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.
* !!!!!!!!!!!! THIS IS A THING THAT IS HAPPENING!
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.
FUCK YEAH I DID.
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.
(Two English Deco diamond rings, 1920s + 1930s)
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.