian Era Engagement Rings

The Edwardian Era, spanning from 1901 to 1914, reflects the influence of King Edward VII, known for his lavish lifestyle and love of parties. Reviving 18th-century motifs such as garlands, wreaths, and ribbons, Edwardian jewelry exudes elegance and sophistication, with diamonds and pearls taking center stage.

One of the significant advancements during this period was the introduction of platinum in jewelry-making, thanks to advancements in metal fabrication. Platinum's strength allowed artisans to create intricate, light, and airy pieces resembling fine lace and embroidery, marking a departure from the heavier styles of previous eras. Mixed metal designs became popular, even in Edwardian era engagement rings

Edwardian jewelry is characterized by bold designs, fine details, and exquisite craftsmanship, showcasing the technological advancements of the early 20th century. However, the outbreak of the First World War in 1914 marked the abrupt end of the Edwardian Era.

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Art Deco Platinum 2.36ct Old European Cut Diamond Ring

Art Deco Engagement Rings

The Art Deco period, lasting from 1920 to 1939, epitomizes the bold transition in design and symbolism following World War I. Inspired by the Exposition International des Arts Décoratifs et Industriels Modernes in Paris in 1925, Art Deco jewelry became a symbol of the era's newfound freedom and modernity.

Distinct from the flowing botanical-inspired designs of the Art Nouveau era, Art Deco engagement rings feature bold geometric shapes and sharp, clean lines, reflecting the avant-garde choices of women whose lifestyles were at a crossroads. Platinum became the preferred metal, providing a perfect canvas for showcasing dazzling gems like diamonds, sapphires, and other colored gemstones.

Art Deco jewelry flourished with intricate mosaic designs, as gem cutters explored new techniques to cut and shape gems. Despite the passage of time, Art Deco jewelry remains timeless, captivating collectors, connoisseurs, and fashion enthusiasts alike with its enduring beauty and bold statement. 

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Platinum 2.34ct Emerald Cut Diamond Ring

Retro, Vintage, and Modern Engagement Rings

Retro jewelry, originating around 1935 in France with designs from Van Cleef & Arpels, gained popularity quickly, particularly among American designers after being exhibited at the 1939 World's Fair. 

With platinum and other white metals rationed for military use during World War II, Retro jewelry saw a revival of yellow gold designs, featuring woven, braided, and coiled gold forms reminiscent of the early 1900s. Wartime mine closures led to a scarcity of natural gemstones, many jewelers turned to synthetic or lab-made gemstones, favoring clusters of small diamonds and halo settings among others.

Many Retro jewelry pieces were melted down or sold for scrap before the 1970s, resulting in their scarcity and high value as collectibles. Jewelry made after the retro period largely falls into the category of modern and estate jewelry which is characterized by precise design elements and gemstone selection that is unlike anything seen in pre-World War II existence. 

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History is held in each piece of pre-loved jewelry. Whether you’re looking for authentic antique wedding jewelry or are interested in a vintage-inspired custom engagement ring, we’re here to help you explore one-of-a-kind rings that tell a story. 

We have over five decades of experience with jewelry from the Victorian, Edwardian, and Georgian periods as well as the Art Deco and Art Nouveau movements, making our expertise in redesigning, restoring, and repairing antique and vintage-inspired jewelry unmatched.