Gazing at a 2.85 carat antique step cut diamond ring from the 1920s at the LAPADA Art & Antiques fair, signed Cartier and still in its original box, I thought: this is it. This is my dream engagement ring. Then I turned a corner and spied a tray of Art Deco rings, set with round diamonds encircled by regimented rows of silky blue baguette cut sapphires – remarkably similar to the huge modern vintage ruby and diamond engagement ring belonging to Prince Harry’s ex, Cressida Bonas – which I loved too. I am yet to get engaged, but if I do, I’ll have the era pinned down at least. I’m instinctively drawn to rings from the Art Deco period, with their graphic lines and sleek step-cut stones, and there are a lot of 1920s-era rings out there. But I feel that we have hit peak Deco – what else is catching the eye of brides to be?
To find out what’s currently trending in the world of vintage engagement rings, I spoke to some of the dealers exhibiting at the LAPADA Art & Antiques Fair in Berkeley Square and those based in and around the Burlington Arcade, a hot spot for antique jewellery in the capital.
Step cut diamonds
Popular in the Art Deco era, when smooth lines and geometric shapes were all the rage, step cut diamonds are square or rectangular in shape, with long, lean facets. Because they have fewer facets than a round diamond, step cut stones don’t sparkle to the same degree, but what they lack in brilliance they more than make up for in vintage charm. Emerald and Asscher cuts, in particular, are proving irresistible to brides-to-be, according to several antique jewellers. "Recently we have noticed even stronger interest in beautifully cut Art Deco Asschers and emerald cuts, especially those that rival the brilliant cut stones,” says Guy Burton of Hancocks London, and Lily Back and Alexandra Samuel, vintage and antique jewellery specialists at Berganza in Hatton Garden, agree. “Pre-war Asscher cuts are highly sought after due to their history. They were the first cut of diamond to be patented and created by the Asscher family and the diamonds are as unique as the rings they are set in.”
Old cut diamonds
Before the advent of machinery, diamonds were cut by hand and the aim was to capture the light in a candlelit room. The advent of electricity and the light bulb meant that over time, cuts with more light-refracting facets were developed, leaving behind the softer glow of old cuts including rose-cut diamonds. Today, diamonds are cut by machine for maximum sparkle and graded according to the precision of their cut and symmetry. Guy Burton argues that modern-day diamonds don’t hold the same romance as old-cut stones, and I totally agree. Old cuts might not be impeccably proportioned, but they have a beautiful old-world individuality. “The most famous stones of all time are old-cut. They involve an insanely high level of skill,” says Burton. “They were cut solely to enhance their beauty and for the love of the stone—there’s no better sentiment than that.” Based in Mayfair, antique jewellery dealer Richard Spicer’s clients are also increasingly preferring old-cut diamonds over modern brilliants. “Perhaps it’s because of the emergence of lab-grown diamonds,” he told me. “Inherently less perfect, old cut diamonds have so much more natural charm by comparison."
Coronet cluster engagement rings
Today’s modern-day halo engagement rings are incredibly popular, and so are the antique coronet cluster rings that inspired them. Featuring smaller diamonds encircling a centre stone, a coronet cluster is an absolute classic that can be budget-friendly too because of the halo, which gives the impression of a larger ring. “Coronet cluster designs that are completely original to the time period are a popular choice at present as they can incorporate both coloured gemstones and beautiful hand-cut diamonds,’ says Lily and Alexandra at Berganza.
Vintage and antique Fancy yellow diamonds
Guy Barton at Hancocks has noticed an increase in demand for vintage and antique Fancy yellow diamonds. Extremely beautiful but exceedingly scarce, you must be prepared to wait for the right ring to come along. “Although very hard to come by,” he says, “the best always draw a crowd.”
Certificates of authenticity
Brides-to-be can understandably be nervous about buying a vintage engagement ring, particularly if they are dipping their toe into the world of vintage jewellery for the first time. For customers worried about the authenticity of their diamond, Hancocks’ Guy Burton has some advice: “Never buy an old-cut diamond without a certificate, and the Gemological Institute of America (GIA) one is the best and most reliable to get.” Richard Spicer, of Spicer Warin, told me that almost all of his clients now expect a GIA certificate with their diamonds, so he removes the stones from his antique rings and sends them to the GIA for certification before resetting them.
Signed vintage engagement rings
If your budget can stretch to a signed vintage engagement ring by one of the world-famous jewellers, you will be richly rewarded. The famous houses like Tiffany & Co, Cartier and Boucheron have, through the eras, created some of the most iconic and beautifully crafted engagement rings of all time, so get to know the grande dames of jewellery making and invest in a classic. The emerald-cut Cartier ring I tried on at LAPADA is, to me, the Holy Grail of vintage engagement rings. Signed, numbered and sold in its original Cartier box, it is a genuine heirloom, one that you can love for life before passing down to your daughter.