Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Seeking: An antique engagement ring in EUROPE?

Dear East Side Bride,

We live in Amsterdam and we're in the market for an engagement ring*. We want to find an antique, and we want to spend less than 500 euros, which should be easy because we are in Amsterdam, and this place should be heaving with gorgeous rings.

Problem is, we're totally overwhelmed. If we were in the US we'd be in to Erie Basin like a shot, but here there are so many stores and we don't know anything about jewelry or antiques and a lot of those stores feel like tourist traps and shouldn't we go to Antwerp or shouldn't we go to some kind of antique fair etc etc etc.

I was hoping one of your network of informants (conspirators? comrades? keepers-of-wisdom?) might know a little something about how to go about shopping for antique (or is it estate? I NEED HELP) jewelry in Europe. We're happy to travel because train tickets are cheap and it's always nice to get out of town, and I am very happy to spend a lot of time reading guides to jewelry.

East Side Bride is absolutely wonderful, btw. And sane. I promise I will never ask you about dresses.

Are we meant to give ourselves our own pseudonyms? I'll go ahead and call myself Gollum.



Dear Gollum,

I just had to say "Dear Gollum."

So I went ahead and asked Russell Whitmore of Erie Basin (The. Man Himself.) if he might be willing to respond to your query.


He replied in record time (thanks, Snowtober!) which has given me an incredibly swelled head.

I've got pull in Redhook, people.

Um, yeah. Anyway. Here's what Russell had to say:

I wish I knew more about shopping for antique jewelry in Europe. In general it's a much more exciting place to look for antiques. But when it comes to antique engagement rings unfortunately there's probably no better place than New York. Today's most common notion of an engagement ring originated out of New York-- the Tiffany & Co 6-prong solitaire, which was introduced in the 1880s. And some of the most defining Art Deco and Edwardian engagement rings were made in New York in the early 20th century. But if you can't do your shopping in NYC, there are still plenty of good options.

If you know exactly what you want, buying jewelry online isn't as scary as it seems. We pretty regularly ship period engagement rings overseas-- especially to the UK and Australia. But I can appreciate the need to see things in person. If you can travel to London, I'd recommend the Saturday market on Portobello Road. The prices will vary widely, but the selection is great. You'll be able to find good American and French Deco rings there, but English rings will be cheaper.

(1920s Art Deco Lapis Lazuli Ring, 18K, Probably French)

One of my favorite 20th century diamond ring designs is English. Simple rings with one, three, or five diamonds set in platinum bezels with a simple tapered yellow gold band were popular from about 1910-1930. If you go to any antique market in the UK, you're sure to find rings of this style. Many of them are more recent reproductions, so if you're interested in having an original one, it would be best to find a knowledgeable/honest dealer. In fact, finding a good dealer is probably the most important part. If you can find someone knowledgable who also has good taste, the rest will be easy.

Buying at antique markets is not for everyone. It does require a basic understanding of old jewelry, and at the very least, a stomach for bargaining. Buying from a store affords more customer service, and often more assurance that what you're buying is authentic and not in need of repairs. If you can find a recommendation for a local store, that would probably be the easiest road.

Lastly, I would just say that shopping for vintage requires an open mind. In my early days of antique hunting I would make shopping lists. Inevitably, the things on the list were notably absent when I wanted them. If you keep your eyes open, you're bound to find something unexpectedly amazing, even if it's not what you had in mind. And that's the best part of buying old things. 

 (Above:1900s Rose Cut Diamond Knot Ring, 18K Gold, 
At top:1900s Mine Cut Diamond Cluster Ring, Platinum, 14K)


  1. Hello,

    My ring is from here..http://www.arullmann.com/index.jsp. A lovely family company in the diamond district of London. It is an Aladdin's cave and very reasonable. After purchasing my ring my FH took it to be double checked by another dealer ad was told it was worth twice what he paid for it. Well worth a trip on Easyjet xx Good luck xx

  2. I got my antique engagement ring in Amsterdam! It's in Jordaan (i think), this little shop called Binenbaum and the whole experience was wonderful. When we told the lady what we were looking for, she and her assistant dragged out case after case of rings and let me shortlist my favourites. It was like a scene out of Pretty Woman. She was fantastic as well - if I started to hover over something out of our budget she'd tell me it's too expensive, and was just generally incredibly helpful. She even gave us a history lesson about how the diamond was hand-cut, where it was likely mined, etc. The whole experience was wonderful, and our budget was only a few hundred euros more than your own. Definitely check her out.

  3. "If you keep your eyes open, you're bound to find something unexpectedly amazing, even if it's not what you had in mind."
    > I shall adopt this as my LIFE advice.

  4. I don't know about Amsterdam but in London I highly recommend Grays Antique Markets in Mayfair. Gorgeous amazingness for rings, vintage lace etc etc etc.

  5. Russell's advice is pretty excellent! I've always heard good things about Adin, an antique jewelry store out of Belgium. They sell online as well (that's where I've drooled over their wares) and the prices seem reasonable based on the offering. http://www.adin.be/default.htm

  6. this is super easy- i live in Amsterdam and would definitely recommend Lyppens. There's an "old" lyppens and a "new" lyppens, you should go to the one on the Langebrugsteeg. They have tons of antique engagement rings in all price categories.
    Don't go on a weekend day though, since it's a crazy small store and can get really busy. They also know how to source rings if they don't have what you'd like.
    Alternatively, you could look out for auctions at Veilinghuis De Zwaan, which is a bit more of a gamble (as you may not know all the details of what you're buying) but there are great bargains to be had and it's fun. They have auctions about 4 times per year.

  7. I have nothing constructive to add, I just want to say that all the posted rings are AMAZING and I feel a bit nauseated with lust for them.


  8. Come to London - I'll take you to the good places.

  9. I second alloallo: come to London and go to Grays Antiques!

    Grays is a treasure trove of beautiful antique engagement rings and really isn't touristy. Eccentric definitely, but touristy it is not. Some of the people who have shops in Grays are online - would post a link but my computer's having none of it - John Joseph is one of many.

  10. Gray's does have an excellent selection and range. I find the prices to be pretty high, but for the convenience it's probably worth it.

  11. Are you KIDDING ME? RUSSELL WHITMORE? KNOT RING? EUROPEAN SHOPPING TIPS? This is above and beyond. I'm thrilled and I'll be following up everyone's suggestions. I may also write 'if you keep your eyes open, you're bound to find something unexpectedly amazing' on my wrist.

    Thank you so much
    - Gollum

  12. I got engaged while living in Paris. We looked at a LOT of art deco (1930s) rings in everywhere from stores specializing in estate ("ancien") jewelry to vintage sales and flea markets. We ended up with a gorgeous ring from http://www.defromont.com/ - I highly recommend her!