Antique and Vintage Designs

The beauty of vintage and antique rings.

The beauty of vintage and antique jewelry is born out of the work of the finest craftsmen using gold, silver and more recently platinum and titanium to create unique settings for diamonds and a wide range of other precious and semi-precious stones. Whether it’s a romantic Victorian ring with pretty scrolls and colored gems or a stunning platinum and diamond piece from the Edwardian times, an original antique tells a story of its own – its individual beauty speaks for itself.

Adapting old designs.

However, no matter how much you search for an original antique, you still may not find the ring that feels just right. No problem! Jewellers are now adapting designs from the past and creating beautiful pieces using more modern production techniques. You can have the best of both worlds … a vintage or antique style ring at a fraction of the cost of an original antique.

A Review of the Design Periods

Rings have been associated with love and marriage since the earliest times. Examples of antique rings and other jewelry have been found amongst the artifacts recovered from archaeological sites around the world. However, it is over the past 300 years that rings – and engagement rings in particular – have become the showcase of the jeweller’s art.

As one would expect, there are considerable differences in the designs that were prevalent during the different periods.

Georgian jewelry: 1716-1837

Although rarely found in a good and wearable condition these days, Georgian jewelry has a distinct character and lightness of touch that distinguishes it from that produced during other periods in history.  Even so, while it is relatively easy to recognise the jewelry produced towards the end of this 120 year span, there were a number of themes that evolved that have re-occurred in subsequent periods.

The Georgian period incorporates both Baroque and Rococo styles and much of it comprises unique, intricate pieces that use beautiful designs, heavily influenced by nature. Bespoke pieces were handcrafted by artisans: form example, gold had to be beaten by hand and lovingly shaped into the required design – leaves, insects, birds and (later) feathers and sprays of foliage.

Over the period, a number of fashions developed, which continued into later Victorian jewelry.  Cameos were frequently worn by those rich enough to afford them; Momento Mori jewelry incorporated a lock of hair of one’s loved one into the piece (a ring or brooch); yellow gold and silver were complemented by gemstones such as garnet, amethyst, emerald – often used in clusters.

The pervading essence of Georgian rings – and Georgian jewelry, in general – is a delicacy and lightness that is utterly remarkable given the materials and tools available at the time.

Victorian jewelry: 1837-1901

Victorian jewelry does not reflect a single coherent design theme but is simply a historical period, during which a number of different art and design trends emerged, often overlapping and influencing each other.  Most of these were influenced by the changing economic and social environment and by external influences, which resulted from the expansion of the British Empire around the globe.

Early Victorian designs continued the romantic view of the natural world started during the Georgian period, typified by designs in yellow gold with pearls and semi precious stones.  Old mine-cut diamonds are presented in simple yellow gold settings or used to surround other gemstones. Scrolling, swirls and curved lines are typical of this Romanticism.

One of the more interesting design themes was The Snake (or Serpent) Ring, symbolizing everlasting love. This style became popular when Prince Albert presented his wife to be, Queen Victoria, with a Snake/Serpent engagement ring.

As the influence of the Romantic period spread, ring settings became more intricate with hearts, flowers and bows incorporated into designs.

During the latter part of the 19th Century, external influences started to play an important part in Victorian art and design – largely as a direct result of contact with foreign cultures, most notably China, Japan and the Indian sub-continent. Expansion of Britain’s sphere of influence around the world meant an increase in foreign travel. There was a growing interest in expeditions and exploration – not only outwards, into foreign countries but also into the past. Interest in archaeology stirred up interest in the civilisations of the eastern Mediterranean – the Etruscans, Greeks and Egyptians.

The industrialisation of Britain during Victoria’s reign gave rise to a new phenomenon – an affluent middle class – able to afford some of the finer things in life. Whereas in earlier times, only the very wealthy could afford to adorn themselves with jewelry incorporating precious and semi-precious stones, by the end of the Century jewelry was being mass produced for a new kind of customer.

The death of Queen Victoria’s consort, Prince Albert, in 1861, had a profound influence on Victorian society and this led to a more sombre tone in the jewelry being produced in the last third of the Century. Rings used darker gemstones like onyx, jet, garnets and blood red pyrope used.

Edwardian jewelry: 1901-1910

Edwardian society reflected wealth, refinement and elegance.

This was a period when diamonds dominated the design field. The discovery of diamond mines in South Africa meant that, for the first time, the new middle class could consider buying jewelry that previously had been simply out of reach of all but a very few.

Edwardian jewelry was feminine, intricately designed and light – made possible by the use of new metals such as platinum and improved manufacturing techniques.

Engagement rings and wedding rings produced during this period are some of the finest ever produced. Jewellers were able to use these new materials to create intricate and very feminine filigree patterns that made the rings look like lace. Fine millegrain work was used to create settings with exquisite edging, housing diamonds surrounded by tiny diamond accents.

As a result, the Edwardian period has become renown for its exquisite workmanship and jewelry of this era is highly prized..

La Belle Epoque

Similar trends in design were occurring across the whole of Europe – particularly  in France, where the third French Republic was well established and the German Empire was going from strength to strength. As a result, this period became known as La Belle Epoque.

Art Nouveau: 1890/95 to 1910/15

Art Nouveau emerged towards the end of Queen Victoria’s reign and continued through to the end of the Edwardian period.  It was based on a return to craftsmanship and design rather than focusing on the materials being used and is characterized by organic, floral and other plant-inspired motifs.

Semi precious stones were used in abundance: opals, topaz, peridot, amethyst and aquamarine – typical of the stones generally used during the Victorian period. These were used to capture the essence of nature: plants such as pansies and poppies; wildlife such as peacocks; insects: such as dragonflies, butterflies and bees. There was also an interest in mythical creatures: dragons, chimeras, serpents and griffons.

The Arts and Crafts Movement

The Arts and Crafts Movement was an international design movement that originated in England and flourished from the mid to late 1980s through to the start of the first World War. Although originating in England, the Movement spread through Europe and North America and, although its heyday had gone by 1914, its influence on design can still be seen through to the late 1920s and even into the 1930s.

Initiated by the artist William Morris (1834–1896) and inspired by the writings of John Ruskin (1819–1900), the Movement aimed to promote a return to hand-craftsmanship and to assert the creative independence of individual craftspeople.

Art Deco: 1920-1935

The excitement of the Roaring Twenties, the period when Art Deco was at its peak, brought color back into jewelry – a welcome change after the sombre tones of the late Victorian period and the Edwardian trend for white jewelry  based on the use of platinum and white diamonds.

Art deco designs were much more sensational, making use of light colored gemstones, drammatically mixed with black onyx and vivid green emeralds, blue sapphires, rubies and coral combined with diamonds for maximum effect.

The Art Deco movement was originally known as “Style Moderne” and was only called Art Deco when the English art historian, Bevis Hillier defined the name for his book in 1968.

Whilst the Art Deco period is considered to have commenced during the 1920s, it had in effect been evolving in Europe – and particularly in France – from the late 1900s. The movement is therefore the culmination of a number of trends that had been developing since the turn of the Century and the result of a number of designers breaking away from the romantic designs of the Victorian era and beginning to create more modern styles.  However, it was not until the Paris Exposition des Arts Decoratifs et Industrials Moderne in 1925 that the impact of this new “Style Moderne” was fully felt – with its trend towards strong symmetry and geometrically styled designs.

Influences from Abstract and Cubist artists of the day can be seen in this new style.

It was a style that was adopted in all aspects of design:  the design of cars, trains, planes, buildings, fashion clothing and jewelry were all influenced by the trend for streamlined shapes, bold lines, stepped edges and combinations of contrasting colors and tones.

The influence of the Jazz Age also played its part and brought with it a buzz of excitement, decadence and fun.

Retro Period 1935-1960

Influences such as Hollywood and new technologies can be seen in design during this period.  From the late 1930s through to the late 1940s, jewelry became bigger and bolder with the introduction of cheaper materials due to the economic austerity of the time.  Rose gold (gold mixed with copper) was used to reduce the cost along with other “industrial” materials such as Bakelite.  Costume jewelry (through the influence of Coco Chanel) also made its mark with large chunky designs and pearls emerging as designs for the period.

Hollywood was another design influence with Film Stars setting the trend in fashion and design and jewellers such as Tiffany and Harry Winston creating stunning diamond “Hollywood” style designs for the wider market.

Whilst the post-war period was dominated by a level of austerity, the 1950s brought with it an optimistic outlook and increasing wealth.  Textured gold in designs of knots and clusters and a return to Platinum and diamonds were typical for this period.

The 1960s, with its trend towards greater informality, led to an explosion of different styles and themes.  Influences were worldwide – from the iconic movie Breakfast at Tiffany’s with its stunning diamond jewelry, to ethnic influences with turquoise stones.  The emerging Flower Power era influenced designs with flowers, leaves, butterflies and birds, whilst materials such as enamel continued to be used with diamonds and gold.

Jewelry during this period was worn in abundance with rings, bracelets, necklaces and earrings all being displayed at the same time.   Colors were bright and jewelry was bold.