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17.12.20

The Allure of Vintage Engagement Rings & Antique Diamonds

By Stephanie Dore

We are a generation of early adopters. The first to jump on the bandwagon of every new fashion trend or tech gadget to hit the market. We want it new and we want it now. Except when we don’t. When is that, exactly? Well, when old is new again, my dears. Welcome to our love letter to antique diamonds, vintage engagement rings, and the celebs who wear them. Is this an ode to thrifting? Maybe. But can you blame us? We love a good recycling story.

Organic is In

Okay, okay, so diamonds are definitely not going to be judged by celery juice and kale chip standards. But still. A handcrafted antique diamond, where every little facet is cut and polished by a super talented craftsperson, is going to be just as rewarding. But you won’t find them in the ranks of most diamond sellers today. The diamond market is mostly made up of diamonds cut using the latest technology. You know, lasers and such. But obviously, that hasn’t always been the case. In fact, it wasn’t until the early 20th century that machines really started to take over.

The Chicken Came First

The direct predecessor of today’s modern round brilliant, old European cut diamonds were all the rage from the late 19th to early 20th century. Think elaborate Victorian dramas and Roaring 20s flappers. You might also hear them referred to as “old mine cut” diamonds, and that wouldn’t necessarily be wrong, and if you’re browsing for vintage engagement rings you’ll see these everywhere. Here’s the difference: Old mine cut diamonds came first, and they have a more squared, cushion-like outline. Old Europeans are the round version. 

old european cut diamond
Old European Cut
Old mine cut diamond
Old Mine Cut

Subtle Fires Everywhere

Now, we know the diamond business has you thinking that what you really want is Brilliance. Capital B. And that’s definitely the case when it comes to modern cuts that are fashioned with modern lighting in mind. But the antique diamonds you find in vintage engagement rings are different. Cut by hand to look their best in candlelight, old European cut and old mine cut diamonds have a larger culet, a smaller table, and deeper, well, depth, than a modern round diamond. Along with their less precise, handmade facets, these proportions mean that antique diamonds will offer more rainbow fire and subtle glow than the bright white, splitery brilliance of a mass-market sparkler.

Reduce, Reuse

Whether you’re concerned about the diamond trade, not convinced that lab grown diamonds are real, or just want to save the Earth, antique diamonds are a great option. Kind of like shopping at your favorite thrift store or repurposing grandma’s needlepoint. You’ll be giving an old diamond a brand new home. Remember, they last forever. Set it in a vintage engagement ring, or opt for a modern makeover, the choice is yours.

Papa-paparazzi

Speaking of vintage engagement rings, some of our fave red carpet regulars have been caught rocking some seriously stunning antique diamonds. 

Get the Look

Can you set an antique diamond in a modern engagement ring setting? Sure. But if you really want them to shine their best, we suggest looking to days of yore for inspiration. Popular during the Art Deco period, Asscher and old European cut diamonds are a great match for three-stone settings. Or compliment their handmade facets with some handmade millgrain or engraved details. Want to add a little more sparkle? Try a pave diamond halo on for size. Just make sure your setting is custom-fit to your choice of center stone, as it likely won’t fit perfectly in a modern diamond ring.

Eyes on the Prize

Want the best antique diamond for your buck? Of course you do. First things first, work with a trusted jeweler. Or even better, find a family heirloom! You can start hunting online antique jewelry dealers, just make sure that you get eyes on the prize before you pass them your paycheck. Due to their handmade pedigree, every antique diamond is going to look different compared to the relative similarity of modern round brilliants. And old European cut diamonds don’t have cut grades, so that certificate won’t be much help.

Savings or Cha-ching?

While it might seem like a previously-owned diamond could mean instant savings, that’s not always the case. Antique diamonds are still priced by their carat weight, color, and clarity (the only C they don’t get is cut, which is graded by modern standards), just like every other diamond out there. Larger stones with higher color and clarity grades are sought after by collectors, and are much more rare (as many were recut over the years into modern brilliants). But you can find affordable stones in lower color and clarity options that are just as gorg.

A Labor of Love

Falling head over heels with these old school stunners, but not sure where to start? Email us at hello@frankdarling.com with some deets on what you’re looking for and a rough idea of your budget and our gem geeks will help you hunt down the perfect diamond. Or try our style quiz to design your dream ring and get a free sketch!

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