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The History of Custom Engagement Rings Part 3: From the Victorian Era to the Art Deco Movement

By Yaĝé Enigmus

During the Victorian era, custom engagement rings became pervasive among the public. After the 1867 identification of massive diamond deposits in South Africa, diamonds began to flood the European gem market, substantially decreasing their value in the eyes of the affluent. The market was also being flooded with amethyst during this time due to the discovery of monumental deposits in Brazil. With diamonds and amethyst losing their allure, the rich and powerful opted to revisit their love of coloured stones such as ruby and sapphire, often featuring the stones in their custom engagement ring designs. Acrostic rings, which arose at the end of the Georgian era and featured adjacent gemstones whose names would spell out a word or message with their first letter, also maintained some popularity as engagement rings in the Victorian era

REGARD acrostic ring featuring a Ruby, Emerald, Garnet, Amethyst, a second Ruby and a Diamond

REGARD acrostic ring featuring a Ruby, Emerald, Garnet, Amethyst, a second Ruby and a Diamond. Image: The Pragmatic Costumer

 

The decrease in diamond market value-- along with the rapid growth of the middle class spurred by the industrial revolution-- made custom engagement rings featuring diamonds an affordable and highly desirable purchase for workers wishing to enjoy their newfound financial stability. Because of this diamond engagement rings became the most common form of betrothal ring purchased by the public. It was this fascination with diamond engagement rings during the 19th century that further pushed advancements in diamond cutting technology and spawned the timeless solitaire ring. Charles Louis Tiffany introduced Tiffany’s version of the solitaire ring mount in 1886 in response to the demand for diamond engagement rings, with this setting still serving as the basis for contemporary solitaire ring designs.

Miley Cyrus's engagement ring is antique, dating to 1890
Miley Cyrus's engagement ring is antique, dating to 1890. Image: Glamour

 

The Edwardian era of the early 20th century saw custom engagement rings that fused the aesthetic motifs of the late 19th century with new advances in metalworking techniques. Due to the invention of the oxyacetylene torch in 1903, it became possible to craft engagement rings in solid platinum. The bright white metal allowed for the development of highly detailed and sculptural designs far more intricate than the jewelry of the past. These new designs featured fine rolling milgrain accents, smooth scrolling geometry, and sculpted motifs of ivy, flowers, and leaves. Coloured stones also regained prominence during this period due to how brightly colours appeared against white platinum, and were seen both as the center stones of custom engagement rings and as small accents around diamonds. 

Catherine Zeta-Jones's vintage platinum and diamond engagement ring
Catherine Zeta-Jones's vintage platinum and diamond engagement ring; Image: MSN

 

Platinum then became a valuable engineering resource during World War I, and the metal’s availability rapidly declined. Along with a shortage of platinum, many jewellers had to leave their professions to serve in the military. As a result, the jewellers and artisans that remained made their best attempts at replicating Edwardian engagement ring designs in gold and silver, although this struggle to revamp the fabrication of existing styles further slowed the artistic development of custom engagement rings which was already at a near standstill due to the shortage of available tradespeople. The war inevitably ended and those artisans who had survived returned to their craft. Very shortly after the end of the war, the diamond cutting advancements of the past two centuries culminated with the work of Marcel Tolkowsky. Tolkowsky was an engineer who had great interest in diamond cutting, and developed the Tolkowsky Brilliant cut in 1919. The design created by Tolkowsky utilized precise mathematics and the early 20th century understanding of diamond’s optical properties to maximize the brilliance and fire of a faceted diamond; the difference that Tolkowsky’s recommendations made in diamond cutting was profound, and the popularity of diamonds was fervently sustained by the additional beauty that these changes brought out in the gemstone. The guidelines set out by Tolkowsky in his book Diamond Design for executing this cut not only revolutionized diamond cutting, but like previous diamond cutting advancements have been transposed and modified to be applied to coloured gemstones, with Tolkowsky’s calculations now serving as the basis for the mathematics behind nearly all gemstone faceting styles used today.

Marcel Tolkowsky and some of his original diagrams for the Tolkowsky Brilliant cut
Marcel Tolkowsky and some of his original diagrams for the Tolkowsky Brilliant cut; Image: Capetown Diamond Museum

The Art Deco period of the 20th century soon came, and custom engagement rings featuring Art Deco motifs became widely popular, with the gemstones of this time exhibiting additional beauty due to their newly modified Tolkowsky-style cuts. Despite the rise in diamond’s popularity caused by Tolkowsky’s modifications, coloured gemstones were extremely popular during this time as bold colour contrast was a common element of art deco designs. The custom engagement rings seen in this era featured sharp geometric forms that were typical of Art Deco and reflected the mechanist ideals of the time. The desire to elevate these jewelry designs led to the introduction of calibré-cut stones in order to fulfill the need for stones of specialized shaped and/or size that were often required for the innovative ring designs of the art deco movement. Similarly, these highly exact ring designs incited the development of what has become the contemporary baguette shaped gemstone, as a stone of such shape allowed for the elegant execution of sharp angular motifs. Unfortunately the Art Deco period ended when the Great Depression hit, and at that time purchases of custom engagement rings drastically declined.

The Rockefeller Sapphire, an Art Deco ring with a 62.02 carats sapphire
The Rockefeller Sapphire, an Art Deco ring with a 62.02 carats sapphire. Image: Galerie Magazine

 

In the final installment of this series, learn about the history of engagement rings since the Great Depression.

Read more: The History of Custom Engagement Rings Part 4: From the Great Depression to Today

Here are more of our favourite engagement rings from the Skyjems catalog:

 3.85ct Emerald & 0.95ct White Sapphire Ring in 14kt Pink / Rose Gold

3.85ct Emerald & 0.95ct White Sapphire Ring in 14kt Pink / Rose Gold

$8,500.00

Fine Quality 4.64ct GIA Certified Color Change Sapphire & Diamond Scallop Ring in 18kt White Gold

Fine Quality 4.64ct GIA Certified Color Change Sapphire & Diamond Scallop Ring in 18kt White Gold

$20,900.00

3.08ct Tanzanite and White Sapphire Ring set in 14kt Pink / Rose Gold

3.08ct Tanzanite and White Sapphire Ring set in 14kt Pink / Rose Gold

$3,800.00

 

© 2020 Yaĝé Enigmus a.k.a. Kevin Back


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