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Big-T & the Bada-Bings


Recycling Vintage Rings
by Danielle Bernato

Photo © Stardust Antiques

When it comes to diamond engagement rings, women shoppers tend to fall into two general categories. First, there are the women who desire the largest stone their fiancé can possibly afford (or not). Then there are those who prefer something simply beautiful, wherein the overall aesthetic value of the ring is cherished over the diamond's size. For those who reside within that second, smaller category, an antique engagement ring may fit the bill.

The term "antique" encompasses several eras of jewelry, including, but not limited to, Victorian, Edwardian, Art Nouveau, and Art Deco. Of these artistic periods, Art Deco is perhaps the most popular design among antique engagement ring enthusiasts today.

"Young people are getting weary of plain looking rings, they tend to prefer the setting itself to be more ornate, more interesting," says Pat Tuohy, owner of Adelaide Claiborne Collection in Hoboken, New Jersey.

The term "Art Deco" is derived from the Exposition Internationale des Arts Décoratifs et Industriels Modernes, held in Paris in 1925, when the style was in its heyday. For those who love antiques, though, Art Deco has always been in vogue, says Ken Gold, who co-owns New York City's Stardust Antiques with his wife Esther. "We love to sell Art Deco here in the store because it's the most uniquely wonderful old style that's still modern and contemporary," he says.

"Art Deco style is really a confluence of influences borrowed from many cultures," adds Joyce Jonas, President of the American Society of Jewelry Historians and adjunct professor in New York University's Appraisal Studies program. "The exotic themes represented in Art Deco range from Egyptian to Oriental, Native American, Aztec Indian and Persian."

The timelessness of Art Deco is wholly appropriate to the era in which it flourished. Occupying the years between 1915 to the end of the 1920s, Deco bridged the transition from the old world to the new, when typically handcrafted items that had survived the Industrial Revolution thus far were beginning to be made by factories, Jonas explains. Art Deco rings therefore have a streamlined, geometric, graphic look that is still delicate-a "cool sophistication."

Photo © Stardust Antiques

Art Deco rings are frequently distinguishable by metal "steps"-seen in the ring's profile-that lead up to the center stone. Think of the Chrysler Building, and how its tower is shaped in steps toward its highest point. This defining characteristic of Art Deco engagement rings reflects the period's architecture, Jonas says. In addition, he adds, though Art Deco jewelry designs were originally characterized by the use of bright, contrasting colors (a divergence from the paler palette of earlier, Edwardian designs), they later moved toward an all-white look.

Antique rings often feature a square setting holding a round diamond. Six or more smaller diamonds may flank the center stone, set within various geometric and graphic shapes along the visible part of the ring. Baguettes were introduced during this period as well, and contrasting stones, such as sapphires, emeralds, rubies or onyx, were commonly featured as accents in engagement rings of the era. Platinum, meanwhile, was the metal of choice. It has great lightweight strength and tends to have a whiter look than silver, providing a striking juxtaposition to the diamonds or other stones in the rings.

The combination of sapphires and diamonds in a platinum setting is "the hottest look in antique jewelry right now," notes Gould. For those with less colorful tastes, though, later style Art Deco engagement rings featuring diamonds accented with diamonds are available in most stores that carry the style. Unlike many modern rings, an antique engagement ring is not merely a showcase for a highly valuable diamond. However, the cut and quality of the center stone continues to be an important aspect of any engagement ring. Typically, the diamonds in Art Deco engagement rings will contain a Brilliant cut stone, or even an Old European or Old Mine cut stone (visit the Stardust Antiques Website for brief explanation of these cuts) Most engagement rings and settings of the era contain or can hold between 0.50 and 1.5 carats, but exceptions exist at either end of the spectrum.

As is the case with any antique, there are only a limited number of the items available, and many of them are not in circulation for a variety of reasons. Because it can be difficult for storeowners to find originals, Tuohy adds to her store's collection by selling reproductions, which are available with or without a center stone.

"I was very fortunate to find a man who makes amazingly accurate reproductions using molds, which is how they were originally created," Tuohy explains. "It takes a very skilled jewelry maker to work with platinum because it's a fast-setting metal."

Whether you choose to buy an actual antique or a reproduction ring is a personal matter. But, before you make any significant purchases, do your research. A number of Websites feature antique engagement rings for sale, and you can also learn more about Art Deco at a few sites dedicated to the style.

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