How to Choose the Right Era Ring
Vintage and estate jewelry is becoming more and more popular everyday. There are so many incredible reasons to love older pieces, but sometimes the vastness of choice and vocabulary can get overwhelming. Understanding the more functional aspects of these pieces is one thing - a jeweler you trust can give you those details, but truly finding an era that matches your style, your values and your vision for life is quite another.
Knowing the ethos of an era is critical to understanding what you are drawn to and why.
The jewelry of different eras is based on cultural, social, and technological factors. As you will notice reading through, each era takes from the previous era, keeping what still works and leaving behind what doesn’t. No era sits in a vacuum - instead, like all else important in this life, they evolve to survive and thrive in their times.
If you are interested at all in estate jewelry, we recommend knowing a bit about the most common eras for a few reasons.
- You never know when you’ll stumble upon something you love, and we want you to be able to lead with your heart, but act with your brain and know if something feels too good to be true.
- When someone asks you about the type of jewelry you like, the more specific the better. There is a difference between saying “I love round diamonds and platinum” and saying “I love the beauty of an Old Mine Cut diamond sitting in a Victorian filigree setting.” See? You may have to do a little more work, but you’re going to get something that you’ll actually want to wear.
- There’s something beautiful about understanding how history influences your own style, taking a look to see what cultural moments of the era still feel relevant today and see how they compare to your life today.
With this blog, we want to help you narrow down what you like, and we want to empower you to talk about why or why not. When choosing the era that suits your style the best, one thing is important to remember - there’s no contract here - you can wear any piece from any era that suits your style best. This is just a nice way to have a tool to describe what you like and don’t like to someone who might want to buy you a beautiful gift or put a ring on it!
Define your style.
The first thing we would recommend is thinking about three words that describe your style. Are you bold, colorful and abstract? Or more timeless, demure and sophisticated? Maybe you are sophisticated, colorful and timeless. There is no wrong answer here - this is just an exercise to help guide you through.
Do you take inspiration from any particular celebrity or character? Look them up - see if you can find any information about who and what their style inspirations are.
You may also want to think about your style in terms of casual vs. formal - are you more of a jeans and tshirt person or are you wearing a suit to work everyday? It’s important to think about how a forever piece will fit into your day to day wardrobe.
If you are more of a formal person, you may prefer an Edwardian piece, with its elegant opulence. If you are more of a free spirit, the ingenuity of the Retro era may suit you best. But this is an art, not a science - and only you hold the brush.
Compare your style to the most common eras below. If after you’ve gone through this blog, you are still having a hard time articulating what it is about the pieces, or about an era itself, that you like or don’t like, please feel free to reach out to us at email@example.com and we’ll be happy to chat through it with you and find you the perfect piece!
Victorian (1837 - 1901)
Victorian Jewelry was produced during the reign of Queen Victoria, a ruler who had a remarkable impact not only on the British Empire, but the world. The Victorian Era was a time of vast political reform and social change, the Industrial Revolution, authors Charles Dickens and Charles Darwin, a railway and shipping boom, profound scientific discovery and the first telephone and telegraph. It was indeed the turn of the century and saw the British Empire become the first global industrial power.
Thanks to this industrialization, the Victorian era saw a new way of manufacturing jewelry - with mass production and the use of new materials such as glass and synthetic gems becoming more and more popular, and thus more accessible.
From a style perspective, romanticism and sentimentality reigned, with the jewelry of the era often inspired by romantic themes like love knots, hearts and flowers. The Victorian era also saw the explosion of actual sentimental jewelry - jewelry that has personal touches or flourishes to give it specific meaning to the wearer. Lockets with photographs of loved ones, sentimental notes or even locks of hair were very popular.
Sentimentality wasn’t always a good thing though, and because of the high mortality rates of the time, mourning jewelry became popular as a way to commemorate the loss of loved ones. This type of jewelry was often made of jet or black enamel and sometimes included hair from the deceased person.
Aesthetically, the use of gemstones and mixed metals thrived during this period - together they created a rich and intricate look in a single piece of jewelry. Influenced by both the Etruscan era and Art Nouveau, intricacy was a hallmark of this era. The granulation techniques and intricate metalwork we think of as part of the Victorian era are Etruscan inspired, and the flowing lines and naturalistic motifs, thanks to the inspiration of Art Nouveau.
The Edwardian age is the last era in British history named for the monarch reigning over it, and is known as the Gilded Age in America. King Edward was the son of Queen Victoria and inherited the crown upon her death in 1901. Because his mother had such a long reign and he was largely left out of political decision making until he inherited the crown, he became known as a polished man who enjoyed a life of the fashionable, leisured elite. This can be seen in the style of his time, as his reign continued a lot of the stylistic changes of the Queens era, and added a bit of polish and intrigue.
Societally, the Edwardian era saw a lot of change - the growth of the middle class, the rise of new forms of entertainment like cinema and the increasing influence of women.
The jewelry of the Edwardian era was elegant - focused on a delicate and refined aesthetic, and a focus on simplicity and elegance. Diamonds became increasingly more popular during the Edwardian era for a multitude of reasons. Because the Edwardian era was characterized by this focus on refinement and elegance, wealth and status were powerful tools. Diamonds were seen as a symbol of both of these things. Due to the technological advances made in the cutting and polishing techniques of diamonds during the Edwardian era, diamonds began to have more brilliance and fire as compared to the hand cut diamonds cut by candle light that came before them. Additionally, as the upper middle class grew, so did the supply of diamonds. Mines were discovered in South America and Africa in the early 20th century making them more accessible to not just the ultra wealthy, but those climbing as well.
In addition to diamonds, platinum was the most popular metal for jewelry during the Edwardian era - it was also seen as a symbol of wealth and luxury. You will often see platinum filigree from this era - a delicate metalwork and the most popular decorative element in jewelry of this time.
Continuing the theme of wealth, optimism and potential excess, this era was largely inspired by the Belle Epoque, a cultural movement from the 1800s characterized by optimism and joie de vivre - Art Nouveau is probably the most recognizable artistic movement to come out of this time and you can see it’s influence in the naturalistic motifs and curvature of the jewelry of the Edwardian era.
Art Deco 1920s and 1930s
Art Deco was a style that reflected the optimism, glamour, and technological advances of the era. Art Deco jewelry is characterized by several distinct features that distinguish it from other jewelry styles of the same period. Art Deco jewelry is often immediately recognizable because of its streamlined design: Art Deco jewelry is typically designed with a sleek, streamlined look, characterized by smooth curves and simple shapes.
The bold use of geometric shapes and colors are two of the most significant features of the movement, the jewelry often featuring linear shapes like triangles, rectangles, zizags and chevrons where historically rounder, softer shapes had reigned. Additionally, bold colored gemstones were used to create bright contrast in a single piece. You can find a lot of beautiful engagement rings from the era featuring a large diamond and a border of rubies, emeralds or sapphires, or even materials like lacquer or enamel, which created not just contrast in color, but in texture as well.
Art Deco took inspiration from a wide variety of sources - using symbols, motifs and materials more traditionally used in Egyptian, Aztec and African work. This is one of the first expressions of cultural diversity and a more global influence.
Mid Century (1950s-1960s)
The design period known as Mid Century Century ranged from about 1950-1965. The years following World War II were a welcome return to prosperity and led to a demand for luxurious jewelry to match the increasingly feminine styles of the time. The geometric styles of the Art Deco era changed into more naturalistic curves, inspired by organic objects like pearls, animals, flowers, branches and vines. More accessible mass media gave way to the desire for signed jewelry from brands Tiffany & Co., Cartier and Van Cleef & Arpels. This is the era of “Breakfast at Tiffany’s” after all!
This is the same time that DeBeers launched their famous “A Diamond is Forever” campaign, leading to the trend of larger, more expensive diamond engagement rings.
The engagement rings of this era were reflective of the aesthetic of the era itself. Focused on minimalist design full of clean lines and geometric shapes, often with a bit of asymmetry or elements arranged in unusual ways. There were also a lot of of elements of modernist art integrated into these designs - both simplistic and abstract ways to articulate the iconography of the day like rockets and atomic symbols. Overall, Mid-Century jewelry is known for its playful, innovative, and forward-thinking designs, which often reflect the optimism and cultural changes of the era.
In the years before WWII, Art Deco transformed in the Retro era (this name was coined in the 1970s). The Retro era is a beautiful mixture of the organic designs of Art Nouveau, the florals of the Victorian era and the bright geometry of Art Deco - becoming a modern take on the past contextualized by the turbulent world around it.
At this time in history, platinum and sterling silver were only available for military purposes, which is why most Retro era jewelry is yellow, rose or green gold. Additionally, precious stones became harder to find because gem mines were closing and there were new international sanctions. Many jewelers began to utilize synthetic, or lab-made gemstones instead of naturally occurring ones. Clusters of small diamonds and sparse settings of jewels like rubies and light-colored sapphires were especially popular over the use of fewer, larger gems.
The aesthetic of the era was bold and playful - featuring bright colors and whimsical designs like animals and abstractions. Additionally, we saw new bold materials being introduced like Bakelite, lucite and rhinestones which were more affordable and readily available than their precious counterparts. The aesthetic combined with the confines of the day created an era full of dramatic statement pieces evocative of the Hollywood stars of the time.
The 1980s wasn’t called the Decade of Decadence for no reason. It was a time of “more is more” and “greed is good.” The jewelry of the era certainly captures the opulence of the decade. It’s bold, exaggerated and colorful and often chunky and oversized. Additionally, the 1980s saw the rise of new materials and influences in jewelry such as costume jewelry made from plastic and resin and pieces that referenced what was happening in pop culture, both nuanced and overt.
It’s no surprise that the 1980s was an era of dramatic statement pieces that served as unique expressions of individuality as much as they did reflections of the overarching time. Overall, 1980s jewelry is known for its bold, playful, and eclectic designs, which reflect the vibrant and eclectic spirit of the decade.
So as you can see, it’s important to have a little bit of knowledge on your side when beginning the ring buying process. It can help you determine what you like - your “must haves” - and what you don’t like - your “no ways.” We are always more than happy to help you figure this out, so when you’re ready to start looking give us a call!
Here at Jack Weir & Sons we’ve spent the last 40 years traveling to Europe and all over the world, curating extraordinary estate jewels. JWS is where the old world meets the new world. Celebrate life, preserve history, discover your own priceless heirloom jewel. We are extremely grateful for our clients and the ability to help people to celebrate their special moments through one of a kind jewelry. To share that gratitude and our strong family values, we chose to partner with Baby2Baby. So far, from November 2021-October 2022 we've donated $39,018. A portion of every sale goes towards children living in poverty to provide them with diapers, clothing, and all the basic necessities that every child deserves.
We offer in-person and Virtual Appointments and are happy to answer any questions about your favorite jewel.
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