As a dealer in antique jewellery based in Sydney, Australia, I’ve sold countless antique and vintage engagement rings over the years. I could have sold many more … but I’ve turned several potential customers away.
That’s because my rings they most admired just weren’t suitable for everyday wear.
When it comes to engagement rings, some antique and vintage rings are too delicate; others are set with stones that can’t be worn day in, day out.
Hard stones – gems that are not easily scratched – are the ideal choice. It’s here that diamonds, being the toughest precious gemstone, reign supreme. (Of course, this is one of the main reasons they are the most popular stone for engagement rings.)
But sapphires and rubies – differently coloured varieties of the same mineral, corundum – are the next hardest and are also terrific, durable choices.
I have sold some couples emerald engagement rings, but always with the advice that these gorgeous green gems are brittle and can be chipped quite easily. If your spirit is drawn to them – as mine is – you may be prepared to take that risk. But try to avoid a setting that places the emerald at the highest point of the design, as this is the most exposed and thus the most vulnerable.
It saddens me to see opal rings being promoted as a good choice for engagement rings. Australia’s dazzling national gemstone is my favourite stone of them all … but robust it is not. An opal is just far too easy to crack with a careless knock.
Pearls are also up there among the most unsuitable stones. They are extremely porous and will absorb dirt and oils from your skin, which quickly discolours them to grey. This happened to my sister-in-law, who had bought her engagement ring from Harrods.
And semi-precious stones such as garnet, amethyst, citrine, morganite peridot and moonstone should be treated with caution – no matter how appealing their colours are. Hardness is the main point of physical difference between precious and semi-precious stones; the prices they command follows on from that quality.
Finally, I must warn that delicate rings exquisitely set with multiple small stones might be so very appealing, but they are also just so very unsuitable for everyday wear.
Goldsmiths in Georgian England made an art of using as little of the precious metal as possible – and, given the advent of platinum, Edwardian jewellery was similarly light. In ring design the emphasis was placed on the gemstones, allowing them to dominate in jewels that displayed the fineness that only platinum could achieve with reasonable strength.
But all this this was at a time when the women who could buy fine jewellery neither went to the gym nor did hard housework.
I give the same advice to all my customers, outlined in full in my blog last year: Caring for antique engagement rings. Take your rings off when you get home. Put them in the same place every time – somewhere you can easily put them on just before you leave the house. And don’t wash up, garden, sleep or bathe wearing them.
Then they might survive for another hundred years.