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Victorian Engagement Rings – All You Need to Know

Victorian engagement ring closeup explained

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For the vintage lover, the Victorian era offers endless options of romantic and symbolic engagement ring designs. Ranging from solitaire diamond rings to elaborate, over the top designs, there’s something for everyone from this era.

Leta’s take a look at Victorian engagement rings, what sets them apart and how to buy.  

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Victorian Engagement Rings – the Context

Queen Victoria portrait

The Victorian era is characterized by the reign of Queen Victoria, who ascended the throne in 1837 and reigned until 1901. She was a lover of jewelry and greatly influenced the styles and trends of the time. Some of these trends, like that of wearing a white wedding dress, continue even today.

Because the Victorian era spanned a long period, it’s typically divided into three distinct sections, each with its own influence on jewelry, especially engagement rings.

1- Early Victorian (1837 to 1869) – Rings of this period featured bright and bold designs. Gemstones were commonly used, with natural motifs, milgrain and filigree work frequently incorporated into designs. Snake rings like this antique Victorian diamond and ruby snake ring were highly popular as Prince Albert had given Victoria a snake engagement ring, which represented eternal love.

2- Mid Victorian (1860 to 1885) – During this period, white metals and rose gold became fashionable. Ring designs were less extravagant and more classic. Natural motifs, like insects, birds and flowers continued to be used in designs. Prince Albert passed away, giving rise to the popularity of memorial rings.

3- Late Victorian (1890 to 1901) – Towards the end of the Victorian period, diamonds became prevalent, with the solitaire diamond emerging as a top design. Platinum became highly sought after and with the advancement in technology, mass produced rings using machines overtook the art of handcrafting rings. These trends continued into the Edwardian era.

Characteristics of Victorian Engagement Rings

Today the engagement rings from the Victorian era are considered among the most romantic and gorgeous designs, with a wide range of styles to choose from. Here are some of the characteristics of Victorian engagement rings:

1- Romantic Symbolism

Victorian style snake ring

Snake Ring by Syren Antique Vintage. Check price here.

Largely influenced by the love between Albert and Victoria, the rings during the early period of the Victorian era featured romantic motifs and symbolism. The snake ring, as mentioned above, was one of the most common motifs of the time, and although today we might find this strange, this was a sign of love and eternity. Some other romantic motifs included flowers, hearts, birds and bows.

2- Diamonds

Solitaire Victorian ring in yellow gold

Rose cut Victorian diamond ring by Helios Vintage. Check price here.

Thanks to the newly discovered South African mines, diamonds were easily available and so were frequently used in rings. One of the most enduring ring designs to come out of the Victorian period was the solitaire diamond ring. The old mine cut, rose cut and early variations of the round brilliant cut were commonly used in these designs.

3- Sentimental Designs

Dearest Victorian ring

A DEAREST Ring by Laurelle LTD. Check price here.

Sentimental ring designs were prevalent, with rings holding hidden meaning via gemstones and engravings. Two of the best known sentimental designs from this era are the DEAREST and REGARD rings.

  • DEAREST rings were made up of a diamond, emerald, amethyst, ruby, another emerald, sapphire and turquoise or topaz. The first letters of these gemstones spell the word DEAREST.
  • REGARD rings were made of ruby, emerald, garnet, amethyst, ruby and diamond. Again, each gemstone stood for a letter.

4- Natural Motifs

Moissanite Victorian engagement ring

Moissanite Victorian Inspired Replica ring by Rimon Fine Jewelry. Check price here.

Natural motifs were in vogue at the time, as designers looked to the natural world for inspiration. Leaves, vines, flowers, insects, birds, snakes animals, graceful swirling lines and images were among the most popular. These designs were very feminine, especially when coupled with rose or yellow gold hues.

5- Cluster Settings

Cluster setting Victorian engagement setting

Diamond Cluster Ring by Treasures of Grace. Check price here

Cluster settings were in vogue, with diamonds frequently the gemstone of choice. Several smaller stones would be carefully placed together to create a unique ring design, creating the appearance of a single large stone.

6- Pearls and Gemstones

Pearl ring is a Victorian style ring

Seed Pearl Ring by Pretty Different Shop. Check price here.

As the DEAREST and REGARD rings indicate, gemstones were frequently incorporated into ring designs. Pearls were also highly sought after with seed pearls often used to create beautiful ring designs, like the three stone ring featured above. Note that this was before pearl culturing took over the natural pearl market, so even small pearls were highly valuable.

7- Metal Elements

Large filigree ring

Statement Victorian Inspired Filigree Ring. Check price here.

Victorian rings frequently featured delicate metal work, like milgrain and filigree, to create stunning rings where the focus wasn’t on just the center stone but also on the metal.

Filigree refers to detailed metalwork often in swirling, twisting and elegant shapes, while milgrain refers to tiny metal beads often used as borders or to outline a design.

Should I Buy an Antique or Modern Vintage-Inspired Ring?

This all comes down to your preferences, budget and style.

An antique ring is nostalgic, special and one of a kind. It also once belonged to somebody, and if that doesn’t bother you, go for it. Depending on the age and quality of the ring, antiques can be very valuable.

On the other hand, most retailers offer a vintage engagement ring collection featuring ring designs inspired by various past eras. This can be a nice way of bridging the gap between the past and the present, having something old and something new all in one.

Victorian engagement rings collection
Vintage engagement rings side by side

See more stunning Settings from James Allen Vintage Collection

How to Buy Antique Victorian Engagement Rings

There have been many replica Victorian rings made over the decades, and these can sometimes be passed off as genuine Victorian rings.

So how can you tell if the antique you’re interested in is real or fake?

The best way to avoid getting ripped off is to purchase from a retailer with a proven track record and expertise in dealing with antiques. 

Check for a certificate of authenticity from your retailer. While diamonds on your Victorian antique ring can’t be graded because they are mounted, they should still come with a certificate estimating the specifications of the stone.