For such a small treasure, buying an engagement ring can feel like a big task. There are many factors to consider when purchasing an item meant to be cherished and possibly passed down for generations. This guide will help you navigate through what you need to know when buying an engagement ring at auction and clarify all of the options that are available to you. It may seem like a daunting task at first but there’s plenty of ways to enjoy the process!
Before we begin, it’s worth noting that if you’re looking to surprise your fiancée with a ring, we recommend finding out their preferences before you begin seriously shopping around. Gem type, cut, style and background all play into picking the perfect ring.
Asking family and friends who know your fiancée can be a helpful resource as well as paying extra close attention to the jewelry your partner wears regularly - after all, you’ll want them to feel comfortable wearing it everyday. You can secretly learn her ring size by taking one to a local jewelry store. Even if it’s slightly off, getting a ring adjusted later is usually a quick fix.
There are so many benefits to getting an engagement ring at auction, among them being variety and cost. Remember that auction houses list rings and gemstones according to their current market value opposed to paying inflated prices straight from a retail store.
This is a very important step. Choosing what kind of gem you’d like to buy will help narrow down your search. If you know your fiancée loves emeralds or if she’s especially attracted to her birthstone, you can begin your search there. Diamonds are an obvious choice as they are the hardest substance known to man - meaning, they never chip or tarnish and can easily withstand daily wear.
Another advantage of hooking up with an auction house is the ability to connect with a specialist. You can speak to an auction specialist by calling the auction house and requesting their jewelry department. Jewelry specialists are highly trained individuals who are well equipped to answer any questions you may have regarding a specific ring in their catalog. However, if you don’t see anything that immediately strikes your interest or if what you see is over your budget, a specialist can help find you the stone or a specific style of ring through their professional sources. This is an added bonus if you’re looking to customize your ring without having a salesperson pressuring you to make a hasty decision.
Online auction catalogs offer hundreds of engagement quality rings - don’t get overwhelmed! If you see something you might want to bid on, contact the auction house to talk it over and if need-be, ask for additional images, video or documentation.
The GIA certificate was developed by the Gemological Institute of America (GIA) in 1953, and acts as the official grading system throughout the world. A GIA certificate is a trusted indication of quality and will determine the color, clarity, cut and carat weight - all important factors when shopping for precious gems.
When browsing online auctions for engagement rings or loose gems, there should always be a GIA certificate accompanying the item. If it’s not listed in the description or available to download, you can email the auction house or call them. Requesting a GIA certificate is perfectly normal and, if they have one available for you to review, you can ask for additional help in understanding what the report is telling you about the ring.
There are many ratings that a gem can have, however, the clarity is something to pay special attention to. Since engagement rings are expected to be worn everyday, you don’t always have to buy top tier - there are clarity ratings that can’t be seen with the naked eye that shine just as bright and cost much less.
Online auctions are a great place to shop if you’re looking for a ring that has a unique history or some stylish flare. If your significant other has nostalgic taste, then something with a little age and background story may be just the ticket. Keep in mind that sometimes older stones will not have a GIA certificate but getting the gem inspected and receiving a report is highly recommended and only takes a few weeks to process. An auction specialist can assist you in fulfilling this request.
Here are the most popular vintage (up to 50 years old) and antique (at least 100 years old) engagement ring styles to consider:
Victorian Era (1835-1900)
In the Victorian era, there was no one standard design for engagement rings. However, the use of yellow or rose gold bands and diamond rows, halos and clusters did seem to be a popular choice.
A Victorian Yellow Gold, Sapphire and Diamond Ring,
containing one cushion shape mixed cut sapphire weighing 10.738 carats and 12 rose cut diamonds weighing approximately 0.50 carat total
Queen Victoria’s favorite color was blue so, of course, rings of this era also employed the use of blue enamel, turquoise and opal. Pearls were also common as were naturalistic motifs such as birds, snakes, bows and hearts. Of course, you can always go with Victorian style instead if you’d like a new ring that only looks antique!
Edwardian Era (1900-1920)
There does seem to be a common thread for antique rings - opulence. Compared to more contemporary designs, lovers from the past didn’t shy away from expressing just how important of a ring it was that they were presenting. Engagement rings from the Edwardian Era are especially romantic as they use lacy, intricate metalwork called filigree in designs featuring scrolling, ribbons, and vines.
Edwardian Diamond & Platinum Engagement Ring, The oval faceted diamond, approx. 2.15 cts. by formula, horizontally set in single cut diamond open form platinum ribbon mount. Ca. 1915. Size 6 3/4. 2.7 dwt.
It’s worth noting that different times also called for different cuts. Most antique cut diamonds are simply not available in today’s market due to design preferences and technology. For instance, the old mine cuts, old European cuts, and rose cuts that were used in this period would be hard to find in a current retail environment.
Art Deco-Era (1920-1940)
Say so-long to romantic vines and curling lace, Art Deco was all about geometric patterns and bold repeating motifs, angles and little decorative beads called migrain. These rings are a bit chunky and commanding but hey! An Art Deco ring is meant to be rocked from all angles.
Art Deco platinum ring, with center old mine cut diamond - approx. 1.80-1.85ct, approx. SI1/LK. Surrounded with small setting diamonds and sapphires
You’ll also find many options in the Art Deco era that include different colored gemstones such as rubies, sapphires, and emeralds. However, during the Great Depression, many buyers couldn’t afford precious materials so they opted for more affordable alternatives such as amethyst, citrine, garnet, and glass - another reason that GIA certificates are essential when shopping vintage and antique!
You’ll begin to recognize the styles of today when approaching the post World War II era of engagement rings. Largely due to a highly successful De Beers diamond marketing campaign, which began in the 1940s, engagement rings began focusing on the diamond - front and center. Prior to this, rings were dynamic, detailed and didn’t just focus on a single diamond as they do now.
Vintage Tiffany & Co. Diamond Engagement Ring, Platinum and 14K yellow gold solitaire engagement ring by Tiffany & Co featuring a round brilliant cut diamond weighing approx. 0.85ct
The “Retro Era” featured simpler designs. Solitaire rings and baguette side stones were popularized and the typical size of the center stone grew larger once the Depression ended.
Since the non-military use of platinum was banned during World War II, yellow and rose gold became the metals of choice for engagement rings in the United States during this period. Many rings from this era were two-toned, with both yellow gold and white gold in the design.
A single diamond on a simple yellow-gold band would have been typical of this era and has remained a popular choice for its classic style through today. There’s nothing wrong with going classic! A traditional, simple design is an excellent choice and can also be found for less than retail in online auctions.
Resizing antique and vintage rings can get tricky if the band has an excessive amount of gemstones around the sizes or shoulders of the design. Unfortunately, even the most talented jewelry makers will have to turn away a complicated adjustment. So, be sure that the ring is as close as it can be to the correct size and feel free to ask an auction specialist about resizing options before placing your bids.
5. High Quality Makers
Buying an engagement ring at auction also opens doors to quality control. If you familiarize yourself with respectable makers, you are guaranteed to buy a quality ring. Signed engagement rings from established jewelry houses such as Cartier, Tiffany & Co., Harry Winston and Van Cleef & Arpels, among others, can often be purchased at auction and give an assurance of high quality stones and the fine craftsmanship.
Most auction houses offer preview dates ahead of the live auction day where the public can view upcoming items in person. During a jewelry auction preview, specialists are present to showcase the pieces and educate potential buyers on the jewelry of their interest.
If you're unable to preview the ring in person, auction houses have grown accustomed to arranging video calls with clients to discuss the piece.
Finding in engagementing ring at auction is a great way to begin your search no matter if you're looking to spend no more than $1,200 or no less than $100,000 - there are beautiful options to be explored!
If you're wondering what the most popular choice for an engagement ring is at this moment, a round, brilliant-cut diamond takes the cake. The sparkle of the cut and its robust strength is certain to last a lifetime.
Begin your search for engagement rings by browsing all of Bidsquare's upcoming Fine Jewelry auctions and remember to save the keywords: Diamond Ring, and Engagement Ring in the 'My Alerts' section of your Bidsquare profile to recieve automatic email alerts when new pieces are added to the platform.
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Jessica Helen Weinberg | Senior Content Editor at Bidsquare
*Article References: Engagement Rings: The Questions Every Buyer Should Concider, Christies.com / Vintage Engagement Rings: Guide to Four Eras, gemsociety.org