Are Vintage-Style Engagement Rings Better Than True Vintage?
Updated: Aug 5, 2019
Modern weddings are filled with vintage elements, but should this trend extend to your ring?
We’ve noticed a huge trend in the bridal industry: what is old is new again. From lace dresses to mix and match china, the vintage trend has touched everything. It is no wonder that in today’s fast-paced environment, couples wanting to slow things down for the big day are looking to the past; spellbound, it seems, by the charming details of simpler, more straightforward eras.
But when it comes to a ring that is supposed to last you forever, is vintage a smart buy?
A lot of people look at vintage rings with the idea that “they have lasted this long. That means they’ve withstood the test of time already.” From this way of thinking, it is easy to conclude that a vintage ring was well-made and therefore durable.
And maybe it was well-made… for its time.
But there are structural differences to how jewelry used to be created, and how it’s made now. Understanding these differences is crucial in determining whether vintage or vintage-inspired is actually the right choice for you.
While gold and platinum have always been the most popular metals for engagement rings, the way the metals are treated has significantly changed over the years.
Many vintage rings have been made in the die-struck method.
In die-struck jewelry, an enormous amount of pressure (up to 50 tons!) is applied to the gold or platinum to literally press the metal into your desired shape.
The advantage of this method is that the resulting ring will be denser and heavier than rings made in other methods. They will also be less porous, and therefore maintain their highly reflective polish longer.
But there are disadvantages to die-striking, too.
Many people who want vintage rings are after something that feels truly one of a kind, and the truth is die-struck rings never are one-offs.
The die-struck method is expensive, and so it only makes financial sense for a jewelry manufacturer to die-strike a ring if they will use the mould many times over. Typically no fewer than 100 of any given die-struck ring will be produced, but often the number is much higher.
Finally, while the metal itself might be stronger in a die-struck ring, antique rings will sometimes have more solder points than modern rings. This undoes much of the strength of the ring, as solder points are areas of weakness, and therefore compromise a ring’s overall structural integrity.
Most modern rings, however, are produced using a die-cast method.
In die-casting, a perfectly detailed mold of the ring is made out of wax. That piece of wax is placed into a block of plaster, which is then baked. During baking, the plaster hardens and the wax melts away, leaving a cavity with all the details of the original wax mold. Gold or platinum is then poured into this cavity to create the ring.
There are a lot of reasons that die-cast rings have become the industry standard.
They are much less expensive to create, and that savings is passed on to consumers both in price and variety of styles available. There are some ring styles that would be very expensive, if not impossible, to die-strike, but become possible and affordable when they are die-cast.
Die-cast rings are also completely customizable, so a die-cast ring can truly be one-of-a-kind.
Finally, modern techniques allow jewelers to cut back on soldering or avoid it all together. From this perspective, today’s rings are often more durable for everyday wear than true vintage makes.
Everyone knows that diamonds are the hardest of all stones, so surely yesteryear’s diamonds are every bit as good as today’s, right?
The answer is yes, and no. Here’s why:
The base material of old diamonds may absolutely be just as good as newly mined or lab-grown stones, because, after all, diamonds are forever.
But have you ever peered down at a vintage diamond engagement ring and noticed that that there is a small dark ‘window’ at the bottom center of the diamond? It’s almost like a tiny, deep opening from the past gazing up at you. I think it’s very cool, but it also means the diamond is less reflective and brilliant than modern stones.
This is because antique stones are Old Mine Cut, or Old European.
Old Mine Cut and Old European stones have fewer facets (or cuts) made into them, and their proportions tend to be ‘off,’ meaning the stones won’t maximize light refraction the way modern stones do.
You see, gemologists have learned a lot over the years about how light behaves inside a diamond, and modern diamonds are cut with all this information in mind. Thus, modern diamonds tend to have much better proportions and therefore will perform much better than their older counterparts.
Old Mine Cut diamonds also tend to have a culet (or tiny flat surface) cut straight across the bottom of the stone, almost like the pointy tip of the diamond has been lopped off. Culets used to be necessary to maintain the strength of the stone, but modern methods allow diamond cutters to keep a point at the diamond’s base, which allows for more refracted light, and does away with that dark, little crypt-like window at the diamond’s center.
Modern diamond-cutting techniques result in Brilliant Cut stones.
Brilliant cuts have more facets, and their culet tend to be smaller, if they have them at all.
Changes in diamond cutting make modern stones appear more sparkly and lustrous than their vintage counterparts.
But can’t a girl have both? Vintage charm and modern luster!
This is perhaps the best argument for going with a vintage-inspired engagement ring.
Whether you are after Victorian filigree or Gatsby-esque Art Deco, vintage-inspired rings offer you your grandmother’s style, but with sparkle she never dreamed possible.
The Amavida collection by Gabriel NY is an excellent place to start your vintage-inspired journey.
And if you still can’t find “the one,” consider going custom.
Nowadays, most reputable jewelers can create one-of-a-kind, custom engagement rings at a price that is remarkably comparable to pre-existing designs. Chances are, if your memory is clear enough, they can even replicate the style of that incredible vintage ring you saw way back before you met your fiancé(e).
Custom design services allow you to achieve the vintage look and incorporate heirloom stones, all while maintaining the craftsmanship standards of modern day.
So is vintage-inspired better than vintage?
There’s a lot to consider when you are after a vintage look, and inevitably, over the history of jewelry making, some techniques have changed and improved.
It’s these changes that lead to one of the most important distinctions between true vintage pieces and those that are vintage-inspired: warranties. Before you decide we’ve just moved into very boring territory, consider this: most vintage rings are sold “as is,” meaning, if you love it, buy it, but that will be the end of the conversation.
Many vintage rings are backed by no warranty at all, and often, if they do have a warranty, the warranty is extremely limited. I’ve seen everything from warranties that last ten days, to warranties that cover shipping the ring to and from a repair shop, but don’t cover any actual materials or repair work should prongs break or stones go missing. This means everything that happens to that ring will be an out-of-pocket cost to you.
This becomes a really big deal for a ring you plan to wear every single day for the rest of your life.
A true vintage piece makes a fabulous occasional ring, but when it comes to your engagement, you’ll want to think long and hard before choosing something that isn’t guaranteed with a comprehensive warranty.
After all, your relationship has the integrity to stand the test of time. Shouldn’t your ring?
So while the best ring for you will always be the one that gives you a thrill the first and every time you see it, only new, vintage-inspired jewelry is guaranteed to have the structural integrity to last a lifetime.
For an engagement ring, I know which one I would choose.
Good luck, and happy shopping!