If you’re thinking of buying a piece of quality jewellery the first choice that you need to make is whether to invest in a modern or antique piece. It’s not an easy choice, as both types have their own particular charms, and beautiful pieces can be found in both camps.
Read on to find out more about the characteristics of modern jewellery as it compares to antique jewellery:
How They’re Made
Over the years jewellers have adapted increasingly elaborate methods of working with precious metals and gemstones to produce pieces of jewellery, and this has had a profound effect on the look and style of the pieces.
To begin with, these materials were worked by hand using relatively simple tools to shape them, but industrial innovations have made the process smoother, faster and less expensive.
Whilst this has led to the creation of some truly remarkable pieces of modern jewellery, it has also meant that many pieces are mass produced in largely similar styles, with little to differentiate them. Because less time has to be spent in their construction many modern solitaire rings, for example, are merely variations on a theme.
Most modern diamonds are brilliant cut which are so common that they have become what most people think of when they picture a diamond.
It is often more economical for a jeweller to invest solely in this style. Mass production has also meant that many stylistic touches have all but disappeared from modern pieces. If a high street jeweller is buying ten rings of the same type they will be more likely to invest in those with plain, slim bands because these will appeal to the maximum number of people.
Unfortunately this has led to a homogenisation of styles. One can find and buy a diamond solitaire ring with exactly the same look in almost any modern jewellers, but finding a piece with real character means finding a jeweller willing to hold on to a huge variety of pieces for what may be a long time before a buyer emerges. These kind of jewellers do exist, but are becoming rarer as the need to meet overheads and get a good return on investment outweighs other concerns.
The piece pictured above is an Edwardian platinum and gold diamond solitaire ring, and it is notably different from the modern ring depicted at the top of this article in many ways. Where the modern ring has a smooth, machined shank the Edwardian piece is crafted from both platinum and 18ct gold, beautifully fused to give a two-tone effect, but the most significant difference is in the diamond itself.
This is an Old European cut diamond, the precursor of the modern brilliant cut. It rises higher from the surface of the ring. It is this added depth that gives the diamond its character, and adds a soulfulness to the piece. Old cut diamonds predate the electric light, so were crafted with larger facets to maximise the play of light from these lower light sources. The smaller facets of modern diamonds create a dazzling display, but as the wearer moves these flashes of brilliance are too fast for the eye to appreciate. The old cut is subtler and can be appreciated far more readily with the naked eye.
Mass production has not only made the production of jewellery faster, but also cheaper, but this does not automatically mean that new pieces carry less of a price tag – only that the amount of profit that can be made in their sale is increased.
Of course there is a great variety in price in both antique and modern jewellery, but the idea that an antique will be more expensive is not always correct. Although there are undoubtedly historic pieces which fetch far greater sums than their contemporary counterparts there are usually pieces available that can meet any budget, if one simply knows where to look.
One chief concern in the purchasing of an antique is the durability of the piece. The reasoning goes that an older piece will have taken more damage over the course of its lifetime and will therefore be less solid than a modern equivalent, but this is not true.
Whilst modern rings have the capacity to be crafted in a manner which makes them practically indestructible, most are not built with this in mind.
This means that they are often less interested in the long-term survival of their pieces. On a very basic level, a jeweller will have less affection for a piece if they have a dozen more identical pieces in their vault. It is a different story if they know they are handling a piece which was created centuries ago, and which cannot ever be replaced.
Antiques have survived for a very long time, and they have usually been cared for by successive generations of the same family, acquiring more and more significance and being treated with reverence and respect. It is also a simple fact that the antiques which were not constructed in a durable manner have simply disintegrated, whereas those built to last have already stood the test of time.
Modern rings have been constructed en masse for a mass market, but this was not the case in the past. Pieces were often commissioned by individuals who had very exacting specifications, from craftsmen who laboured for many months on a single piece. The design and creation process often involved techniques that were unique to the region, or in some cases the individual who made them.
Whilst a skilled appraiser can detect the techniques used in a specific era to date a piece there are no two pieces which are completely alike. This means that the buyer investing in an antique piece has a greater range of styles to choose from, and is more likely to find a piece that speaks to them on a personal level.
History and stories
Modern pieces arrive in the hands of their new owners without any history. There are no stories behind them, they have no notable historical context, and have been crafted with the sole purpose of being sold.
Historic pieces were created with motivations that varied tremendously. The Victorian era gave birth to a plethora of serpentine designs inspired by a gift given to the eponymous Queen by her soon to be late husband Albert. Earlier times saw pieces crafted with the hair of deceased loved ones locked within, and adorned with skulls to pay homage to the concept of Memento Mori – remember, you will die – a particularly potent message in a time before the advent of modern medicine. Later jewellers commemorated great social change, such as the struggle for women’s rights which led to the creation of Suffragette jewellery
Whilst we cannot always know the history of a particular piece it has a place in the history of this world – a story which the most skilled of observers can begin to unpick, but which will always contain within it elements of mystery.
If you are interested in learning more about antique jewellery, why not take a look at our advice centre or blog.
Need some help choosing the perfect piece for you? Get in touch with our expert team and we’ll be happy to help you find a genuine antique that speaks to you.