No article of fine jewelry carries as much cultural weight as the ring. For couples, the exchange of wedding bands signifies that a knot has been tied. For authors, rings can also bind fictional wearers, except when they destroy them, as in J.R.R. Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings. In these circumstances, one does not accept a ring, along with the responsibility it represents, lightly.

Not surprisingly, some of the most interesting antique and vintage rings are engagement rings and rings that are tokens of love. In the Victorian era, from 1837 to 1901, rings with the word "Mizpah" on them were worn by couples and lovers separated by war or travel. Usually these rings were simple bands of silver or gold, with "Mizpah" standing boldly in relief on the outside of the ring.

For engagement rings, diamonds or amethysts set in platinum or gold were common. Diamonds were often paired with pearls, rubies, emeralds, or sapphires. Sometimes a collection of stones was used, such as in the acrostic rings, in which the first letter in the name of each stone spelled out the word "dearest," (i.e., diamond, emerald, amethyst, ruby, emerald, sapphire, and topaz). Other rings from the period had secret, hinged compartments behind the stones.

During the same period, mourning and hair rings were quite fashionable, both holdovers from the Georgian period at the beginning of the 19th century. Some mourning rings consisted of the name of the deceased and date of their death in either gold or enamel. Others used hair from the deceased that had been woven into tight braids or coils and incorporated into a ring, usually under glass. In fact, hair jewelry and hair crafting was so popular in Victorian times that hair rings without the mourning connotation were also sold.

Cameo and intaglio rings were another Victorian favorite. Carved out of shell, coral, or stone, cameos and intaglios were often surrounded with small diamonds. Just as frequently they stood alone, either framed in gold or set into a mount, whose visible prongs would hold the piece at the top, bottom, and sides.

During the Art Nouveau and Arts and Crafts periods, platinum and precious stones fell out of favor. Instead, rings of gold set with amber, opals, garnets, moonstones, and pearls were embraced. In some pieces, copper, ivory, and tortoise shell was used to decorative effect. As for the rings themselves, they were often cast or hand-worked in naturalistic designs, incorporating leaves and other floral motifs.

Such rings must have appeared rather indulgent to the conservative, Edwardian sensibilities at the beginning of the 20th century. Filigree engagement rings of white gold, set wit...

The 1920s were a vibrant time for jewelry, as firms such as Cartier and Van Cleef & Arpels became household names. Diamonds now dominated their ring settings, which were hidden beneath brilliant mountains of stones. Cut blue stones were often used as colorful accents between all that shimmering bling. In other rings, small diamonds would sometimes surround a large, faceted sapphire, all of which would be mounted on platinum. Then there were the lovely, decorative enamel rings, whose center stones were sometimes made of ordinary colored glass.

By the 1930s, Art Deco was having an enormous impact on jewelry. Designers such as Harry Winston and David Webb designed pieces for Wallis Simpson, the Duchess of Windsor. In Los Angeles, Paul Flato made pieces for Hollywood royalty. Examples of rings of this period include square-cut amethysts set in gold with diamonds at each corner, or large rectangular pieces of aquamarine or citrine mounted on gold or platinum.

After World War II, the Mid-century Modern aesthetic kicked in, as ring designers riffed on everything from the look of African masks to the Arts and Crafts movement from a half-century before. Some rings were like mini-sculptures or even abstract paintings, with swooping bands of silver caressing plaques bearing designs of polished wire and enamel.

Other types of vintage rings that have become favorites of collectors are those with coral, turquoise, lapis lazuli, or malachite stones made by the Hopi and other tribes of the American Southwest. For silver rings, look for the sterling pieces from Mexico stamped Taxco. Danish design firms such as Georg Jensen and Uwe Moltke brought a decidedly modernist sensibility to their rings, as did Norway’s J. Tostrup and Finland’s Lapponia.

About our sources | Got something to add?

▼ Expand to read the full article ▼

Best of the Web (“Hall of Fame”)

All About Jewels Dictionary

All About Jewels Dictionary

This incredible reference dictionary on jewelry, from Enchantedlearning.com, is both beautiful and comprehensive. S… [read review or visit site]

Morning Glory Antiques and Jewelry

Morning Glory Antiques and Jewelry

Jewelry collectors, feast your eyes on this internet gem! It's a goldmine of jewelry information featuring all styl… [read review or visit site]

Cathy Gordon's Jewelry Gallery

Cathy Gordon's Jewelry Gallery

With its vast galleries featuring clear images of jewelry and style, this site really covers it all! Divided up by … [read review or visit site]

Jewel History

Jewel History

Since March of 2007, readers of Lori Ettlinger Gross’s JewelHistory blog have been treated to her weekly (sometim… [read review or visit site]



Clubs & Associations

Other Great Reference Sites

Most watched eBay auctions    

Diamond 2.87ct Sapphire Platinum Engagement Ring 9.4 Grams NrEstate Fancy Yellow Diamond 4.53ct Emerald Platinum Ring 6.5 Grams NrEstate Egl 5.09ct Diamond Platinum Flower Engagement Ring $63,620.00 NrGia Diamond 3.66ct Fine Green Emerald Platinum Ring NrVintage 1950s Heavy Platinum 12.0ct Vs Diamond Cluster Cocktail Ring W/.65ct CtrStunning Victorian Diamond Encrusted And Ruby Fox Head Gold Ring18k Solid W. Gold Exquisite Designer 1.24ct Tw 9 Diamond Ring Sz 6.25 Top Vs-1Stunning Art Deco 2 Carat Emerald & 1.48 Carat Diamond 14ct White Gold RingVintage Antique Certified 1.13ct Diamond 18k White Gold Art Deco Engagement RingStunning Victorian 1.05 Carat Diamond 5 Stone 18ct Gold RingUnsigned Cartier 18k Gold Ultra Fine Diamond Red Coral Inlay Statement Ring Sz 6Stunning Art Deco Design 1 Carat Three Stone Diamond 18k Gold RingVintage Kabana Sterling Silver Working Fishing Reel Figural Designer RingGia 11.83 Ct Natural Flawless Blue Zircon & Diamond 18k White Gold Cocktail RingStunning Art Deco 1 Carat Diamond 18ct Gold And Platinum 3 Stone Ring14k Solid Gold Top Quality Vintage Natural Emerald & Diamond Ring Sz 6.75 Best!Tiffany & Co Important Rare Aaa No Heat Ruby Diamond Platinum Engagement RingFine Victorian Seed Pearl And Ruby Gold Star And Moon RingStunning 3/4 Carat Five Stone Diamond 18k Gold Art Deco Ring14k Solid Gold Exquisite Designer 1.05ct Tw 23 Diamond Ring Sz 7.75 Top Vs-1Antique Gia Certified 14k Gold 12.10ctw Diamond/star Sapphire Cocktail RingEstate 3.50ct Diamond 14k Gold Cluster Band Ring 9.2 Grams NrStunning 4ct Emerald & Diamond Art Deco Design Platinum Ring,with CertificateEstate 10.50 Ct Natural Australian Opal And Diamond 14k White Gold Cocktail Ring18k Solid Gold Exquisite Antique Art Deco 1ct Tw 25 Diamond Ring Sz 4.75 *vs-1*Estate 4.88ct Diamond 18k Gold Cocktail Statement Ring 24.3 Grams NrAntique Deco 1.80ct Diamond Sapphire 18k White Gold Floral Long Dinner Ring Nr14k Solid W. Gold Exquisite Antique Art Deco .80ct Tw 8 Diamond Ring Sz 5.25Stunning Art Deco Design 51 Point Diamond Platinum Ring14k Solid W. Gold Exquisite Antique Art Deco .90ct Tw 9 Diamond Ring Sz 6 Best!Cartier 0.18ct Diamond 18k Three Color Gold Band Ring NrExceptional 60 Point Diamond Solitaire 18k Gold RingVintage 14kt Yellow Gold Jewelry Ring W. Large Blue Opal Sz 7 1/2"Fine Art Deco 18k Gold & Platinum 1/2 Carat Three Stone Diamond Ring18k Solid Gold Mens Top Quality Vintage 1ct Tw 47 Diamond Ring Sz 8 Spectacular** High Quality Antique Platinum Diamond Ring Center 45 Pts, F-g Vs-1 3/4ct F-g 14k Solid Gold Top Quality Antique Ruby & Diamond Ring Sz 6 AwesomeFine Diamond 3.50ct French Cut Green Emerald Platinum Ring 6.1 Grams NrVictorian Suffragette 15ct Gold Crystal , Garnet & Emerald Ring Birmingham 186914k Solid W. Gold Exquisite Designer .88ct Tw 16 Diamond Ring Sz 7 Super Bling!Gorgeous 18k Rose Gold 'effy Bh' Flower Petal Ring With 1.00 Ctw Diamonds! #h25Estate 4.09 Ct Vvs Natural Green Tourmaline Diamond 14k Yellow Gold Vintage Ring** High Quality 14k Yellow Gold Platinum European Cut Diamond Ring 1.25ctStunning Georgian 15k Amethyst & Seed Pearl Cluster RingSuperb Vintage 18ct White Gold Diamond Half Eternity Ring Uk P-q London 1987Ruby Diamond Ring 14k White Gold Art Deco Antique Estate Vintage Fine Jewelry Fine Vintage 1/4 Carat Diamond 18ct Gold Solitaire Ring1800s Victorian 10k Yellow Gold Natural Green Peridot And Rose Cut Diamond Ring Stunning Georgian Garnet & Seed Pearl 15k Gold Cluster RingEstate 22k Gold Wide Textured Band Ring 7.7 Grams Nr14k Solid White Gold Exquisite Antique Art Deco .30ct Tw 3 Diamond Ring Sz 6Art Deco Ruby & Diamond 9ct Gold Ladies Cluster Ring F0462Stunning Art Deco Design 1 Carat Diamond 18ct White Gold Cluster RingAuthentic Cathy Waterman Platinum Diamond BandFine Art Deco Design 4 Carat Green Amethyst And Diamond Gold RingCartier Designer Signed Vintage Neophyte Jade Solid 18k Gold Band RingModern Diamond 13mm South Sea Pearl Platinum Ring 7.3 Grams NrVintage 1.00ct Diamond 14k Gold Band Ring NrEstate Diamond 11.15ct Citrine 18k Gold Statement Ring 15.1 Grams Nr14k Solid W. Gold Top Quality Antique Art Deco 3 Diamond Wedding Ring Set Sz5.75