Vintage Wedding Jewelry
Mar 16, 2014 | by Becky Oeltjenbruns
Vintage wedding jewelry makes our heart skip a beat – the detailing, unique shine, and special beauty make any bride feel extra special. There are lots of options available within the world of antique jewelry and we’re sure you’ll find the ideal piece. But there are lots of things to look out for and we want you to be educated as you find your perfect ring. There are definite styles within each era, but you’ll need to know about more than looks when making this kind of investment. With five generations of expert knowledge to draw from, Joseph’s Jewelers in Des Moines is the perfect resource. The Joseph family has been helping Iowa families enjoy fine jewelry since 1871 and we sat down with Vice President Jake Joseph to learn more about vintage wedding jewelry.
What to look for when buying vintage jewelry
When we consider antique jewelry (which means specifically that the piece is at least 100 years old) you must be on the look out for details, with metal work being one of the most important elements. As Jake advises, you will want to analyze how much metal is left; this will tell you how much life is left in the piece. While an experienced jeweler can reinforce the ring and rebuild it, keep in mind you can only add as much structure as the thickest part of the ring. In other words, restoration efforts are limited to the existing amount of metal. Also look to see if the piece has prior soldering; if it does you will want to consult a jeweler who specializes in estate jewelry for further information/estimates on restoration.
Not all metals are created equal. Platinum is considered the best metal to work with. Unlike gold, it will not wear down and thin out over time. Its heavy nature makes it easier to re-size and lends itself to a longer life. Lastly, there is also a chemical advantage to this metal option. If you have nickel allergies you will want to get platinum jewelry as older, white gold is high in nickel content. The aging of gold comes into play if you have a few gold rings you like and wish to make a composition using them all. Keep in mind that older pieces age differently than their modern counterparts; you will not be able to match up antique gold rings with new rings.
Naturally, metal is not the only determining factor in your search for vintage wedding jewelry. Carefully inspect the stones; be sure to look at all sides for any cracks or breaks. If you find a ring you like but some of the colored stones are missing, be aware that they are very hard to replace. Essentially anything that is unique in shape and is colored is difficult to find or replicate.
Cutting styles are also different when you consider an older piece. The style known as “early brilliance” debuted in the 1920s. You can tell the difference in sparkle from older stones done in the pre-1920s “old European style.” The most popular vintage cuts are the round, cushion, and emerald. The radiant cut, which inspired the Princess cut, started in the 1970s.
When buying a vintage diamond ring study up on the four C’s of diamonds: cut, color, clarity, and carat. Familiarizing yourself with these qualities are just as useful buying old as when buying new, loose stones from a jeweler. For modern day diamonds you can request a grading report from the Gemological Institute of America, but vintage diamonds do not usually come with these documents. Ask to examine the stone(s) under a microscope and look for chips from years of wear. If you are pleased with what you see, you then must rely on the jeweler’s reputation and accuracy in assessing value.
What if I can’t find vintage jewelry I like?
Looking for something that doesn’t live in a catalog can be tricky – especially when it comes to the groom, as it is typically easier to find vintage pieces for the bride. In Jake’s experience, men’s pieces usually stay within the family, making it a difficult market. If you are having trouble finding a piece you like, but want to maintain a vintage lineage there are modern brands you can consider. Joseph’s recommends the following firms.
Whitehouse Brothers is a jeweler dating from the 1890s. Each piece in their new collection is truly vintage-inspired. Rings are hand carved in Ohio using the original, vintage dyes. The benefit of this approach is that you get the 100 year old look without the wear. For modern male jewelry with old roots, Jake recommends the Real Steel line. Handmade in Idaho, the artists use antique railroad nails to craft unique pieces. This technique is seen elsewhere as more and more firms are using reclaimed materials as the vintage trend grows.
How to care for vintage jewelry
Jake says the clean up routine is very similar to advice for new jewelry: the occasional soak in mild soap and warm water, with a gentle brush of a toothbrush. (This will also work well in cleaning up filigree, a common element of vintage wedding rings). Like any new piece you’d add to your collection, be sure to remove your rings when doing chores or any messy projects. Additionally, you’ll save soapy, filmy build up if you remove rings before showering or hand washing.
You will want to be cautious when cleaning red and green stones. These stones are softer than other gems and react to significant temperature swings. Do not clean these items with warm water or steam, just gently wipe with a soft cloth.
When you are not wearing your vintage pieces, always store your jewelry in a fabric-lined box to prevent scratches. Even though these pieces are built to last, establishing a care routine will serve you well in the long run. Taking care of your antique pieces will ensure you get to enjoy them for many more years to come.
For our readers: Do you have a vintage wedding ring? What do you enjoy most about it? Tell us all about your special day and jewelry in the comments below!