When shopping for engagement rings or jewelry, shoppers often say they want a “vintage” or “antique” style, but what does that broad term mean? If you truly want a vintage ring, you will need to know what characteristics to look for to narrow your focus. Whether it’s estate, pre-owned, or even current designers, you will want to know what time period your jewelry embodies. Below you will find our guide to four popular eras and their distinctive jewelry styles.
Victorian Era (c. 1837-1901)
The Victorian Era, named for Queen Victoria of England, roughly covers more than six decades. During this period, jewelry became more broadly accessible as the rise of the middle class began in Europe and the United States. Victorian Era jewelry style mirrors the phases of Queen Victoria’s life. The era starts with her deep love for Prince Albert, as reflected in the jewelry that often displayed hearts, bows, flowers, and birds as common motifs. Upon Albert’s death in 1861, Victoria entered a long period of mourning, where the jewelry style became darker and melancholy. Jewelry with black onyx and enamel became popular. As Victoria came out of mourning, the jewelry styles became characterized by whimsical designs, such as stars, crescent moons, and griffins. Gold became the pre-eminent metal during the era. Diamonds became more abundant due to their discovery in South Africa in 1867.
Art Nouveau (c.1890-1910)
Overlapping both the Victorian and Edwardian periods, the Art Nouveau period is relatively brief even though it made a lasting impression in the jewelry world. Art Nouveau was actually an artistic movement with one of its key points being that art should be a part of daily life, thus jewelers of the era were remarkable craftsman. The style of the period is romantic, soft, and mystical. Victorian and Edwardian jewelers often borrowed ideas from ancient and classical art and architecture where as Art Nouveau jewelers looked to the natural world for inspiration. Orchids, irises, lilies, ferns, snakes, dragonflies, and butterflies were all prevalent features in jewelry of the era. Breaking from tradition, Art Nouveau jewelers placed more emphasis on settings. This allowed jewelers to experiment with enameling techniques, as well as different gemstones and materials.
Named for King Edward, the designs of jewelry during this era were elegant, graceful, and light. Arguably the most well-known feature is the filigree, which was used extensively during the period. Jewelers of the era gave their pieces a lacy look by applying threads of gold, platinum, and other precious metals to surface their settings. Jewelry was designed to convey femininity and decoration. Scrolls, tassels, bows, garlands of flowers, and laurel wreaths were all prevalent features that illustrated the refined elegance of the era. Diamonds, pearls, and platinum were key components in Edwardian jewelry.
Art Deco (c. 1920-1935)
Think flappers, speakeasies, and the Roaring ‘20s. During this time of Prohibition, jazz blossomed and spirits ran high. This heightened the urge to cast aside the restraints of the Victorian Era. Art Deco design is stylish and fun. Jewelry became a way for women to express their individuality. Styles became bolder, sharper, and more masculine. Brighter colors and straighter lines prevailed over the filigree patterns of Edwardian jewelry or the soft pastels of the Art Nouveau era. Signature characteristics of Art Deco jewelry include the use of bold designs and geometric forms — think of the Empire State Building and Cubist paintings of Picasso that came about during this time. Jewelers began to use white gold, which was more affordable than either platinum or yellow gold.