Look toward the past for your future heirloom.
Photography: Courtesy of Doyle & Doyle1 of 12
Your something old doesn’t have to be your something old-fashioned. If it’s an antique engagement ring (or wedding band), it could even be quite modern. “Most of our customers are very confident in their own style,” says Elizabeth Doyle, cofounder of vintage jewelry purveyor Doyle & Doyle in New York City. “They don’t want something they see on everyone else.” Here, Doyle shares her advice on seeking out an estate piece to have and to hold, and to love every single time you wear it.
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See What You Take a Shine To
Don’t just scan your Pinterest feed for photos of rings. Instead, plan a few shopping excursions and try on as many as you can—whether or not they are vintage—and begin narrowing in on what you prefer. What shape flatters you? Do your fingers look their best in a skinny or wide band? What stone size works? “You would be surprised what looks good on your finger because everyone’s hands are different and everyone’s style is different,” Doyle explains. “Sometimes we have a ring in the case and it’s an amazing ring and people try it on and it’s not right. But it can truly come to life on the right person.”
Georgian Rose-Cut Diamond, Silver, and 10k-Gold Ring With Dog Motif (circa 1820), $2,800; doyledoyle.com.
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Understand the Market
If you do have a type of ring in mind, the more modern it is, the more likely you are to come across it. But Doyle reminds vintage shoppers that antique rings are unique finds. “There are a lot of factors involved in what’s available at any time,” she says. “We can get just as many Deco rings as rings from the ’40s and ’50s.”
Art Deco Old European-Cut Diamond and Onyx Ring (circa 1920), $9,800; doyledoyle.com.
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Brush Up on Your History
We wholeheartedly believe in love at first sight, but Doyle encourages any vintage engagement ring shoppers to understand what they are getting into when they focus in on the special one. “We find that sometimes a shopper might have a sentimental attachment to a period, and that will be an overriding factor in how they shop for rings,” she says. But they really need to be mindful of their lifestyle, how often and when they would want to wear the ring, and then be committed to caring for the one they purchase, maybe even saving it for special occasions only. Take some Georgian rings, for example. “There is no opening behind the diamond in Georgian rings,” she says. “Behind the diamond is foil that jewelers used to use to make the stone more reflective. So you don’t want to get the ring wet, as water can damage the foil and darken the stone.” Edwardian rings, on the other hand, often feature delicate filigree. “You don’t want to accidentally drop them and step on them,” she adds. Victorian rings have more solid mountings, but are often framed with little diamonds that can be easy to lose.
Victorian Old European-Cut Diamond and 14k-Gold Engagement Ring (circa 1900), $1,800; doyledoyle.com.
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Be a Gem
In addition to historical periods, Doyle recommends buyers understand the limitations of certain stones. “Generally opals and pearls, for example, are not recommended as engagement stones because they are soft and vulnerable to breakage,” she says. “But they can be beautiful options if you are careful about how you will wear them.”
Victorian Pearl and Old European-Cut Diamond Ring (circa 1900), $1,200; doyledoyle.com.
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Photography: Courtesy of Doyle & Doyle6 of 12
Cut Loose From Expectations
Diamonds are timeless, but the methods by which they were cut are not. “In the ’30s, it changed,” Doyle says, citing the evolution of mechanized tools that led to the more precise brilliant cuts we are accustomed to seeing today. Prior to that era, many stones were hand-cut using a few popular techniques. Two you will often hear of include the Old Miners’ and more refined Old European ones, which produced a diamond that has a high crown, which can make it appear to pop out of its mounting, and wider facets. “These cuts are less flashy, but many find them more charming,” Doyle adds.
Antique Round-Cut Sapphire and Old European-Cut Diamond Moi et Toi Ring (circa 1900), $12,600; doyledoyle.com.
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Go for the Gold, or Platinum
“When it comes to shopping for a vintage ring, metal is a whole other thing,” says Doyle, adding that platinum is the most sought-after material. “It’s the whitest metal in its natural state, and it’s very durable.” But, she adds, gold and to some extent silver, even though they are softer, are making a huge comeback. “In Georgian and Victorian jewelry, you will often even find silver-topped gold,” she says.
Edwardian Diamond and Platinum Engagement Ring (circa 1915), price available upon request; doyledoyle.com.
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Find a Perfect Fit
Doyle says she can typically resize any vintage engagement ring in the store, with a few exceptions. “We would not resize an eternity band, where diamonds go all around, as we wouldn’t do anything to compromise the setting,” she says. Another tricky ring to resize? “Rings featuring enamelwork,” she says. “If you did resize it, you might have to restore the enamel.”
Victorian Old European-Cut Diamond Solitaire Engagement Ring in 18k Gold With Black Enamel Detailing (circa 1870), $22,000; doyledoyle.com.
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Get Your Paperwork in Order
When it comes to buying a vintage diamond engagement ring, it should be less about the stone’s 4Cs—color, cut, clarity, and carat weight—and more about your love for the overall piece. But that doesn’t mean you should forgo certification. “I always encourage people to choose a ring that already has an EGL USA certificate from an independent lab,” she says, adding that reputable dealers will also appraise it and confirm it matches the report. “Vintage rings are often one-of-a-kind, and it’s hard to replace them. But you do always want to be sure if anything happens to it, you have the option to get a similar stone and quality.”
Also, don’t be surprised if the evaluation is estimated. Unless the stone is of remarkable value, many jewelers will not unmount it to analyze it, worrying they could damage the setting.
Art Deco Diamond, Sapphire, and Platinum Ring (circa 1930), $10,800; doyledoyle.com.
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Count On It
“We can provide somebody with an engagement ring at any price point—even a couple hundred dollars,” Doyle says. But vintage isn’t always synonymous with budget. “The prices can go all the way up, and you can certainly come across antique rings that to the layperson may not seem expensive at all, but will be very expensive,” she explains. While a diamond center stone can be a factor in that cost, when it comes to historical pieces, Doyle says colored stones can be just as collectible. And in the end, the age of the ring and the rarity of it will be the primary reason behind the price tag.
Art Deco Patterned 14k-Gold Wedding Band (hand-engraved with the date 10-17-23), $385; doyledoyle.com.
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Photography: Courtesy of Doyle & Doyle11 of 12
Uncover What’s in a Name
Having Dior or Chanel stitched into an evening gown from another decade can make it invaluable, but the same label mania does not always carry over into jewelry. “Certain designers—or manufacturers—will add a premium to the price of the ring, but it really depends,” Doyle says. “For most of our rings, it’s more about the design and look than the maker.” What she and her customers love most about finding a maker’s mark, even if the maker may not be well-known, is that it can add to the story behind the piece. “With it, you can usually tell where it was made and when,” she says. “You can get at least a little information.”
Vintage Diamond and Platinum Engagement Ring (circa 1940), $10,800; doyledoyle.com.
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Create a New Story
When it comes to such a symbolic object, it’s no surprise Doyle often finds customers asking about the ring’s background. “We often don’t know,” she explains. “Sometimes you will find a date on the ring, which may correspond to the original owner’s wedding or anniversary date. Sometimes there are inscriptions, including names or initials.” But she says unless it’s a family ring that has been passed down through generations, it’s impossible to patch together its existence for better or worse. Instead, she suggests to customers that they view the purchase as a continuum. “When you put the ring on, you can bring it into a whole new beautiful life,” she says.
Vintage Diamond White Gold Ring (circa 1950), $10,800; doyledoyle.com.