Buying an Antique Engagement Ring

Daisy in Great Gatsby. Such gorgeous jewelry.


An excerpt from my journal of the day we went ring shopping…yes, together

For the second weekend in a row we descend down stairs, make a big breakfast and pot of coffee, shower, dress and bundle up to take the 18 block walk to the self proclaimed most unique jewelry store in the world. I take abnormal care to make sure my nails are clean and polished, makeup applied and hair blown out for the first time in months (save last weeks trial run only to walk up to a closed store). It’s all very trivial, these preparations, but I’m excited. It’s all too much really.

I open the door to a gust of wind and snow falling from the bright sky. I wrap my face in my favorite scarf from my travels to Paris, put on my hat and top it off with my fur lined hood. We emerge from the house and make our way there, slipping and sliding and laughing all the way. You know I say this might sound silly but these weeks have been so fun, us having this little secret all to ourselves (I don’t mention I’ve mentioned it to my two closest girlfriends who are far removed from interacting with anyone else we know). He nods, smiles and says you know what, it is fun.

We arrive to a dimly lit store, a early 1900s row-home with nothing but a small business card in the window indicating it’s a shop. I ring the buzzer once as instructed and we are buzzed in. We walk down the steps, finding our way to the Art Deco engagement ring case, a beautiful custom showcase framed by an antique picture frame. A very laid back man says engagement rings? We nod and he points. He opens the case and that’s it, he lets us play and be. We methodically work our way through hundreds of rings, trying those on that intrigue either of us, mostly my choices. It’s interesting to see how our tastes differ but we can each see what the other sees in their choice. My god they’re all so beautiful. The diamonds are different, imperfect by today’s standards, but to me they’re so charming and I let myself day dream about their previous owners. We finally, an hour later, narrow them down to four, jot down the numbers and snap photos. But he knows the one I have my eye on.

Buying an antique ring is really intimidating! It goes against all the C’s and other lessons that I’ve declared nonsense, but then that leaves you in the dark about what is or isn’t  “fair”. More than that, antique rings are incredibly unique and bold, especially Art Deco and earlier. So maybe your significant other knows your style without a doubt and/or is jazzed about the idea of surprising you with something he picked solo. For us, it was different.

We always knew we wanted to pick out a ring together. It was a big purchase, we justified…and it would just be more fun that way!

I did a lot of research beforehand and I’m hoping it can help out those of you who are thinking of hunting down an antique beauty of your own! I’ll tell you what, there is truly nothing like seeing the ring on your hand. So while the websites I note here are amazing and offer diverse views of the ring (and other incredible jewelry) and an easy return policy, if you’re in the Philadelphia area (or want to visit! ) try brick and mortar shops first.


Idiot’s Guide to time periods

Even more information for fellow antique jewelry nerds

Understanding Characteristics of Antique Diamonds (Hint: They’re not perfect! They’re also charming and great choice for those concerned with ethics and environmental impact of diamond-mining)

Understanding all the fancy terms used to describe your ring like Filigree and Millegrain


Where to Shop

In the Philadelphia Area:

Halloween This is where L bought my ring and boy did we have fun. It’s the most incredible store you’ll ever visit, filled to the brim with all sorts of antique jewelry. What’s more, they have a case filled with antique engagement rings ranging from the Edwardian-era through Art-Deco. I recommend a visit to everyone I know!

Worth mentioning: They do not have a website, have limited hours and are cash or check only. They are located in a row home with no sign, only their business card in the window. However, it’s low-pressure and they have beautiful offerings for every budget. I 100% recommend  this shop for antique jewelry buyers. Call before you make the drive to make sure they’re open.

1329 Pine StPhiladelphia, PA 19107

(215) 732-7711

Richard Kenneth Jewelers Run by a kind, quirky man offering really high quality (more expensive) stones and classic settings. If nothing else, you must walk by the window filled with diamonds next time you’re in the area…it’s a sight!

Worth mentioning: Open on Sundays and accepts credit cards. Located around the corner from Rittenhouse Square.

202 S 17th StPhiladelphia, PA 19103

(215) 545-3355


If we didn’t find something at Halloween, we were going to select a couple from one of these shops. Both offer free shipping and free returns with a couple of days to change your mind.

Trumpet and Horn This is such a beautiful site with incredible pieces in a wide price range. The selling point for me is their fool proof (and free) return shipping both to try the ring and to get it sized.

Gesner JewelryTheir website may be outdated by that means lower prices for you! This site honestly has it all and while not as easy to navigate as T&H they have beautiful pieces. Most importantly, they allow you to to make an offer on their websites so there are definitely deals to be had


Caring for your Ring Did you know you’re not supposed to sleep in your antique ring?


That about exhausts my knowledge on the subject but let me tell you, I’m hooked. I’ve always loved history and antique jewelry is such a special slice of it. I love making up the history behind the piece and thinking about who might be it’s previous owner(s). Opinions differ, sure, but I think it’s so romantic.


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