Vintage engagement rings: what you need to know before buying vintage jewellery

Buying a vintage engagement ring: how and where to find a diamond in the rough.

Vintage engagement ring set with a 2.53ct old European cut diamond and rubies in platinum, available on 1stdibs.com (£18,300).

By Charlie Byrne in London

If you're new to buying vintage jewellery then it's worth getting to know how to buy vintage wine. The same theories apply: buying a vintage engagement ring is all about provenance, and personal taste.

Many grooms and couples choose to buy a vintage engagement ring over a new creation because the bride likes a particular era of design, or because they're looking for something particularly unique. Vintage rings can also be less expensive than similar current designs from major jewellery brands, but buying pre-owned jewellery can be a more complex process.

Begin by visiting jewellers or clusters of jewellery and antiques shops that have large collections of vintage rings from different eras - you should start to see a trend in the pieces you're drawn to. If you're buying for an unsuspecting bride-to-be, look at her usual style of jewellery and find the era that best contains similar designs.

In London, the Burlington Arcade is a famous hot spot for vintage jewellery, but do be careful of paying over the odds due to the prestigious location. Much like buying a modern piece where the brand name can up the price, vintage jewellery is susceptible to vast price fluctuations depending on where you buy it.

Richard Ogden in the Burlington Arcade offers both vintage and vintage-style engagement rings because it is increasingly difficult to source rings that are still in pristine enough condition to last another lifetime. "Rings get a lot of wear and tear, more than any other item of jewellery," says Silvia Kobi of Richard Ogden. "We restore the gemstones to their original lustre - sometimes they only need a little bit of polishing - and reset them in a vintage style mount that captures the essence of the original ring design.

Grays Antiques Market is another gem within the jewellery world and it's also worth keeping a close eye on auction listings to see whether there are any upcoming sales that contain the perfect vintage engagement ring. Often, auctions have better information on the origin of each piece whereas vintage jewellery dealers don't always know the stories behind their wares.

Do your best to research the exact materials in a piece you're serious about buying, and it's also worth getting to grips with how to inspect a stone for wear and tear. Look closely at the edges of the stone to see how sharp it is - often, older stones bear telltale minute chips that decrease their value and luminosity.

Buying vintage engagement rings online might seem like an especially scary prospect given all of the above, but if you use a reputable website such as 1stdibs, which vets all of its antique jewellery dealers, you can be sure you are making a sound investment. Current offerings on this thriving global marketplace include vintage engagement rings from the popular Edwardian, Victorian and Art Deco eras together with rare designs dating as far back as the 4th century and big stones from the big names in jewellery, including Cartier, Bulgari and Tiffany.

If you want to purchase a design that looks like a vintage engagement ring but want to know its exact provenance and maybe even get involved in its creation, then look to independent jewellers whose style is inspired by bygone times. Jessica McCormack, Anna Sheffield and Megan Thorne are all excellent examples.

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