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  • Writer's pictureAntiques in Oxford

Symbolic rings

Very symbolic rings given during the Victorian era are called fede or gimmel ring. Representing loyalty and dating back to the days of Rome, these rings were given from medieval times as betrothal rings. They rose in popularity again during the Victorian era and are still popular. They often have two hands which open up to reveal two hearts symbolising their affection.

Love of floral symbolism moved to jewellery most noticeably using the pansy. Pansies meant that someone was thinking of you. It would be given during a courtship to show a man’s intention.

Queen Victoria was a decisive figure in jewellery trends, so much so that the ancient tradition of snake jewellery made a sudden come back in 1840 after Prince Albert presented her with an emerald set snake engagement ring. Snake rings are now very much considered a marker in Victorian jewellery, the snake representing eternal love. They are still incredibly popular.

Victoria’s love of diamonds led to a revolution in diamond rings. Luckily coinciding with the discovery of diamonds in South Africa in the late 19th century. Diamonds were moving from the sphere of royalty to the masses.

Sapphires and rubies were also very popular. It is an enduring style made popular in the eighties by Princess Diana and more recently by the Duchess of Cambridge. A cluster ring is the perfect style engagement ring for a traditional but timeless piece.

During the Belle Époque era (1871-1914) in France jewellery became more flowing and romantic. Jewellery of this style is known in England as art nouveau, a movement that rebelled against the fussiness of Victorian sensibilities, incorporating free-flowing lines into a more relaxed and natural style.

As with fede rings, Victorians loved symbolism and hidden messages in their jewellery. They would use popular gemstones to spell out messages of love in rings. The two most popular messages were Regard spelt out by a ruby, emerald, garnet, amethyst, ruby, and diamond; and Dearest spelt out with a diamond, emerald, amethyst, ruby, emerald, sapphire and topaz. These are acrostic rings.

In the 1930s the global economy and along with it diamonds were in decline. De Beers needed to create an artificial market for the gemstone and to do so enlisted the ad. agency N.W.Ayer. The Philadelphia agency set about taking diamonds away from the sphere of the super-rich to make them appeal to all sectors of society.

The ad men (and women) needed to work out a way to link diamonds with something emotional. According to the New York Times, N.W.Ayer’s aimed to “create a situation where almost every person pledging marriage feels compelled to acquire a diamond engagement ring.”

Before WWII only 10 percent of engagement rings contained diamonds. Eventually, Ayer would convince young men that diamonds were the ultimate gift of love, and persuade young women that they were an essential part of romantic relationships.

In just four years, between 1938 and 1941, there was a 55 percent increase in US diamond sales. Riding this success, N.W.Ayer began perfecting its marketing strategy in the 1940s.The ad men wanted to convince Americans that marriages without diamonds were incomplete.

Victorians were also keen on using flowers to express feelings. Men would often send bouquets with particular flowers in to convey messages.

A diamond is forever. These four iconic words have appeared in every single De Beers advertisement since 1948, and AdAge named it the number one slogan of the century in 1999.

It suggests a diamond, like your relationship, is eternal. It also had the added advantage of discouraging people from reselling their diamonds, as mass re-selling would disrupt the market and reveal the alarmingly low intrinsic value of the stones themselves.

Another important period in antique jewellery is art deco. A desire to do away with the free-flowing lines of art nouveau resulted in very geometric based pieces and this was very much reflected in the jewellery. While still using coloured gems, it is about now that the diamond solitaire really starts to come into its own on the fashion front. Also, geometric designs were favoured in this era.

With the dawn of the ‘roaring twenties’ the diamond came back into favour; but whereas earlier jewellers had mostly incorporated rose-cut and brilliant diamonds, the new trends demanded fresh styles of cutting. By 1925 jewellery designers were able to call upon a far more extensive range of cutting methods with emerald, baguette, square, marquise and navette cuts all in constant demand. The growing use of platinum for mounts was especially advantageous as it was both harder and not subject to the discolouration from which silver suffered. All this helped when it came to making articulated designs and fashioning denser clusters. It has long been recognised that the perfect contrast for any diamond is the colour black. This prompted many designers to use either black enamel or onyx in their compositions, for a feel of elegance and sophistication.

What should you look for when buying a ring? When buying diamonds, you are advised to consider the “four cs” Carat - You will see this abbreviated to “ct” in descriptions. Clarity – The best clarity is IF (internally flawless, meaning there are no inclusions visible even to the most experienced grader) and the most included stones are described as I3 (obvious inclusions, visible to the unaided eye).VS means with very slight inclusions. Colour – the most perfect and expensive diamonds are “colourless”. It is also described on a scale with the rarest colour being D and the more tinted stones coming in at M and N. Cut – The modern round brilliant cut is by far the most popular cut when it comes to diamonds but the emerald cut (rectangular) is also popular.

A lot of people will immediately want to buy what they perceive to be the best of the best but if you try to buy a 1ct, D colour, IF diamond ring you would be looking at spending £7,000! However, small changes can be made. If you were happy to go for 1ct, G colour,VS2 you could get one for £2,500, still a fantastic stone. These proportions can be adjusted until you find the perfect ring for you.

With all said and done, an engagement ring is a memento of a very personal promise between two people. It will be loved no matter what the size, price or age but input from a close friend or relative often helps.

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