How to Identify a Victorian Engagement Ring
The jewellery made during the Victorian Period compromises some of the world’s most beautiful and intricately crafted pieces to date. Despite the transitory nature of fashions, the specific characteristics of Victorian Jewellery pieces have consequently continued to captivate us. It is no surprise then that antique Victorian engagement rings are still much sought after in 2015. But how exactly is a Victorian engagement ring identified and what is it that sets it apart from those made in other periods?
Historical Context and the Influence Context has on Jewellery Fashions
The Victorian Period was one of the longest and most influential periods in modern history. The numerous and world changing events, technological advances and goings on between 1837 and 1901, when Queen Victoria held the thrown, understandably were reflected in the fashions of the time. Equally, they to varying extents determined the fashions of the time, and so the appearance of engagement rings during this time.
Because the Victorian Era was one of the longest periods, fashions changed during the period itself which affected the look and popularity of particular engagement rings within it. As well, because of the lasting popularity of Victorian jewellery many albeit stunning reproductions are available. Whilst reproductions are not always poorly cobbled together ‘fakes’, neither are they genuine antiques. But how then can a person assess the ‘real thing’?
Identifying a Victorian antique engagement ring requires understanding the different periods within the Victorian era. Most simply, the Victorian Era is comprised of three periods of time, each of which is recognisable for its separate fashions.
The Romantic Period
The Romantic period spanned from 1837 to 1860 and its fashions were much influenced by the marriage of a then teenage Queen Victoria. Therefore, during this early Victorian period, sentimentality and romance were very much fashionable and both characteristics were encapsulated in the engagement rings during this time.
The creation of elaborately engraved and intricate patterning silver via either of two methods of engraving and filigreeing – the Repoussé technique and the Cannetille –technique was extremely popular. Most commonly silver and to a lesser extent yellow gold, as pliable precious metals, were used to make rings. Meanwhile, early Victorian engagement rings, when set with stones, often bore wistful and or delicate arrangements of pearls, diamonds and sometimes opals. Hence, recognising a number or all of these features in a Victorian engagement ring suggests it is a product of the Romantic Period.
The Grand Period
The Grand Period, which is the name given to the years between 1860 and 1885, in contrast to the wistful years of the Romantic Period was dominated by the death of Prince Albert and Queen Victoria’s mother. Hence, whilst silver and to some extent yellow gold remained popular, the Grand Period also saw a subtle shift in the stones contained in rings of the time.
Notably, the air of mourning during what is now referred to as the Middle Victorian Period was reflected in an upsurgence in far richer, darker and deeper coloured stones such as blood red rubies, and even jet and onyx. Pearls being understood to symbolise tears remained popular throughout the Victorian period. What are now commonly referred to a ‘regard engagement rings’ also became popular though.
A regard engagement ring is a ring which is made using stones in an order so that the first letter of each stone’s name combine to create a word. Hence, characteristically regard engagement rings featured a ruby, an emerald, a garnet, and amethyst, a second ruby and lastly a diamond. Other examples of regard engagement rings exist though, spelling out words of their wearer’s choosing.
The Aesthetic Period
The last period of the Victorian Era, engagement rings made within the Aesthetic Period can be most easily and obviously identified by their motifs and the characteristic circular cut of many of the stones within them, so that gems were arranged like planets or clustered like solar systems. Whilst more generally Victorian symbols such as birds, flowers, serpents and belts remained hugely popular, the Aesthetic Period also saw stars and celestial motifs rise in popularity.
A period defined by travel, adventure, exploration and discovery. As such, motifs also shifted from the wistful to the wild. Whilst rings were not the ideal jewellery item due to their shape and size to bear detailed animal motifs which also began to grow in popularity and included insects, butterflies and monkeys, new advances in our scientific understanding none-the-less were reflected in the rings made of the time.
Hallmarks and other Telltale Markings
Of course, one means of attempting to date or assess a Victorian engagement ring is to simply look for hallmarks, wear and tear and to consider the price of an item. Victorian rings, unlike much Victorian jewellery, were often hallmarked to show their purity, age and the location of their production. Equally, any small signs of wear and tear can attest to an item’s age. Hence, small signs of wear and tear can help to increase as much as damage an antique’s value when used as a means of dating a piece. Lastly, compare the price of a ring to that of its contemporaries – any discrepancy in the price could imply a discrepancy in the age of a ring too.