Engagement rings don’t always have to be diamonds as sapphires, rubies and emeralds are becoming popular choices. Liz Brown, from antiques emporium Hungerford Arcade, offers this advice on buying vintage
When buying any gemstone you have to consider the four Cs – colour, carat, clarity and cut, and when buying a vintage ring you must add two more Cs – condition and character.
The last is where vintage rings triumph – the same quality of craftsmanship in a modern ring is almost impossible to find and would be outrageously expensive.
Rings of this beauty and quality are simply not made any more – except perhaps for the very rich. The nicest rings often date from the 1950s and earlier.
The traditional solitaire and the three-stone rings are still the most popular, but other designs are growing in popularity, especially among the young. On the whole, the richer the colour of the stone the more valuable, but the look is really very much a matter of personal taste, and the most important factor is how much you like it. Sometimes paler or darker colours can be more appealing.
The carat is the weight or size of the stone, which is the main factor in its price. 1930s and ’40s engagement rings often had a central diamond mounted in a box-shaped setting, making it appear larger than its actual size. This can be useful for those on a budget who want a large stone.
Clarity can vary, marks within the stone are known as inclusions and can detract greatly from the appearance of the ring and therefore its value, although some inclusions can add character to a stone. Some stones such as rubies are rare without some inclusions.
The cut is important to ensure that the maximum amount of light is reflected through the stone for the best possible sparkle, and must be regular and crisp. Always inspect the stone under a magnifying glass or jeweller’s loupe so you can see if it has suffered much damage over the years – sometimes it can be scratched or the corners chipped.
Diamonds are still the most popular stone for engagement rings, either as solitaire, in groups or with other stones. Traditionally, it was believed that the diamond’s powers only work when given freely from one person to another. It was thought to ensure love and harmony and dispel anger, and in the past was thought to protect from poisons.
Emerald is known as the stone of successful love, bringing harmony, action and progress. Sapphires come in every colour except for red (a red sapphire is a ruby.
Sapphires are valued for their strong lustre and are the next hardest stones after diamonds. It is known as the stone of prosperity, which also gives peace of mind and happiness.
Rubies are said to stimulate deep understanding and attainment of the heart’s wishes. They were traditionally carried to protect against lightning and bad dreams.
Pearls represent innocence and purity. In ancient China, it was believed that dragons were the guardians of pearls and that a pearl was a symbol of wisdom. The dragon guarded the pearl in his teeth and therefore, only by slaying him could a man retrieve a pearl. European painters often used pearls as symbols of feminine beauty.
Aquamarine is called the stone of courage and is said to help people to learn quickly and to use knowledge to be be prepared. The Greeks believed that aquamarine would absorb the energy of young love and was considered the best gift for a bridegroom to give his wife after consummating their marriage.
So you are now hopefully armed with a little more knowledge about your intended purchase, and you can step out bravely to look for a vintage ring. Buy the best you can afford – it is for life, after all. But most important of all is that you both love it.