A Practical Guide To Buying An Engagement Ring, Part Two: How To Buy A Vintage Engagement Ring


Today’s post is a continuation of our series, “A Practical Guide to Buying an Engagement Ring,” brought to us by longtime APW sponsor TurtleLove.com. If you’re just tuning in, Part One is over here and tackles the big thinky questions about purchasing an engagement ring (with nary a mention of how-many-months-salary). For those of you considering a vintage precious who aren’t sure where to start, this follow-up is for you.

Maddie

A Practical Guide To Buying An Engagement Ring, Part Two: How To Buy A Vintage Engagement Ring | A Practical Wedding

by Adrianne Zahner, Head Honcho at TurtleLove.com (APW Sponsor)

Last month, Alice asked for some advice about shopping for engagement rings. Here’s some specific information about buying a vintage engagement ring. (My last post addressed Alice’s big-picture questions, like “What is a good value when it comes to an engagement ring?” and “How much should you spend on an engagement ring?” Next month, I’ll branch out beyond Alice’s question and write about buying new engagement rings, including newly mined stones and artisan engagement rings.) Beyond the content of this post, check out the comments—vintage rings are well-loved by many APW readers, so there’s bound to be some good advice in the comments.

To start, a vintage ring is a beautiful, ecologically sound, and cost-effective choice for an engagement ring. But it’s not the right choice for everyone. We do sell some amazing vintage engagement rings at TurtleLove.com, but this post shouldn’t sound like one big plug for vintage rings—I got into this field because I wanted to work towards changing the public (and private) discourse about engagement rings away from salary guidelines and toward making individual choices that are authentic and meaningful. So if you find the right ring for you somewhere that’s not TurtleLove.com, I am really truly thrilled for you. And, as I’ve said before, you don’t need an engagement ring to be engaged, and you don’t need a wedding ring to be married.

A Practical Guide To Buying An Engagement Ring, Part Two: How To Buy A Vintage Engagement Ring | A Practical Wedding

Alice, you’ve asked a lot of good questions: “How do I know it’s going to hold up to forty more years of use? Where’s the line between ‘so cheap it will fall apart’ and ‘at this point you’re just paying for status’? Where’s the line between ‘that stone is so tiny I can’t even see it’ and ‘you’re just showing off now’? I know one carat is a magical number for no apparent reason, so it’s good to look for stones that are a bit under that number. Are there any other tips like that?”

Durability. Alice, you ask how you’ll know a vintage ring is going to hold up to many more years of use. Vintage rings run the whole range from super-sturdy to super-fragile, just like modern rings. Of course, the light and flowery styles that are often associated with vintage rings and the “vintage look” are the more delicate ones. Also consider how you plan to wear your engagement ring. If you’re a gentle sort, or if you anticipate wearing your ring for special occasions only, you’ll have more options than if you’re a landscaper planning never to take the ring off. As far as your question about “the line between ‘so cheap it will fall apart’ and “at this point you’re just paying for status,’” I think durability is a matter of construction, and status is usually a measure of stone size, so you’re probably not going to find these two ideas in conflict with each other.

Wedding band choices. Many vintage engagement rings are really stand-alone pieces. The design is easier to appreciate when it’s not paired with another ring on the same hand. If you want to wear the wedding band and vintage engagement ring together, it’s a good idea to get them at the same time, and to make sure that the wedding band isn’t going to create a lot of wear on the engagement ring. I personally prefer to wear a vintage engagement ring on one hand and a wedding band on the other—it maintains the integrity of each ring, and it’s nice to have two rings instead of one big one!

Stone settings. When examining a ring, you’ll want to look at the setting of each stone (including side stones) to make sure it looks as though it’s held in place firmly. If the ring makes a noise when you shake it, it has loose stones. Also, you can gently probe each stone with a fingernail to make sure that it doesn’t move.

Sizing. As for ring size, you’ll want to look at rings that are no more than two (American) sizes larger or smaller than your ring size. Some rings can be sized more, and some less, but two sizes either way is a good range to avoid falling in love with a ring that just won’t work or that will be prohibitively expensive to size.

Stone size and quality. The diamonds in most vintage rings were cut during a time when the trade in diamonds was less efficient, and before the advent of the precision technology used today. So lots of the research that people do about the 4Cs (cut, color, clarity, carat weight) is not as useful in selecting a vintage ring as it is in selecting a stone for a new ring. In the case of a vintage ring, you’re most interested in the visual impact of the ring as a whole. You’ll generally find that vintage diamonds have a more subdued sparkle than modern-cut diamonds. (I’d say they’re more sophisticated, and less bling-y, but there’s A LOT of room for disagreement there.) Some vintage stones look way bigger than you’d expect based on the carat weight because the proportions of the stone emphasize diameter over depth. Also, unless the stone is of significant value (say more than $5,000), many jewelers won’t disassemble an intact vintage ring to evaluate the stone, which means that the cut, clarity and color are all estimated, and that a laboratory certificate won’t be available for the stone in a vintage ring. For confidence regarding the value of the vintage ring you’re considering, you can rely on an independent appraisal.

Appraisals. An appraisal is an independent assessment of the value of a piece of jewelry. An appraisal lists the materials a ring is made of, the size and characteristics of the stones, and the approximate date of the ring’s creation. An appraiser uses sophisticated magnification and gemological tools to evaluate and estimate stone weights and quality. Of course, it is most desirable to buy a ring at or below its appraised value. You can expect to pay $50 to $100 to have your vintage ring appraised (which makes sense for some rings, and not for others).

Return Policy. If you’re buying a ring online, check the return policy—it’s nice to know that you can return a ring if it’s not what you thought it would be when you have it in person. (However, don’t expect to be able to return a ring if it’s been resized for you, engraved, or otherwise modified.)

What other people think. Alice, your question “Where’s the line between ‘that stone is so tiny I can’t even see it’ and ‘you’re just showing off now’?” is really dependent on you and your environment. If it brings you joy, and it doesn’t make your interactions awkward, then it’s a great choice. If it brings you joy, but it’s awkward to wear a presumably very expensive ring to your job as a social worker, then it’s not a great choice (to wear to work, at least). And to round out that super wishy-washy answer, vintage rings are actually a really great way to side step this kind of concern because the retail value of the ring is hazier than with a contemporary ring, and because vintage rings have such unique feel to them.

A Practical Guide To Buying An Engagement Ring, Part Two: How To Buy A Vintage Engagement Ring | A Practical Wedding

So, I’m sure that the awesome APWers will have some really useful contributions in the comments, for which I am grateful in advance (even if you disagree with me)! If you have other questions you’d like answered, let me know in the comments, or shoot me an email at Adrianne [at] turtlelove [dot] com.

Smooches,

Adrianne

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  • http://www.everythingweddingsandmore.net/ Gee | EverythingWeddingsAndMore

    Very informative post! honestly I feel these days people just buy rings based on the excitement and the face value “literally”, there is so much more to consider than those.

  • Maria

    My fiancé and I purchased my engagement ring – a sapphire and diamond ring from the 1920s – from a wonderful antique dealer in Toronto, Cynthia Findlay. Her experience and reputation sold us – she took so much time to consider our options and budget, try on pieces, and steered me away from choices that wouldn’t stand up to daily wear (e.g., I learned most emeralds hate soap)… One thing I’d note is that a reputable dealer will almost always have a third-party appraisal for the ring – if not, it’s within your purview to have this done, as this article mentions.

    We just purchased our wedding bands there, too, and it was lovely seeing my unfussy fiancé find an understated but unique band that he loves.

    Vintage rings aren’t for everyone, but I love seeing a story and history when I look at my finger! And it’s fun to share its origins when people ask about my ring.

    • Darcy

      That’s where we got my sapphire ring too! My favourite part of the story is when she let us take the ring out for coffee to wrap our heads around actually buying the ring and laying down money.

      • Maria

        Amazing! She dragged me out (willingly) into the daylight so I could see my ring in different lighting. She’s really a good woman who loves her work.

    • grasshopper

      I went shopping there too! She was great and had beautiful rings. We ended up buying from VanRijk because I found exactly the right one there.

  • CeeBeeUK

    I have a lovely family ring but also have giant paws. Any sense of how far a ring can be stretched?

    How do you find a reputable jeweler for resizing the band and swapping out the diamond when you’re not in your home area and your friends aren’t up on the jewelry thing?

    • Lena

      I’ve heard the standard is about two sizes either way, any more and you start getting into too much new metal ($$) or weakening the band.

      You ask people like APW! Where-ish do you live? I’m sure commenters will have suggestions!

  • dawn

    I had a vintage platinum ring resized. I took it to several jewelers before I found one I trusted to do the job. Other jewelers advised me that the ring could not be resized to my size or that they would not guarantee that the ring wouldn’t fall apart. The jeweler who eventually resized the ring did guarantee that the job would not cause the ring to fall apart. He also perfectly matched the pattern on the ring, and his price was in line with other estimates. So –shop around for a jeweler who is up to the task if you’re looking to have a vintage ring (especially a platinum one) resized.

    • Sarah NCtoPA

      My now-husband and I both fell in love with an estate piece platinum band that had diamond and sapphire stones around it. The jeweler was very honest, though, and said that taking it down more than .25-.5 a size would mess with the integrity of the stones, causing them to possibly pop out. We found a platinum diamond ring and matching band set elsewhere (probably .25 qt stone) for less than a mortgage payment. The store had a jeweler take it up a size and replate it with platinum as it was pretty thin. That work cost about $130. I’m a little sad we don’t know the ring’s story/age and I’m thinking of taking it to an appraiser for insurance purposes. Anyone know how well he/she can gauge it’s 4 Cs without taking it out of the setting?

      I already had an engagement ring with diamond baguettes and a tanzanite center stone–but since I love jewelry three rings is cool with me!

  • ART

    Vintage reproductions are also a good option – I found a few online retailers and finally hit the jackpot with a jeweler that must have hundreds of vintage molds and lets you choose your metal and stone. It was really reasonable (a fraction of the cost of what I was finding for Engagement Rings(TM)) and I adore it.

  • Alyssa

    Jesus, Mary, Joseph, and the Camel! TurtleLove has so much beautiful stuff!

    For those considering it: I love my vintage ring and my wife love’s her new super traditional ring. You can’t go wrong. I picked mine out from Doyle and Doyle online, but thought someone else bought it. Turns out my wife snatched it up when I showed it to her, but didn’t tell me. Then she surprised me with it the same day that I proposed to her.

    It is sweet to think about the ring’s past life and wonder about the story of the first couple who had it. The inside of the band is inscribed “H.W. to M.F.” APW sponsor Bario-Neal also made me a very simple custom rose gold wedding band that compliments its uniqueness well. I wear them together, but neither overwhelms the other like some of the vintage rings pictured in the post might – so I agree with Adrianne but in some cases they can work great together.

    Photos! goo.gl/PZ4L2 and goo.gl/OZWLX (mine on the left and my wife’s on the right).

    • Maria

      Wow, they’re stunning together. So different, but complementary.

    • Eenie

      Love the story :)

  • Kristen

    I wanted vintage but was too worried about shopping online for something so expensive without being able to see and touch it. Plus, I was being so darn picky, it would have been almost impossible to find a ring like what I wanted. We ended up creating my ring from scratch and having it hand engraved to get the vintage look. Best part? Hand engraving cost me $150. So we got a simple (fairly inexpensive) setting and just asked the jeweler engrave it. I even gave the engraver a few engraving styles I liked and he was able to use all of them. Here’s some pics in case anyone is interested in this as an option.

    http://www.flickr.com/photos/49912436@N00/sets/72157634677641911/

    • ART

      that’s very cool!

  • Katie

    I inherited my grandmother’s 3-stone engagement ring, but didn’t particularly like the setting. I got the stones reset for the cost of the setting and labor, and the ring was valued by the jeweler as more than double that price. If you’ve got jewelry in the family this could be a nice way to keep the tradition – although I am somewhat paranoid about losing one of the stones!

    A word on clarity – I’ve heard many discussions on new diamonds and people looking for high clarity diamonds. Clarity is measured under 10x magnification, and until “slightly included” (SI), the inclusions are rarely noticeable to the naked eye. The center stone of my ring has a single black inclusion which is visible to the naked eye, if you look quite closely. This makes it the lowest clarity grade, but (in my untrained opinion) it’s just as sparkly as a higher clarity-rated diamond would be. It might depend on the size of the stone and the type of inclusion (clouding/feathering might affect the sparkle of the diamond more than small inclusions of carbons or minerals), but I’m totally happy with my “imperfect” diamond!

    • http://www.rorygordon.tumblr.com rorygordon

      Ah, I have an SI rated diamond too, but it belonged to my mother and when my dad the appraiser looked at it, he goes, “Don’t worry about it. Love is imperfect too.” So it can be what you make of it!

    • LikelyLaura

      My center stone has an inclusion that is very visible, but only from the bottom/side of the stone. I have no rational reason why, but I feel like it’s makes my ring more special because only I can see it. Everyone else just thinks the diamond is flawless. I love it.

  • Elizabeth

    Not to sound as though I’m being paid by Turtle Love to promote them (I’m not, honest!), but I want to say that I LOVE the vintage engagement ring I chose from their site after my now-husband proposed to me. I was able to choose a beautiful and very unique ring at a price I felt comfortable with (far below the two or three-months’-salary “rule”). The ring has flowery filigree designs all around the modest diamond. One of the petals on one side looks squished. I wear that side facing in, not with the intention to hide it, but rather to remind my overly perfectionistic self whenever I look at the ring that imperfection can be beautiful, too.

    • Laura C

      I was going to start a comment that same way! I don’t have an engagement ring, but got a vintage wedding band from Turtle Love — I think I’d ordered it but not yet received it at the time of the last how-to post — and I LOVE it. It was about 1/3 what I thought I’d have to pay for something along the general lines of what I wanted, but I like it more than anything else I’d seen, and it really felt like fate, because it was exactly my size. It’s one more reason I really wish my wedding was sooner, so I could start wearing it.

    • Mimi

      My vintage engagement ring came from TLC too! I love it :)

  • http://www.rorygordon.tumblr.com rorygordon

    Also, if you do have an appraisal done, it’s not out of line to ask what your appraiser’s credentials are. There’s no legally required licensing for jewelry appraisers, but they can be accredited by the American Society of Appraisers or as a master gemologist, and there are other organizations as well. So, as tempting as a 25 dollar appraisal at the mall is, check ‘em out online or ask what certifications they have! There’s definitely a continuum of quality on appraisals. My dad holds the master gemologist certification from ASA and whenever he has to re-certify there’s always a very hard test identifying tricky stones and grading them very precisely. (His website: http://www.scottgordonjewelry.com/scott-gordon) And actually one time when I was a kid, I remember he identified a ring that was sold as a fake. The story made the newspaper, ha!

  • Charis

    This is great advice. My 1940s engagement ring is my most prized possession! I love it more than anything else in my life (other than my FH, maybe lol)!

    Luckily we live near York, UK which has tonnes of antique jewelers and my partner didn’t have any trouble choosing a nice design in his price range. For a 2/3 carat diamond on a gold band it was a fraction of the cost of a new ring- probably because of the diamond quality- but honestly it’s sparkly enough for me.

    Mine is a yellow gold band with a platinum mount though, so I’m completely stuck with which metal to go with for a wedding band?

    I might take your advice and just move it over onto my other hand.

  • Gina

    My fiancé and I were lucky enough to find Marlene Harris (http://www.marleneharriscol.com/) who has a collection of antique and vintage jewellery in the Pittsburgh area (but she told us she sells her pieces all over the world!) We almost couldn’t find her shop (it is in an old cement block chicken coop! seriously!) but when we did, we couldn’t be more satisfied. She has an extensive collection and was extremely knowledgeable in helping us choose the perfect vintage ring. Every time I tried on a new ring, she had me go outside and try it on in the sunlight! I thought this was crazy, but it did help us choose. I LOVE the ring we chose and get compliments on it all the time. I would definitely recommend her store to anyone looking for vintage style rings!

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  • TeaforTwo

    When my fiance and I started talking about getting married, he was just finishing up law school, and didn’t have any money. I had told him many times that I didn’t need a ring to be engaged, and that I absolutely didn’t want him to start our life together by going into debt to buy me a ring, but nor did I want to put off the engagement and the wedding just so that he could save up for one. I kept saying that he had the rest of our lives to buy me jewellery, and that if it was that important to him, he could buy me a diamond for our fiftieth wedding anniversary.

    I’ve never been particularly fussed about engagement rings, and so I kept saying that I didn’t want one.

    He surprised me four weeks ago with a 1910 gold ring set with pearls and diamonds (5 small ones, all the same size, pearl-diamond-pearl-diamond-pearl) with beautiful delicate filigree work on the sides.

    YOU GUYS. I have never loved a material object as much as I love this ring. I cannot stop staring at it. I cannot stop gushing about it. It is perfect. Perfect.

    For us, a vintage ring solved a number of problems at once. It is gorgeous, and perfectly my style. It was within the budget of a recent law school graduate who hasn’t started working yet. It is more environmentally sustainable.

    And on top of all that, because he works in corporate law, I’m particularly pleased that its unique design drops us out of the pressure to have a giant honking diamond that seems to have gripped his Bay Street colleagues.

  • Ashley

    What perfect timing! The guy and I are going to be in Chicago this weekend and wanted to start looking for an antique engagement ring. Does anyone have any good stores to recommend? It’s amazing, but google isn’t actually that helpful for this…

    • Catherine McK

      Sorry this is late! We had good success at H. Horwitz. It’s in a funny location in the commercial part of Watertower, so, you walk through Macy’s and head to the elevators:
      http://www.hhorwitz.com/

      The owner is a great jeweler, not a business man or website developer, clearly. He does a really good job talking to you about the history of diamonds and the changes in cuts over time, including drawings. So fun. There were a few hiccups with getting the appraisal and such, but I adore my ring and it was worth a bit of frustration.

  • Rebecca

    This is not at all related to engagement rings, but will there ever be a brontosaurus and baby brontosauruses necklace? Because elephants and ducks are great and all, but dinosaurs are definitely more awesome.

    • http://turtlelove.com Adrianne

      Um, yeah! I’ve actually spent a good part of the weekend working on how to fit them together. Brontosauri rock, especially since they aren’t even real!

  • http://www.idressau.com idressau

    I’ve heard many discussions on new diamonds and people looking for high clarity diamonds

  • JustAnotherBlue

    So I’m way late to the game here, but I just have to add something from personal experience as an antique jewelry lover and antique dealer: PAWN SHOPS.

    Yep. Pawn shops. Are great sources for antique rings. I got mine there, from the late 30s to early 40s, way nicer diamond than we could have afforded otherwise, and appraised by my jeweler for roughly 7 times what we actually paid. It has been my experience that pawn shops are not concerned with the era of the ring, the workmanship, the clarity of the diamond, or anything else but how much they paid out for the gold weight. The one we picked my ring from had several platinum rings from the 10s and 20s that, honestly, I could have bought and resold for three times what they were selling them for. It’s not something everyone is comfortable with, but if you are desperate for a vintage ring and can’t find one you can afford at antique shops or online, I’d strongly suggest at least giving your local pawn shops a try.

  • Sara

    I think this article is full of great advice but the one thing I have a hard time with is the idea that a ring might be a bad choice if it looks expensive, but you work with lower-income populations, or in the service/social justice field. I work at a very left of center non-profit and I’ve gotten a few sideways glances at my ring. It’s, well, big and sparkly. And I love it and I’m proud of it. Working in social justice isn’t about hiding your privilege and it shouldn’t require a vow of poverty to want to help others. I understand that I do and always will come from a privileged background, regardless of the size of my ring, and that’s partially why I got into this work in the first place. What I love about APW is that they realize the danger of judgement from both sides, the pressures of the WIC sometimes giving way to the pressures to be super indie, and encourage us to own our decisions and support each other.

  • Alice

    This is definitely super helpful! I’m feeling less nervous about looking around now.

    Any suggestions for trustworthy jewelers/ dealers in Wilmington, DE or Philadelphia? Or even NYC?

    • Rachel

      As I mentioned in my post below, I highly recommend Leigh Jay Nacht in NYC. He sells vintage rings and replicas, and everything is on his website. I think if you see something you really like, it’s worth the trip to NYC to check it out!

  • http://www.diamond-me.com/ Michelle Gee

    Wow! Amazing article! I have been looking for this. This is a perfect guide for me! I want something extravagant for my fiancé! Something that will make her fall in love with me more and more! And I believe this is it!

  • Rachel

    So happy to see you mention that many vintage rings are stand-alone pieces. I got married 2 months ago and decided not to get a wedding ring. There is so much beautiful detail along the sides of my 1920 antique engagement ring, and if I did have a band it would have to be curved to accommodate the shape of my ring. Since I knew I would never want to wear a curved ring on its own, I decided my engagement ring would be my only ring. I have gotten a lot of comments and looks when I mentioned this, so the fact that Adrianne pointed that out put me more at ease with my decision. Also, if anyone in the New York area is looking for an antique ring dealer, Leigh Jay Nacht was who I got my ring from and I can’t recommend him enough. Located in the diamond district, it was a huge relief to meet someone so accommodating and laid back, unlike the pushy ring dealers you will encounter on your way up the street. It was a really great experience. He also makes his own vintage replicas, and sells everything online at antiqueengagementrings.com.

    • Chelsea Wesp

      Thank you for sharing thier website, they are exactly what I have been searching for!

  • http://www.weddingrings.com/ Luis Ibrahim

    Thanks for sharing the key criterion’s to evaluate the vintage engagement ring designs. One can use the information to pick a vintage ring that will look appealing, while conveying one’s feelings and emotions.

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  • Lian

    So I know this post is old, but I just wanted to share a bit: today my fiance and I went to look at the wax model of what will soon be our engagement ring and I am so excited! We are using the diamonds from his mothers ring (she passed away 8 years ago), and having the ring custom designed. Our jeweler has been amazing, and now she is going to cast it in metal, and early next week I will have the sparklies to wear! Months ago I said I didn’t want a ring, and I meant it, but now that it’s almost here I am SO excited. It is going to be completely my style, and sparkly! Hurrah!

  • Taylor McComb

    For the life of me, I cannot find the kind of ring in your third picture on this post. It is a dream! Is it not in stock with Turtle Love?

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