The delicacy of this 14 karat yellow gold, seed pearl and pink tourmaline brooch is typical of Edwardian jewelry. Notice the white gold millegrain settings around the tourmaline gems. These settings serve to emphasize the subtle pink color of the stones and are a hallmark of both Edwardian jewelry and the later Art Deco style.
In the modern age we have a certain fascination with the rich and famous. They somehow seem to inhabit a world apart from us - a world of palatial mansions, yacht outings and opulent fashion. And yet our current gilded age, as magnificent as it seems, is put to shame by one that preceded us. If history is any indication, few people knew how to throw, or attend, a high-class party like the Edwardians. And one of the ways the Downton Abbey set flaunted their substantial wealth was by wearing magnificent Edwardian jewelry.
Gossamer creations of unparalleled beauty, Edwardian jewelry is among the most prized objects on earth. Diamonds, sapphires and natural pearls drip graciously from platinum garlands, bows and ribbons. It possesses a refinement and elegance that elicits images of royalty and aristocrats. And, although only created for a short period of time, from 1900 to 1915, Edwardian jewelry still looms large in the imagination today.
The Edwardian era took its name from the reign of the British monarch King Edward VII, who ruled from 1901 to 1910. He ascended the throne on the death of his mother, Queen Victoria, who had ruled for an astonishing 64 years. Under Queen Victoria's reign, Great Britain grew into the most powerful and wealthy country on earth, with a colonial empire unrivaled in both size and prestige.
However, Victoria was a traditionalist. In fact, she was often viewed as a slave to formality and ceremony. This was partially reflected in Victorian fashions, which were invariably elaborate, heavy and sometimes suffocating. Although the Victorian period was immensely prosperous, the upper class was constrained by the staid Victorian ethos espoused by the Great Queen. Conspicuous consumption was something one simply did not do in Victorian England.
King Edward VII's ascension to the throne, however, brought a renewed sense of lightheartedness and enjoyment to high society. The new king and his wife, Alexandra, loved grand parties and were unrepentant socialites. King Edward VII led by example in this brilliant new era. He enjoyed gambling, overeating and womanizing. He even indulged in smoking both cigars and cigarettes, although not at the same time. In the Edwardian period it was perfectly acceptable to be rich and revel in it.
Although King Edward VII was the monarch of Great Britain, his lavish parties and hedonistic behavior established the spirit of the age in Continental Europe as well as America. In France, this period was known as the Belle Époque - the beautiful era. In the United States it was called the Gilded Age.
But regardless of the name used, the Edwardian era was a brilliant flourishing of culture, leisure and the arts. In many ways, the Edwardian period was the apogee of European imperialism and global dominance carried forward from the late 19th century. Great Britain and France both had extensive colonial possessions that spanned the globe, while Germany was a rapidly rising world power.
Then, just as a star burns brightest right before it is extinguished, Europe was plunged into the horrors of the First World War in 1914. The extravagant parties and opulent holidays abruptly ended. Even the luxurious frivolity of the fashion world stopped almost overnight. In the darkly prophetic words of the British Foreign Secretary Sir Edward Grey at the onset of the War, "The lamps are going out all over Europe; we shall not see them lit again in our life-time."
Antique Edwardian jewelry was characterized by ribbon, bow, garland and heart motifs. However, unlike the contemporary Art Nouveau jewelry style, Edwardian jewelry didn't adhere slavishly to naturalism. It wasn't uncommon for Edwardian pieces to have geometric or linear elements, foreshadowing the future rise of Art Deco jewelry styles in the 1920s.
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The Edwardian stylistic movement, with its delicate yet dazzling appearance, was directly inspired by 18th century Rococo jewelry and the Louis XVI style. Pierced or filigree settings added a playful and airy sense that was absent from earlier Victorian jewelry. Fine Edwardian jewelry always possesses a delicacy and lightness that is not found in later Art Deco jewelry.
Diamonds and colored gemstones were often mounted in millegrain settings during the Edwardian period. Millegrain is a goldsmithing technique where the bezel around the perimeter of a stone is minutely beaded or ridged, giving the piece a rich, glittering look. It also wasn't unusual for bezels in Edwardian jewelry to use a different, contrasting metal from the rest of a piece. Yellow gold bezels emphasized the richness of colored stones while white gold or platinum bezels accentuated the dazzling whiteness of diamonds.
The discovery of massive diamond deposits in South Africa in the 1870s led to increased availability of these coveted gemstones during the late 19th and early 20th century. Diamonds, formerly rare and reserved for the aristocracy, were quickly embraced by mainstream jewelers. As a result, diamonds were one of the preeminent gems of the period, often adorning Edwardian jewelry in profusion.
Most diamonds found in Edwardian jewelry are either old mine cut or old European cut diamonds. These older diamond cuts were hand-fashioned by highly skilled old world craftsmen in order to maximize the fire of these stones under low light conditions. Fire, otherwise known as dispersion, is when a diamond breaks light up into the spectral colors of the rainbow before returning it to the viewer's eyes. These old cut diamonds possess a warmth, charm and charisma that complements Edwardian jewelry beautifully.
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Another diamond cut often found in Edwardian jewelry is the rose cut. It is a flat-bottomed, faceted dome - sometimes irregular - that rises to a single point. The rose cut is actually a very old diamond cut, first originating in Europe in the middle of the 16th century. By the Edwardian period at the beginning of the 20th century, rose cut diamonds were usually used in less expensive pieces of jewelry. Edwardian jewelry was the last style of jewelry to feature the widespread use of rose cut diamonds.
Because of the extensive use of diamonds in Edwardian jewelry, white metals - primarily white gold and platinum - were de rigueur in these pieces. Platinum, in particular, became a hallmark of high quality Edwardian jewelry. Platinum has an extremely high melting point and can take a great deal of expertise to properly work. So although the rare white metal was known decades before the Edwardian period, the early 20th century was the first time platinum was commonly used in jewelry production.
Platinum was uniquely suited for use in Edwardian jewelry. Unlike silver, platinum's mesmerizing gray-white color doesn't tarnish over time. In addition, platinum is incredibly strong compared to sterling silver or even karat gold.
As a result, jewelers were able to create profoundly complex yet magnificently diaphanous scrollwork, filigree and millegrain effects in platinum that would have been impossible in traditional silver-topped gold. As an added bonus, the new metal's great strength allowed platinum Edwardian jewelry to be surprisingly light for its size. This was a reversal from earlier Victorian jewelry made from silver-topped gold, which was invariably bulky and heavy.
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Another gem often mounted in Edwardian jewelry is pearls. The really interesting thing about good quality pearl jewelry from the Edwardian period - circa 1900 to 1915 - is that it exclusively employed natural pearls. This is because the cultured pearl industry, pioneered by the enterprising Kokichi Mikimoto, didn't produce commercially viable harvests of round pearls until the late 1910s.
Natural saltwater pearls could only be harvested by highly trained oyster divers who would descend to the sea floor in search of wild mollusks. These divers would descend to depths of up to 100 feet without any breathing apparatus, risking not only drowning but also the dreaded bends. It is estimated that every ton of oysters collected would yield only a few high quality pearls.
It is incredibly significant that Edwardian jewelry was the last style of jewelry, historically speaking, to rely solely on natural pearls. Natural saltwater pearls have been prized for thousands of years for their luster, iridescence and otherworldly, almost ethereal appearance. Natural saltwater pearls were so rare that matched necklaces were only within the reach of the very wealthiest members of society. In fact, the renowned French jeweler Jacques Cartier reputedly traded a mere two necklaces of natural pearls for his flagship Fifth Avenue New York store location in 1916.
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Other gemstones often encountered in Edwardian jewelry are sapphire, aquamarine and ruby. Turquoise, peridot and amethyst were used in somewhat less expensive pieces. In any case, delicate, softly-colored pastel gems often found top billing alongside dazzlingly bright diamonds and platinum.
Edwardian jewelry provides a wealth of opportunities for the aspiring antiques investor. Along with the contemporary jewelry style of Art Nouveau, Edwardian jewelry was the first type of jewelry to look effectively modern. Unlike Victorian or Georgian jewelry, fine Edwardian jewelry can still grace the hand or neck of a gorgeous woman without looking dated.
When buying Edwardian jewelry for investment purposes there are a few rules to follow. Large, expensive gemstones like ruby, sapphire and diamonds were frequently mounted in important pieces and are very desirable. However, it is more common to find a multitude of smaller accent stones without a single large gem in more modest pieces. Although these less elaborate examples are still quite collectible, they will always be less valuable than a similar piece set with a large precious stone.
Pearl Edwardian jewelry represents a tremendous buying opportunity due to the fact that it is perhaps the single best source of affordable natural pearls left in the market today. As always, large, round pearls with good luster and no damage will be the most desirable. Seed pearls, split pearls and baroque pearls are also commonly found in Edwardian jewelry, but are significantly less desirable than large, fully round pearls. It should be noted that natural saltwater pearls were so rare that it wasn't unusual for pearls used in antique jewelry to only be approximate matches for color, roundness and size. Allowances should be made for these natural variations.
As noted above, platinum is the premier metal for high end Edwardian jewelry. However, yellow gold was also frequently used. In addition, yellow gold topped with platinum or silver is also commonly encountered. It is recommended that the serious investor only entertain pieces made from 14 karat (58.3%) gold or better. Platinum used in jewelry, in contrast, is almost always 90% fine. All else being equal, a given example rendered in platinum will always be more desirable than a similar piece made in karat gold.
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A fine piece of Edwardian jewelry will always communicate an unmistakable delicacy and lightness that is innately appealing. Poorly made Edwardian jewelry will tend to be clunky or ponderous. The serious connoisseur will skip over these subpar examples.
Modern reproductions in the Edwardian style will often have similar shortcomings, projecting an awkward or clumsy aura. They will not only lack the subtlety and spontaneity of original pieces, but are also usually set with modern cut diamonds, which is a dead giveaway. These modern reproductions are unfit for investment purposes.
As usual, it is important to avoid buying damaged, broken, bent or otherwise compromised pieces of Edwardian jewelry if future investment performance is important. Pearls, especially, should be checked to ensure they haven't pealed, cracked or discolored. Watch out for chipped gemstones or diamonds as well. They can be almost impossible to economically replace.
It is important to note that synthetic rubies and sapphires went into commercial production just before 1900. Because of this, the Edwardian period was the first time that synthetic gemstones were widely used in jewelry. However, just because a piece of jewelry employs synthetics, it doesn't mean that it isn't desirable. Synthetic gemstones were still very expensive and difficult to produce at the time. Therefore, it isn't unusual to find them mounted in very fine settings - often as matching calibre cut stones - along with completely natural, high value gems, like diamonds and pearls.
Due to its tendency towards high intrinsic values, investment quality Edwardian jewelry can be quite expensive. Pricing for good quality, investable Edwardian jewelry generally starts at around $500 for simpler examples. Prices quickly escalate for more elaborate specimens or pieces mounted with large, valuable gemstones like diamonds, sapphires or rubies. Superlative examples can easily command sums of $10,000 or more.
The Edwardian period was an age of sophistication, elegance and grandeur. Its alluring combination of carefree leisure and tremendous wealth still inspires us today. Edwardian jewelry is a window into that past, embodying the zeitgeist and splendor of that pre-World War I golden age.
This 18 karat yellow gold, diamond and moonstone pendant is a stunning example of Modernist jewelry. The combination of textured metal with an interesting, but low value moonstone provides maximum visual impact and is typical of Modernist work. This pendant was made in Europe, probably in the 1960s or 1970s, but possibly as late as the 1980s.
It can be argued rather convincingly that contemporary art as a movement has failed miserably. Whether it takes the form of Surrealism, Abstract Expressionism or Post Minimalism, contemporary art is often unattractive, if not downright ugly. These aesthetic shortcomings, combined with the movement's intellectual inaccessibility, make contemporary art both an elitist's dream and a practical failure.
However, in one of those little ironies of life, the principles of contemporary art which fail so miserably when applied to large works like paintings and sculptures succeed rather brilliantly when applied to miniature works like jewelry. Modernist jewelry is one of the very few places that the ideas of contemporary art found fertile ground, blooming into an effusion of exquisite, unrivaled beauty.
Modernist jewelry stands alone as an island of elegance in a sea of humdrum contemporary art. To say it embodies many of our modern concepts of beauty, while true, doesn't really do Modernist jewelry justice. Glittering precious metals gracefully fuse with countless different varieties of bewitching gemstones into a glittering mass of avant-garde style.
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One piece of Modernist jewelry may have sensuously organic forms seamlessly melt into heavily textured yellow gold while another hand-wrought specimen may have gracefully sweeping lines simultaneously vie with outrageously angular spikes for visual dominance. Modernist jewelry happily abandons all convention; the results are often breathtaking.
The Modernist movement in jewelry had its origins in the United States in the 1930s and 1940s. At that time, Victorian, Art Nouveau and Art Deco had all been popular jewelry styles within the past 50 years. However, some cutting-edge artists found these established traditions unreasonably constricting. In the end, they repudiated Victorian style as being needlessly ornamental, Art Nouveau as too rigidly naturalistic and Art Deco as excessively uncompromising and austere.
Instead, Modernist jewelers envisioned themselves as peers to the great painters and sculptors of the age like Salvador Dali, Willem de Kooning and Jackson Pollock, among others. As a result, the radically new form of jewelry known as Modernism was born.
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Throwing convention to the wind, bold founding artists Sam Kramer and Art Smith fearlessly experimented with the new, unbounded Modernist ethos in their Greenwich Village studios. Andrew Grima, another famous Modernist jeweler, created such alluring, innovative work that he was appointed Crown Jeweller to the British Royal Family in 1970.
Once Modernism gained mainstream popularity in the 1960s and 1970s, even illustrious luxury houses like Tiffany, Van Cleef & Arpels and Boucheron produced compelling, high quality Modernist pieces. With its broad appeal, bold look and eclectic styling, Modernist jewelry is still widely hand crafted by fine artists all over the world today.
The Modernist style is incredibly broad and flexible, but is generally characterized by a dizzying variety of textures, shapes and colors. One piece may show nothing but sharp angles and straight lines while another may be exclusively composed of rounded, highly organic shapes. In any case, abstraction and asymmetry are the norm for Modernist jewelry, with the interest flowing from the juxtaposition of disparate forms, colors and finishes.
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Little thought is given to the intrinsic value of items incorporated into a design. Instead, elements are chosen based on the visual effect they will have within the overall composition of the piece. It is not unusual to find a piece of Modernist jewelry with a simple amber cabochon next to fine diamonds or with humble mother of pearl nestled within impressively heavy 18 karat gold. In fact, even nontraditional materials like wood and fabric are occasionally incorporated into these unique works of art.
Modernist jewelry often displays chunky, heavy forms with large expanses of gold or silver. The use of mixed metals is also a hallmark of Modernism, with platinum, gold, silver and copper freely and commonly intermingled. Obscure or unusual gemstones are frequently used in the pursuit of experimental, avant-garde color combinations. Unconventionally shaped gemstones like trillion, cabochon or custom cut stones are sometimes found in Modernist pieces. Occasionally stones are even carved or left as rough crystals for greater effect.
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One offshoot of Modernism is known as Brutalism. The term Brutalism originally applied to a type of roughly finished, monolithic architecture originating in the mid 20th century, but has since been applied to jewelry as well. This radical style of jewelry is typified by massive, jagged and highly abstract designs that are at once intriguing and perhaps slightly disquieting. In a sense Brutalism is the more uncompromising, extreme little brother of Modernism.
When buying Modernist or Brutalist jewelry, the single most important element is the overall stylistic impact of the piece. A well designed example will captivate and dazzle the observer with compellingly tactile surfaces, explosions of contrasting colors and provocative shapes. The hallmark of Modernism is uniqueness; most exceptional pieces of Modernist jewelry are one-of-a-kind creations. Look for pieces that feel solid, substantial and heavy. Signed pieces will always command a premium over similar but unsigned examples.
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As mentioned before, Modernist and Brutalist jewelry commonly uses a wide range of materials, including some that do not possess much intrinsic value. However, this doesn't mean that poor quality or shoddy materials are acceptable. To the contrary, quality is still vitally important.
For example, if wood is incorporated into the design it should be an immaculately finished, exotic hardwood like ebony, rosewood or walnut. If gold is used, it should be 14 karat (58.3%) gold or better. Likewise, any precious or semi-precious stones employed should be considered good quality within their respective variety. And while not strictly necessary, only considering examples with at least one intrinsically valuable element - either precious metals or gems - will help ensure good investment returns.
Modernism as a stylistic movement is a bit of a Rorschach test. On the one hand, this means that a wide variety of interesting and varied looks fall within its boundaries. However, it also means that some pieces of jewelry are peddled as Modernist when they don't actually conform to any of the style's characteristics.
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Some mass produced jewelry from the 1960s through the present has attempted to imitate the Modernist look. But these cheap pieces lack any notable presence and only vaguely resemble true Modernist work. Avoiding these flimsy and mundane pseudo-Modernist specimens is paramount in order to achieve acceptable future investment performance. In any case, jewelry that is boring, clumsy or poorly executed should be rejected outright, regardless of whether it was mass produced or not.
Modernist jewelry is a garden of earthly delights for the savvy investor. Because it is not as well known as some of the other, older jewelry movements like Art Deco or Edwardian, prices are often still surprisingly affordable. This effect is enhanced by the fact that some materials used in the movement have modest intrinsic value. Simple, but still desirable investment grade examples of Modernist jewelry start at around $400 each. However, truly breathtaking specimens that incorporate large, expensive gemstones or extensive amounts of heavy, high karat gold can easily exceed several thousand dollars. Pieces by well known artists are also, predictably, rather expensive.
For decades Modernist artists have striven to create a style of jewelry that is both cutting edge and completely new. Luckily for both investors and collectors alike, they not only succeeded, but did so magnificently.
A fancy colored diamond mounted in a modern setting creates an engagement ring that is both attractive and investment oriented. The naturally colored, apricot-yellow diamond shown here would be surprisingly affordable. Its price may not be much different than that of a comparable white diamond.
You've finally chosen the person you want to spend the rest of your life with. Now the time has come to seal the deal with a gorgeous ring. Of course, any good thing comes with a price, and in this case it will be the cost of a glamorous engagement ring. Say goodbye to anywhere from a few hundred dollars to several tens of thousands of dollars.
Or do you really have to say goodbye to that money? Does the ring you are giving (or receiving) have any value, other than as a symbolic expression of love? In other words, you're potentially spending several thousand dollars on this small piece of jewelry. Is an engagement ring an investment? Does it have tangible value that can be expected to appreciate over time?
These are reasonable questions, especially when spending so much money for a once in a lifetime event. Unfortunately, there are a myriad of diabolical myths making the rounds on the internet about engagement rings. Like all good myths, they have a kernel of truth to them - just enough to convince the unwary they are completely true.
The first myth is that diamond engagement rings were a 1930s marketing ploy by diamond monopolist De Beers to sell more stones. This is half true. De Beers did employ the U.S. advertising company N.W. Ayer & Son in a (tremendously successful) attempt to increase diamond sales in the U.S. toward the end of the Great Depression. Less than a decade later, Frances Gerety, a young copywriter employed by that same ad agency created what is arguably the greatest advertising slogan of the 20th century - "A diamond is forever."
But diamond engagement rings were around long before De Beers' marketing push. In fact, the first recorded use of a diamond engagement ring was in 1477 when Archduke Maximilian I of Austria gave one to his betrothed, Mary of Burgundy. Later, during the Victorian age in the 19th century, diamond engagement rings became popular among the middle class.
This was undoubtedly because large diamond deposits were discovered in South Africa in 1867, making the adamantine gems more widely available. Before that time, diamonds were the exclusive province of the wealthy and nobility. It's no surprise every bride-to-be wanted a diamond of her own as soon as they became affordable!
Another false charge commonly leveled against engagement rings is that they are like cars. Once "driven off the lot" - or in this case carried out of the jewelry store - their value drops considerably and continues to depreciate for years to come. Once again, this myth has some truth to it. Every jewelry retailer must have a profit margin, so it is normal for the wholesale value of an engagement ring to be less than its retail value.
But where you buy an engagement ring has a huge impact on the amount of its markup. Buying an engagement ring online from a company like Blue Nile, Leibish & Company or James Allen will get you much more bang for your buck because these companies do not have to maintain the overhead of physical jewelry stores. They also function on relatively slim profit margins - usually around 10% for loose diamonds - and sometimes less!
Conversely, the markup on engagement rings from national retailers like Kay Jewelers or Zales is always excessive. Luxury retailers like Tiffany, Harry Winston and Cartier are no place to find bargains either. They use their prestigious brand names as an excuse to charge inflated prices for engagement rings.
Another excellent way to buy a superb engagement ring at a great price is to purchase an estate ring. The term "estate" simply means that a piece was pre-owned. Some people might be uncomfortable with this idea, but it really is the single best way to invest in a top quality engagement ring without breaking the bank. Think of it this way: heirloom quality jewelry rarely ends up scrapped or in the melting pot. So many fine antique and vintage estate engagement rings are still available at reasonable prices - especially when compared to the price of new engagement rings.
Unlike a new ring, the fabrication cost of an estate ring is what is known as a "sunk cost". This means that the ring was made so long ago that no one is trying to make a profit based on its fabrication cost anymore. That lack of markup translates into a better ring and more money in your wallet simultaneously.
Here is the bottom line. There is no reason a carefully chosen engagement ring can't appreciate like a stock, bond or any other investment. This is because, at its core, a fine engagement ring is a work of art sculpted from gold, platinum, diamonds and gemstones that a woman wears on her finger. Great works of art appreciate reliably over the decades and so too does a high quality engagement ring.
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But there are a few rules to follow if you're considering buying an engagement ring with investment potential. First, you must avoid buying a ring set primarily with modern-cut, white diamonds. I know this might not make sense given that I just debunked the myth of diamond engagement rings as an artificial De Beers marketing creation. But, unfortunately, white diamonds are simply too common to make reliable investments.
Don't let this discourage you however. There are exceptional diamond rings that do make good investments - notably antique rings set with old mine cut or old European cut diamonds. These beautiful diamonds were handcrafted by skilled artisans in the near mythical diamond cutting centers of Europe in the decades before World War II. Cushion shaped old mine cut diamonds were popular from the early 18th century to the Edwardian age - around 1910. Old European cut diamonds - a rounder, updated modification of the old mine cut - were in vogue from just before 1900 to the 1930s.
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Both of these antique diamond cuts feature deeper proportions than a modern brilliant cut stone. This greatly enhances an antique cut diamond's fire, or rainbow flashes of light. However, this comes at the cost of substantially reduced brilliance - the white pinpricks of light a viewer sees. This might seem like a dubious trade-off at first glance. You would be wrong to assume that, however.
High quality old mine cut and old European cut diamonds explode in a dazzling display of color. Their cut was meant to be at its best in low light conditions like candlelight. In this endeavor these marvelous diamonds do not disappoint; their intense fire can easily be seen across a room. The unique look and charming presence of old mine cut and old European cut diamonds is the stuff of legends. It is the reason these exceptional gems are still so desirable today even though a century or more has passed since they were cut.
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If old mine cut and old European cut diamonds do not appeal to you, then perhaps a colored diamond would? Diamonds are actually found in a range of colors in nature. This includes brown (champagne), yellow (canary), orange, pink, blue, green and even red! Colored diamonds - also referred to as fancy diamonds or fancy colored diamonds - are thousands of times rarer than their colorless counterparts.
Their incredible rarity, along with their wide range of alluring hues, is one of the reasons colored diamonds make good investments. However, not all fancy colored diamonds are equally rare and desirable. Champagne and light yellow canary diamonds are on the lower end of the pricing scale for colored diamonds, while orange, green, blue, pink and red diamonds are more expensive.
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If you're worried about being priced out of the market for these coveted, multi-hued gemstones, let me put your mind at ease. Champagne, light yellow canary and even some orange diamonds are generally less expensive per carat than equivalent white diamonds! That's right. You can have a stunningly unique, investment grade diamond engagement ring that will appreciate over time and it can cost less than a run-of-the-mill, cookie cutter white diamond engagement ring!
Colored diamonds have one big drawback however. It is difficult to find them in really intense, eye-popping colors. Colored diamonds almost universally tend towards desaturated, lighter shades, which naturally have less visual impact. Of course, some very intensely colored fancy diamonds do exist. Browns and yellows are the most commonly encountered intensely colored diamonds. Unfortunately, deep brown diamonds - also known as cognac diamonds - are sometimes unattractive due to oversaturation. Deep yellow canary diamonds, while not completely out of reach, are extremely expensive.
Vividly colored diamonds in orange, green, blue, pink and red are generally unattainable for the average person. For example, the Hope Diamond is renowned for its fully saturated, dramatic deep blue color. But it is also locked in a museum as a priceless treasure. Prices for attractive, vividly colored diamonds (other than brown and yellow) usually start in the high five or low six figure range and escalate quickly from there. Generally speaking, gemstones of this magnitude are usually reserved for movie stars, corporate titans and other wealthy moguls.
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Although diamonds are strongly associated with engagement rings in the public conscience, there are other compelling options available for those seeking a jaw-droppingly gorgeous, investment grade engagement ring. I am, of course, speaking about breathtakingly gorgeous, investment quality natural colored gemstones
Even though ruby, sapphire and emerald are the most widely recognized colored stones, they are not necessarily the best colored gemstones for an investment worthy engagement ring. Instead some less well known colored stones - spinel, tourmaline and some fancy garnet varieties - are not only rapidly appreciating in price, but also look fabulous in engagement rings. This is because these gems are almost always completely natural and untreated.
This situation is actually rather unusual in the world of gemstones. Most colored stones - including rubies, sapphires and emeralds - are subject to heat, flux filling, irradiation, diffusion, oiling or other artificial treatments to enhance their clarity or color. Only one of these, heat treatment, has been fully accepted within the gem industry, provided it is properly disclosed. Even diamonds are sometimes laser drilled or fracture filled to improve their clarity. Unfortunately, these gemstone treatments - even routine heat treatment - are rarely disclosed to the ultimate consumer at the time of purchase.
Preeminent among all natural, untreated colored gemstones is spinel. Spinel is a little known cousin to the ruby and sapphire family. Almost chemically identical to ruby, red spinels were mistaken for the king of colored gemstones for most of human history. It was only in the early 19th century that spinel was finally determined to be a chemically distinct gemstone from ruby and sapphire. Spinels come in the same dizzying range of colors that sapphires and rubies do - intense blues, reds, pinks and purples. Being so closely related to sapphires and rubies, spinels have also inherited their superb physical properties. Spinels are tough, hard and extremely brilliant, making them a perfect colored stone investment for a breathtaking engagement ring.
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Tourmalines are another class of gemstone that comes in a broad range of colors. While commonly found in shades of blue, green, red and pink, tourmaline stones can also be multi-colored, displaying two different hues on opposite ends of the same faceted gem! Tourmaline's wide range of colors and good hardness, couple with the fact it is readily available in larger sizes, make it perfect for the woman who wants an impressively flashy colored stone engagement ring. I should note that while it is relatively uncommon, tourmaline are sometime heat treated to improve color.
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Garnets are usually thought of as excessively dark red stones that populate cheap jewelry. And this can certainly be true. But garnets are also found in a stunning range of colors - every hue of the rainbow except for blue! These exotic, non-red garnet types are known in the gem trade as fancy garnets.
One of the most desirable fancy garnet varieties is the fabled Mandarin garnet. Mandarin garnets, also called Spessartite garnets, are an exceptionally beautiful gemstone that range in color from light yellowish-orange to a deep, rich red-orange. The very finest specimens are a bright, crisp pumpkin orange - a very unusual color for a completely natural gemstone. Mandarin garnets also have excellent brilliance and hardness, making them a phenomenal choice for those seeking a unique, durable and unconventional engagement ring.
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Another legendary fancy garnet variety is called Tsavorite. This relative newcomer to the gem community was first discovered in the African nation of Tanzania in 1967. It subsequently made its international public debut at the luxury retailer Tiffany & Co. in 1974. High quality Tsavorite garnet is a bright, saturated emerald green color. In fact, Tsavorite can look stunningly like emerald, except that the green garnet is tougher, more brilliant and rarer than emerald. It is little wonder that Tsavorite prices have risen inexorably since the stone's fortuitous discovery 50 years ago.
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Most women want the beautiful gemstones mounted in their engagement rings, diamond or otherwise, to be as natural as possible. This is one reason why old mine cut diamonds, old European cut diamonds, spinel, tourmaline and fancy garnets are particularly desirable for engagement rings. They are all extremely unlikely to have been subjected to any kind of treatment or enhancement. In other words, the beauty you see in these gems is completely natural. They were mined straight from the earth looking that good - a pleasant anomaly in our modern, synthetic world. Because colored diamonds may be subject to certain treatments, it is recommended that you only consider specimens certified as untreated by the GIA (Gemological Institute of America) to ensure you are buying a completely natural stone.
In addition to buying an engagement ring set with the right gemstone, there are also a few other simple rules that can help you invest in the best ring possible. For example, it is wise to avoid pave settings, a technique where many small diamonds or gemstones are set closely together to imitate a larger stone. All else being equal, a single gemstone of a given weight has more investment potential than many smaller stones that aggregate to the same weight. You want a ring set with either a single, large central stone or, at most, a few larger stones. However, it is perfectly acceptable for a big central gem to be surrounded by a multitude of small accent stones.
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Another guideline is to never purchase an engagement ring mounted with synthetic or simulant gemstones. Synthetic gems are sometimes referred to as "lab created", "created" or "cultured" in marketing materials. Diamond simulants like moissanite and cubic zirconia, as well as synthetic diamonds or synthetic colored stones, should all be rejected.
The only exception to this rule is antique jewelry from before World War II. In this case, synthetic rubies, sapphires and emeralds - often calibre cut - were commonly employed as small accent stones. Because their use is historically accurate and intrinsic to the design of some rings from the early 20th century, synthetic gems used this way do not detract from the investment potential of an antique engagement ring, assuming the large central stone or stones are genuine.
Antique engagement rings are a hot trend right now. But their vintage look may not be ideal for everybody. A quick overview of the styles commonly seen in antique rings can help you decide if one is right for you.
The Victorian period lasted from 1840 to 1900. Rings during this time were characterized by heavy, yellow gold settings that were often decorated with engraved flowers, flutes and scrolls. Claw set solitaire rings became popular during this era, although rings employing the newly developed gypsy setting were also fashionable towards the end of the 19th century.
Edwardian rings from circa 1900 to 1915 are typically light and diaphanous in construction. They often feature ribbon, bow, garland or heart motifs set with calibre cut diamond or colored gemstone accents around one or more larger central stones. However, it also isn't uncommon to find rings from this period set with anywhere from one to five gemstones - often diamonds - mounted flush into a simple gypsy setting.
Art Deco, popular from about 1915 to 1935, was a starkly linear design language. Its bold lines and rigid, geometric forms evoke the rapid and ubiquitous mechanization that dominated Western Europe, Japan and the U.S. at the time. Rings set with large diamonds or precious gemstones of high intrinsic value dominated Art Deco jewelry. These expensive stones were often lavishly set in white gold and platinum settings that were elaborately carved or filigreed.
If you are considering an antique ring, try to avoid buying a modern reproduction. A reproduction ring in an antique style may possess the look you desire, but it will not appreciate in the same way as a genuine, original antique. Numerous vaguely Edwardian and Art Deco "style" rings have been produced within the last couple of decades.
Recent imitations of these older styles will rarely adhere to all the characteristics found in original antique engagement rings. One dead giveaway is when a supposedly "antique" ring has no wear on its shoulders or shank. A true antique ring that is close to a century old will have at least modest wear in these areas. In addition, only diamonds with old mine cuts or old European cuts were mounted in antique rings before the 1930s.
An engagement ring is a token of the strength of your commitment - a symbol of the eternal love between two people. But there is no reason that this major purchase can't also be a compelling investment as well. The many thousands of dollars you will spend on your wedding and honeymoon will quickly evaporate, leaving nothing but memories. They will be sweet memories certainly, but memories all the same.
An engagement ring is the one aspect of your marriage that can, if properly vetted, be a perpetual, tangible investment. Buying an engagement ring set with an antique cut diamond, colored diamond, spinel, tourmaline or fancy garnet can provide you and your spouse an asset of lasting value.
Buying an engagement ring isn't all about money though, so it is important that both you and your future spouse are happy with your choice. Buy a ring that is within your budget and in a style she likes, even if it isn't strictly "investment grade". Don't blindly buy a certificate, no matter what it claims. Instead, trust your eyes. Buy what looks good to you. In the end, this ring will be your treasure and your jewel.
A stunning investment grade sapphire and old European cut diamond Art Deco ring from the 1920s. While the slightly yellowish color of the central diamond would be undesirable in a modern cut diamond, it gives this antique cut stone a warm, inviting look.
Humans are easily seduced by the state-of-the-art. This maxim applies as readily to a sleek new iPhone as a stately BMW 7 series. However, in our obsessive pursuit of new and stimulating desires, occasionally we forget the charms of the old. And sometimes those old things are very, very charming indeed. One good example of this is diamonds. The most common cut in the diamond industry today is the round brilliant cut. It is bright, flashy and oh so photogenic. It is so ubiquitous that few people have even heard of its little known, but highly attractive ancestors - the old mine cut and the old European cut. These antique diamond forms may not compare to modern cuts in terms of precision or technical accomplishment, but they possess unique optical effects that are at once bewitching and refined.
Old mine cut and old European cut diamonds are the epitome of antique elegance. These remarkable precious gems have undoubtedly witnessed the full gamut of human emotion during their century or more of existence - passion, turmoil, temptation and more. When the wealthy and powerful of society attended manor house dinner parties or fashionable operas, they adorned themselves with these exquisite stones. Indoor lighting at these refined 18th and 19th century events was either candlelight or later, gas lights. Both old mine cut and old European cut diamonds are visually stunning in these dimly lit environments, flashing a rainbow of colors that can easily be seen across a large room. These gorgeous antique stones simultaneously exhibit an enticing warmth and undeniable charisma that is completely lacking in today's modern cut diamonds.
Old European Cut Diamond Engagement Rings For Sale
Although round brilliant cut diamonds ostensibly balance the attributes of brilliance and fire, in reality very few modern stones manage to do this well. Brilliance refers to the flashes of white light that return to the eye from a faceted diamond, while fire refers to any flashes of colored light. Unfortunately, the mediocre cutting of most modern diamonds causes the overwhelming majority to display good brilliance, but poor or sometimes even nearly nonexistent fire. Well-cut, modern round brilliant diamonds do have their place, especially when one craves the dazzling, "white ice" look. But they cannot compare to the inviting warmth, subtle charm and exceptional fire of old cut diamonds.
To understand antique diamonds it is imperative to know the five major parts of a faceted gem. From top to bottom they are: the table, the crown, the girdle, the pavilion and the culet. The table is the large, central facet on the top of a stone. The crown is the entire upper portion of a stone - everything above the girdle. The girdle is the "waist" of the stone, the thin line that encircles a faceted gem at its widest point. The pavilion is the entire lower portion of a stone - everything below the girdle. The culet is the small point at the very bottom of a cut stone.
The old mine cut is a cushion-shaped cut that was popular from the early 18th century to the end of 19th century. They have small tables, high crowns, very thick girdles, deep pavilions and very open culets. An old mine cut diamond's unique character is utterly unmistakable - better experienced than simply seen. Its deep proportions grant the stone tremendous fire, although it comes at the cost of greatly reduced brilliance. Some degree of asymmetry is also usually apparent in almost all old mine cut specimens. This is a natural result of diamond cutters painstakingly handcrafting the gems without the benefit of automated machinery. Toward the end of the Victorian era, the old mine cut fell out of favor and was rapidly displaced by the old European cut.
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The old European cut is a logical evolution of the old mine cut, differing mainly in its round shape. It possesses a high crown, small table and very deep pavilion by modern standards. The culet was often open - not forming an exact point - but was usually smaller than the culet on old mine cut stones. The old European cut also shares the same intense fire and warm appearance of its predecessor the old mine cut. The old European cut came into vogue in the 1890s with the development of diamond cutting equipment that allowed rounded shapes to be created more easily and with less waste. By World War I, the old European cut had completely displaced old mine cut stones.
In 1919 a Belgian diamond cutter named Marcel Tolkowsky published a thesis that became the foundation of the modern round brilliant cut. This mathematical formula - sometimes known as the "ideal cut" - theoretically maximizes the amount of both fire and brilliance in a faceted diamond. In the wake of this revelation, the old European cut was rapidly abandoned, with few examples faceted after the 1930s. Occasionally, so-called "transitional" cuts from the 1920s through the 1950s are found. Transitional stones stand in-between the old European cut and the modern round brilliant cut in terms of composition.
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A good alternate source for scarce old cut diamonds is antique diamond solitaire or engagement rings. The diamond engagement ring first became popular as a declaration of eternal love towards the end of the 19th century. This places it well within the period when old mine and old European cut diamonds were produced. So it is still possible to find a fair number of Victorian, Edwardian and Art Deco diamond rings in the market. In fact, many of the loose old mine cut and old European cut diamonds available today originally came from antique engagement rings!
We normally think of diamonds as luxury goods extraordinaire - baubles of the rich - but that idea isn't really accurate. In reality, diamonds - white diamonds at least - are gems of the people, readily available to both the working class and affluent alike. At least 100 million carats of diamonds have been mined every year for the past 25 years. After all, you wouldn't be able to buy a diamond engagement ring for just a few thousand dollars if diamonds were exceptionally rare. Today's widespread availability of diamonds wasn't always the case throughout history, though.
In ancient and medieval times, India was the world's only meaningful source of diamonds. The legendary mines of India had an estimated annual average production of perhaps 10,000 carats. This effectively meant diamonds were restricted to kings, sultans, rajas, emperors and popes. In addition, almost every ruler along the torturously long trade routes from India to Europe kept the very best stones for themselves. As a consequence, European monarchs rarely managed to acquire truly fine, large stones until the beginning of the modern era.
Old Mine Cut Diamond Engagement Rings For Sale
In 1725 however, rich diamond deposits were discovered in Brazil. This was good fortune, as the Indian mines were very nearly exhausted by this time. Production from Brazilian mines may have averaged 50,000 to 100,000 carats per annum. This increased the available supply of gem quality stones manyfold, allowing Europe's aristocracy and wealthy merchants to own the coveted gems. Diamonds were no longer reserved solely for kings.
In 1867, just as Brazilian production dropped precipitously, diamonds were discovered in South Africa. By 1872, annual output from this new, prolific source exceeded 1 million carats. This order of magnitude increase in supply completed the process of diamond democratization that had begun with the discoveries in Brazil 150 years before. Now everyone from Hollywood starlets to average, middle class housewives could afford to own diamonds.
Each old mine or old European cut diamond is a unique, hand-made creation that must be assessed on its own merits. Therefore, they cannot be strictly judged by modern diamond standards. For example, nearly all old cut stones are off-color. Vanishingly few would grade higher than G on the standard GIA D (colorless) to Z (light fancy) color scale. This is partly because diamonds from Brazil - the only available supply when many antique stones were cut - tend towards darker colors than those from South Africa. Those antique cut stones that were exceptionally white - grades D through F - have been ruthlessly re-cut into modern round brilliant stones. In addition, many other, less white stones have also been re-cut over the decades. Consequently, a substantial number of formerly antique stones - especially the whitest specimens - are now lost to us forever.
The most important factor to consider in choosing old mine cut or old European cut diamonds is overall eye appeal. Desirable gems will have strong fire, throwing countless refracted flashes of multi-colored light in all directions. They will also invariably seem very "chunky" due to their deep pavilions and high crowns. Fine stones will have a certain charisma that - although unmistakable - is difficult to define. Most old cut diamonds will also possess an inviting warmth that is notably absent in modern diamonds. This is attributable to their deep proportions combined with their very slight yellow or brown body tint.
Large Loose Old Mine Cut and Old European Cut Diamonds For Sale
Only consider stones with a minimum weight of at least 0.25 carats. An old European cut diamond this size will have a diameter of approximately 4 millimeters, depending on the depth of the stone. Diamonds below this weight are generally considering melee - small stones used as accents pieces. While old cut diamond melee was used extensively in beautiful antique jewelry, it is too small to be investable on its own.
Although some asymmetry in old diamonds is both normal and acceptable, avoid excessively lop-sided examples. Likewise, steer clear of stones that have a GIA clarity grade of I2 or lower. Flaws of this magnitude are not only easily visible to the naked eye - reducing the beauty of the diamond - but can also potentially make it more susceptible to damage. Black carbon inclusions are also undesirable, even if the stone in question technically grades better than I2. However, minor carbon pinpoint inclusions in unobtrusive locations - near the girdle for instance - are acceptable.
As you can guess, pricing for antique cut diamonds depends greatly on quality. A highly flawed stone of poor color and symmetry with little eye appeal with always sell for much, much less than a beautiful, clean, white stone of the same weight. Diamond pricing also experiences price breaks at meaningful carat weights. A 0.51 carat stone will sell for substantially more per carat than a 0.49 carat stone. The same holds true of a 1.01 carat stone versus a 0.99 carat stone.
Pricing for both old mine cut and old European cut diamonds has changed dramatically over the last 20 years. Previously these stones always traded at considerable discounts to their modern cut siblings. This was because dealers only considered old cut diamonds to be raw material for re-cutting into more salable, modern round brilliant pieces. In order to cover the labor costs and weight loss involved in re-cutting a gem, these discounts were significant - usually 20% to 25%. However, now that connoisseurs have started to appreciate the unique charms of old mine cut and old European cut diamonds, these discounts have largely evaporated. But due to the illiquidity of the antique diamond market, pricing can still vary widely compared to modern cut stones.
The smallest acceptable investment-grade old mine cut or old European cut diamonds weigh between 0.25 to 0.40 carats. These specimens may trade for $1,000 to $1,500 per carat - meaning pricing realistically starts at about $400 per stone. Such a diamond mounted in an antique ring might sell for $600 or $700, due to the value added by the setting. Prices increase dramatically as the size of a diamond increases. A 2 carat gem can easily trade for $5,000 a carat, or $10,000 for the stone. If mounted in a fine antique platinum or gold setting, a stone of this caliber would be a truly stunning work of art, well worth its premium price. With a presence and elegance rarely seen in new jewelry, lovely old mine cut and old European cut diamonds are a truly exceptional way to hold concentrated wealth.