My boyfriend and I have been together for almost 6 years and have planned to get married for almost as long. Now that we're both out of college we've been thinking it's time to actually get around to doing that. We both know that I don't trust him to pick out a ring that I'll be happy wearing for the rest of my life, so we've been looking at rings together. Well, actually, I spent hours looking at rings online and once in a while he asked if I'd found anything I like. I kind of assumed, before we started the process, that finding a ring I liked would be natural – that, like clothing, I would be able to detect differences in quality immediately and have strong opinions about all my options.
After looking at the big jewelry stores' websites (and going to one in person) I just felt kind of lost and 'meh.' I found that  everything at jewelry stores is really expensive, even the simple things;  everything in stores looks pretty similar, from Tiffany's to Costco; and  the size and quality of the diamond is what you're supposed to care about, not the setting. Un[?]fortunately, I'm way more interested in the details of the setting than the diamond. When we went to a jewelry store (that shall not be named), the salesgirl said something like "no, you shouldn't care about the setting; you really want to spend almost all of your budget to get the biggest and best center stone you can. If you have a diamond that's small and not nice enough, all your friends and family will notice and wonder what he was thinking!" I restrained myself from telling her that, unless it's bright yellow and has a giant crack through it, my family and friends really won't give a crap. And so I started looking at antique and estate rings.
A lot of antique rings are, well, a little too much. Even though I want some old-fashioned detailing, I want to stay as far from ostentation as possible. (In my mind diamonds are a little ostentatious to begin with and having a big sparkly thing on my finger is going to take some getting used to.) This might have something to do with the fact that almost all my jewelry is from flea markets and cost no more than $5; I think the most I've spent on a piece of jewelry is $20, and the most expensive piece I own (a high school graduation present from my wonderful friend) is a simple, elegant silver necklace from Tiffany's. Most of the time, I forget to put on any jewelry before I rush out the door.
The only family heirloom ring we could have is my dad's mom's ring, which looks a lot like this one, but with a yellow gold setting:
Yeah, like I said: too much. Not to impugn my grandfather's taste, but it looks to me like two creepy little sparkly eyes. We quickly narrowed down our options to either finding an antique ring that fit my taste and was within our budget, or having something custom-made. We actually chose the second option – which we originally thought would be way too expensive – but it took a while to come to that conclusion.
I started by looking at (what seemed like) every vintage/antique/estate ring currently online, ignoring prices and trying to find commonalities among the ones I was drawn to. Here are some of the ones I liked:
left to right:
Replica Belle Epoque Engagement Ring from Leigh Jay Nacht
European Cut Diamond Filigree Ring with Bow Motif from Nelson Rarities
Belle Epoque Engagement Ring from Leigh Jay Nacht
clockwise from top:
Replica Edwardian Engagement Ring Mounting from Leigh Jay Nacht
Replica Art Deco Engagement Setting from Leigh Jay Nacht
Edwardian Style Platinum Engagement Ring from Israel Rose
Edwardian Style Platinum Engagement Ring from Israel Rose
Edwardian Style Mine Cut Diamond Ring from Israel Rose
Art Deco Inspired Diamond Ring from Lang Antique and Estate Jewelry
center, top to bottom:
European Cut diamond & red gold Victorian Ring circa 1875 from Nelson Rarities
Victorian Diamond Engagement Ring from The Three Graces
Diamond White Gold Engagement Ring from Israel Rose
right: Brilliant in the Round Diamond Ring from The Three Graces
cool brass glove mold from Center 44 on VandM.com
At first, finding similarities among them was difficult. Eventually, though, I realized that there were some common traits:
•round cut stone
•tiny diamonds running down the shoulders
•not too much filigree, unless it's very simple and geometric
•short "head" (center stone doesn't stick up too high above the band)
•squarish profile of the head, rather than the stereotypical inverted triangle
•band doesn't taper out toward the center stone; looks thin and delicate from every angle
•beautiful detailing on the sides surrounding the center stone, seen in profile but not immediately seen from above (most often seen on Edwardian style rings, as in the second picture)
•prongs aren't too claw-like
Although we did plenty of research (and got some advice from friends) about clarity and color before looking at anything, going to a real jewelry store was really helpful in determining what we would look for (SI1 for clarity; G/H for color) and what size diamond we want. The problem with many of the vintage and antique rings I found was that the diamonds were huge, making the rings out of our price range. Even the replica settings are made for diamonds around 1 carat or larger. When buying a new diamond (with or without a setting), the price apparently jumps hugely between .9ct and 1ct, because people don't want to say that their diamond is smaller that a carat. After trying on some real rings, I decided that I really don't want a stone bigger than .5ct, because anything larger looks silly on my tiny finger.
After doing a little googling, we found a jeweler right down the street who's well known (and well reviewed) for their custom designs within a budget. We've talked to him and are going to create a combination of the one on the right of the first image and the Edwardian ones in the second image. He showed us some diamonds with different grades of clarity and color to train our eyes and now we're waiting for him to pick out some diamonds for us to choose from. Updates to follow as the process continues!