Throughout history, no piece of jewelry has rivaled the significance of the ring.
Kings and Popes have worn rings as a symbol of their power and authority. Member of fraternities proudly wear a ring signifying their affiliation. And in the 19th Century, couples separated by war exchanged simple gold bands as a symbol of their loyalty to each other. But of all the rings ever worn by man (or woman) there is one that stands above all for its beauty and importance. It is the engagement ring.
While the origin of the engagement ring is credited to Pope Innocent III in 1215, it was not until the late 1700’s that the wearing of the ring on the fourth finger of the left hand was established. This tradition, that we still practice today, was based on the belief that there is a vain in the “ring finger that runs directly to the heart.
Many of the earliest early engagement rings were highly symbolic, incorporating groups of precious stones with special meaning to the couple. One popular style was composed of a cluster of birthstones representing the bride, the groom and each of their parents.
Engagement rings form the Victorian period 1850 to 1900 are often found with terms of endearment spelled out by the first initial of the name of the stone used. One of the common was a combination of a Lapis Lazuli, an Opal, a Vermarine and an Emerald to represent LOVE. Also highly collectible from this era are the rings with secret compartments designed to hold a lock of the betrothed’s hair. Cameos individually mounted or surrounded by diamonds were also used as engagement rings in the later part of the 19th Century.
As we entered the 20th Century, the Art Nouveau styling of the day influenced the appearance of the engagement ring. Most popular were cast or hand-worked designs in the form of leaves or flowers. The central stones in rings from this era were opals, garnets and moonstones.
The first strong appearance of diamonds came in 1920, but not as the predominant stone. Among the affluent, a center mounted ruby or emerald surrounded by diamonds was very popular. For those of lesser means decorated enamel rings with a center stone of colored glass were common.
The art deco movement of the 1930s saw the introduction of designer rings from such well known names as Harry Winston, David Webb and Paul Flat. Square cut center stones, often amethysts, with diamonds on each corner were popular as were rectangular pieces of aquamarine and or citrine mounted on gold or platinum.
In 1947 a clever marketing executive from the De Beer Diamond Company hit upon a phrase that would establish the engagement ring as we know it today. Their “A diamond is Forever” campaign not only convinced the public that the only suitable ring for engagement was a diamond, but it also established the engagement ring as a symbol of the man’s commitment. Later adds encouraged consumers to hold on to their diamond jewelry and cherish it as family heirlooms. This custom has created a wealth of antique and vintage diamonds for today’s collectors.
When buying antique jewelry it is important to understand the terminology. The term ‘vintage’ is generally accepted as a piece more than 20-years-old. ‘Antique’ is used to describe pieces more than 50-years-old and ‘estate’ designates previously owned jewelry that dates back no further than 20 years.
Until next time,
Linda Hamer Kennett is a professional liquidation consultant specializing in down-sizing for seniors and the valuation of estates and may be reached at 317-429-7887 or firstname.lastname@example.org.