Rings are timeless accessories. While certain ring designs go in and out of vogue, others remain contemporary across the decades. Today, rings are a common wardrobe stable in addition to being exchanged during marriage proposals and wedding ceremonies.
Beyond personal preference, the value of a ring is determined by specific measures of quality, craftsmanship, and market demand. Age, style, stone size and material, and setting material and treatment are all contributing factors to a ring’s price.
Types of Rings
Symbolizing love and commitment, engagement rings traditionally feature a larger diamond center stone. When selecting an engagement ring, the shape of the diamond should be carefully considered. Some cuts, like circle or square cuts, lend themselves to accompanying stones. Others, like pear and heart-shaped stones, are more challenging to pair in a setting. The most important consideration should be the personal style and preference of the eventual wearer.
A simple, smooth platinum or gold band is still the preferred style for many when exchanging their wedding vow; however, bands come in a wide variety of designs for formal or informal occasions. Some combine different colors of gold, other include smaller semi-precious stones or designs.
Traditionally, anniversary bands were given in the event of a wedding anniversary, hence the name. Today, many women also buy these rings for themselves or their partners. Anniversary bands are traditionally composed of a row of stones that have the same size and cut, sometimes in complementary materials. When the entire band is set with stones, they are referred to as eternity rings.
Next to their wedding band, it is common for men to wear a signet ring. Although some prefer to wear it around their pinky, many men wear it on the ring finger of their right hand. Originally, signet rings were used by royalty to sign important document by pressing the seal engraved on their ring in hot wax. Today, signet rings are plain, engraved with a seal or crest, or feature a stone like onyx or Tiger’s Eye.
A more contemporary style, often one can find two to several rings that are meant to be worn together, either on different fingers or stacked together. These rings may have similar styles or fit together in an interesting way.
Rings are among the oldest types of jewelry. In most civilizations, rings were an indication of social status.
Seeking out antique and vintage or estate rings can be a great way to obtain unique pieces of jewelry. Gemstones used in older rings were cut differently than are modern stones, sometimes making them look less vibrant and more understated. It’s important to keep in mind that this is not a reflection of quality but a sign of age.
Finding Your Style
When investing in luxury goods like rings, it’s important to spend some time reflecting on your reasons for purchasing and getting to know your personal preferences.
- Am I looking to buy for myself or someone else?
- What kinds of rings fit my personal style?
- How often do I plan on wearing this?
- Will the materials work with my lifestyle?
- Do I know how to take care of this type of ring?
- Am I interested in becoming a collector?
If you’re looking to fill out your jewelry box, the best place to start is with the basics, which often include at least one:
- Eternity band to add a touch of glamour to every outfit.
- Pearl set solitaire for instant personality.
- Decorated gold band for everyday wear.
- Glittering pave diamond ring for a special occasion.
- Ring with colored stones to match your other accessories.
Building Your Collection
When shopping for your next ring, it’s important to educate yourself about what makes a piece both authentic and valuable.
Gemstones, also referred to as precious or semiprecious stones, appear in a wide range of sizes and quality and prices vary accordingly. It is possible to find a stone that on almost any budget, making gemstones the perfect choice for jewelry makers and wearers alike.
Diamonds are a timeless staple in any jewelry box, and are therefore consistently in high demand. Rarer gemstones exist, such as grandidierite, alexandrite, and tanzinite, but the optical qualities of diamonds make them the most popular choice. Price depends on quality. Pro Tip: When buying diamond rings, prioritize cut over color.
Here are a few factors to keep in mind when determining quality:
- Natural vs. Treated: with lesser quality rubies and sapphires, it’s common practice to use heat, laser, or oil treatments to heighten color and luster. With emeralds, it is completely normal to use oil treatments, but this type of treatment is only temporary. Treated stones are less expensive than untreated stones and can be a good place for a novice collector to start.
- The Four C’s: cut, color, clarity, and carat. The importance of each depends on whether you are evaluating a colored gemstone or colorless diamond; however, a faceted stone’s proportions, or its cut, are also important. The cut is meant to create a maximum brilliance, scintillation, and symmetry.
Colored gemstones are becoming increasingly popular for engagements and otherwise. “The Big Three,” ruby, sapphire, and emerald, are the most popular, but more modestly priced stones like amethyst and garnet can provide a pop of color without breaking the bank.
Pearls are a classic addition to a jewelry collection. Pearls can be natural or cultured, though most that are sold today are cultured, or grown under controlled conditions in an oyster farm. A pearl’s worth is based on its color, luster, orient, texture, and shape. The most expensive cultured pearls are smooth and perfectly symmetrical. Pearls are soft and as such they are easily damaged, so unless the design of the ring protects the pearl it is best to save it for special occasions.
- Pavé: a way of setting gemstones really close together so that it looks like there is a blanket of diamonds with very little metal visible. Pave set rings reflect a lot of light, but because the diamonds are very small, their more moderately priced than rings with one larger diamond.
- Halo: a halo is a ring of smaller gems that encircles the center-set stone. The style is a good way to stretch your dollar, as halos make the center stone look larger and flash light.
- Three-Stone: a traditional setting, the three-stone mounting consists of a large center stone flanked by two smaller stones of the same or complementary material.
- Solitaire: a precious metal band with one single stone or pearl. Because there is only one larger centerpiece, the quality is more visible and better stones or pearls should be used.
Precious metals are the most commonly used material for bands. While the market price of precious metals fluctuates on a daily basis, they generally fall along a continuum with platinum at the high end followed by gold, palladium, and silver, which is the most abundant precious metal. Stainless steel and titanium are more affordable options. Generally speaking, the more pure the metal is, the more valuable it is.
A hallmark is an official mark put in place by the manufacturer that is found on rings. Hallmarks help provide insight into when a piece was made and by whom. The two most common types of hallmarks are purity marks and maker’s marks.
The purity mark indicates the percentage of precious metal used for the ring and is one of the first marks you should look for. In the United States, stamps such as “18k” indicate purity; however, many other countries use pictorial marks.
Next to the famous jewelry makers like Cartier, Tiffany, Chopard and Bvlgari, individual goldsmiths craft rings as well. The brands offer recognizable styles and a guaranteed quality level, while individual goldsmiths craft more unique rings.
Maker’s marks are stamped, engraved, or laser-engraved on a ring by an individual silversmith or jeweler. They identify who is responsible for the purity of the gold, platinum, or silver used in the ring, which is not always who made the piece. Today, maker’s marks also serve as trademarks, so well-known names add to the piece’s worth.
In most cases, both the purity mark and the maker’s mark can be found stamped inside the ring.
Establishing & Maintaining Value
Certificates & Authenticity
Especially when purchasing a larger or higher quality stone, it is important that the ring comes with a grading report from a reputable agent.
A quality diamond should have GIA papers, while quality colored stones like ruby, sapphire, tsavorite garnet of size, alexandrite, or natural pearls should have American Gem Society (AGS) papers.
Don’t hesitate to ask auction houses for more details if necessary, says Lucy Grogan, Vice President and Gallery Director at Grogan & Company. “Ask houses to send you pictures of the ring being worn on a finger, for example. This will give you a better perspective of scale and quality of the piece.”
After purchasing a high-quality ring, it is important to clean it regularly. Follow these simple steps:
- First, soak the ring in lukewarm water with some mild soap, dry it carefully with a soft (paper) towel.
- When the ring shows visible dirt, try using a cotton swab to clean it. Dirt can build up in the setting, especially for larger stones.
- Take a jeweler’s cloth (available at most jewelers and department stores) and rub the ring with it to bring out its luster.
Ultrasound cleaning devices have become quite popular but should be used with extreme care. They are not safe for pearls, and if stones have been treated with an oil treatment then ultrasound can damage them.
To clean pearl rings, dip a soft cloth in lukewarm water with mild soap and gently wiping the pearls and the rest of the ring with it. Dry them carefully with a soft cloth. Pearls should never be immersed in water or cleaned with aggressive cleaning solutions.
If you are not sure how to properly clean your rings, bring them to a local jeweler. Most jewelry stores offer cleaning services and will in most cases check the condition of the setting, ensuring that the stones are still sturdily kept in place.
Tips for Buying Rings Online
Buying rings from auction houses and dealers online is a very different experience than in a retail store. The following are some tips to help you safely and confidently navigate an auction.
1. Request a Condition Report & Other Identifying Documents
- What does the documentation prove? Are the sources credible?
- If applicable, who authenticated this artist’s work? Who paid for the authentication? What warranty is extended to you in the case that the authentication is later revealed to be false?
- What is the history of the item, and who has owned it?
- Has it been altered, or is it fully intact?
- What damages or restorations exist?
- When rings with larger stones online or in person, make sure the seller has the paperwork from the Gemological Institute of America (GIA) to certify the authenticity and quality of the stones. Reputable sellers should have appraisal paperwork that verifies their claims.
2. Register to bid several days in advance.
Each auction house has its own registration requirements. For example, on Invaluable, you must register to bid and be approved by the specific auction house you are interested in bidding with. The entire process is straightforward, but is better done a day or two in advance of the sale.
3. Familiarize yourself with the terms and conditions of online auctions or galleries.
- How does the auction house handle taxes?
- Will a buyer’s premium be added to the hammer or retail price?
- How will the item be shipped?
- How long do you have to pay for the item?
- How do you contact the auction house, dealer or gallery with questions?
4. Ask Follow-Up Questions
If you have a question, ask it, and if the answer is not satisfactory to you, do not bid or buy.
5. Research Past Prices
Make sure your bid is competitive, but not so high that you’d be significantly overpaying.
6. Don’t Bid Unless You’re Sure
All sales at an auction are final. Once you have successfully bid and won your object, the auction house or gallery can provide you with a list of good art handling or shipping companies to ship your item.