When vintage engagement ring shoppers walk into New York-based jewelry boutique Doyle & Doyle, co-owner Elizabeth Doyle asks them to forget about cut, clarity, color, and carat. “You’ve got to consider the beauty of a vintage engagement ring as a whole. It is less about stats,” she explained to me as I admired a case of sparkling Art Deco bands at the boutique’s newest outpost in Manhattan’s Meatpacking District (its other location is on the Lower East Side) last week. “Of course, you want beautiful stones in your ring, but it is much more about looking at the piece and judging the beauty of the whole with your eye. There is so much information online these days about what to look for in a diamond and the ‘ideal’ set of characteristics. A lot of people get hung up on the numbers and forget to trust themselves and pick something that is beautiful to them.”
Still, even without a strict C-word checklist, there are plenty of other factors to consider before buying a vintage engagement ring. To help you find the right one, I asked Elizabeth to share her best tips and historical expertise. Read on for our full interview and click through the slideshow above to read up on five eras filled with great options.
What’s the most important thing to look for in a vintage engagement ring?
Elizabeth Doyle: It is important to consider your lifestyle when picking an engagement ring, but perhaps even more so with a vintage or antique ring. Certain rings are more suited to active lifestyles than others. We have rings at Doyle & Doyle from many different time periods; people lived differently when these rings were worn. For example, ladies in the Georgian era did not have running water, and handwashing was not a frequent activity. Many Georgian rings have foil-backed diamonds and gemstones. These rings should not get wet, as water can damage the foil that gives the stones in the pieces their amazing glow. Georgian rings have a distinct and beautiful appeal—and for some, they warrant the inconvenience of having to remove your rings before hand washing. Others know that keeping a ring dry is not something that will work for them. For these customers, there are plenty more practical options we would steer them towards. Rings from the 1940s tend to require a bit less care; most of those styles can withstand an active lifestyle.
How do you care for a vintage engagement ring?
Engagement rings require maintenance, as does all jewelry. It is important to clean your ring periodically. You can do this at home with warm, soapy water. A mild dish detergent works well. The ring should be left to soak for a while to loosen any debris or hand lotion caught in the crevices of the ring and especially behind the stone. A soft bristle toothbrush can be used to gently brush away the loosened debris.
Is there a certain era or style vintage engagement ring that sells best at Doyle & Doyle?
Art Deco rings are always a very popular style of engagement ring. Deco engagement rings are generally platinum and diamond, which is probably the most sought out combination at the moment. The designs range from glamorous styles full of varying diamond cuts (and occasional colored stone accents) forming intricate patterns to fairly simple designs often combining the fiery beauty of a brilliant cut with the clean, crisp whiteness of step cuts.
We have also noticed an increased interest in warmer-colored diamonds. People have been asking for fancy yellow diamonds, especially in combination with white diamonds. But there has been increased interest in warmer-hued diamonds in general, including light brown and light yellows not on the fancy color scale. People are drawn to the warmth of these stones and the unique look. These stones have the added benefit of being more affordable options.
What do you and your sister [co-owner Pamela Doyle] look for when buying engagement rings for your store?
We look for beautiful rings with something special about them. It is important to us that anyone who comes to us for help finding an engagement ring can walk out with a really special ring, regardless of their budget. Whatever the size or style, I look for something special that sets the ring apart from the rest. It could be some small detail or beautiful proportions. Sometimes the history or story of a ring is what wins me over. There are so many ways a ring can be special. On a more practical level, I always make sure the ring is in good condition. It must be able to hold up to normal wear. I check all of the stones to make sure they are of beautiful quality and also that the settings are intact.
Tell us about your favorite engagement ring of all time!
Of course, my own engagement ring is my favorite! Jewelry is so personal and filled with emotion and your own story. My ring is a beautiful example of American Art Deco workmanship. It has a maker’s mark from a San Francisco jeweler. It has a beautiful Old European diamond in the center with emerald and diamond accents on the sides. But more importantly, it is the ring that my husband used to propose to me! He knew I did not want to pick out my own ring. There was quite a bit of pressure on him since engagement rings are my business. He said it took him over a year to find the ring. He wanted to get me one with an antique-cut diamond but knew that I love colored stones, so he found one with colored stone accents. To this day (especially right after I clean it), when I look at my ring, it is as beautiful and thrilling as when he first opened the box.