To an extent, shopping for jewellery will always be subjective - but if you're interested in making a special purchase, you need to be aware of the four Cs: Clarity, Cut, Carat and Colour. The cut is the most important factor, as the flaws in a stone can be made to almost disappear with the right cut. An emerald cut will show up every single flaw, so it's best to use when your stone has a high clarity - i.e. few or no inclusions (internal flaws) and blemishes (external flaws) in the stone.
The clarity refers to the quality of the stone. The higher the clarity, the more expensive the stone
will be. It's also worth bearing in mind that it's rare to find a large diamond that's flawless, so this is reflected in the price.
Ideally you'll want to look for a VS2 or above. It's hard to tell the difference between a VS1 and a S12 with the naked eye, but there is a big difference in terms of price and quality. Personally, I think that when it comes to antique rings you need to look at the piece as a whole.
The Ratings To Know:
F - flawless (no inclusions and blemishes visible under x10 magnification)
IF - internally flawless (no inclusions visible under x10 magnification)
VVS1, VVS2 - very, very slightly included (inclusions are so slight that they are very hard for a grader to see under x10 magnification)
VS1, VS2 - very slightly included (inclusions can be seen with effort under x10 magnification and minor)
SI1, SI2 - slightly included (inclusions are noticeable under x10 magnification)
I1, I2 - included (inclusions are obvious under x10 which may affect the brilliance of the stone)
Pink, yellow and blue diamonds can now command higher prices than white diamonds, while other colours like grey and brown are more subjective in terms of value. I personally love the look of grey diamonds, but these have traditionally been seen as lower grade. Don't let that put you off - it's all about your taste.
I was hooked on the idea of an antique aquamarine at first, but found out it was a no-go. Firstly, it's a lot softer than a diamond, and therefore not ideal for everyday wear; it also discolours when in direct sunlight. Be very vigilant about whom you go to: I went to Grays Antiques in London, which has a worldwide reputation for antique jewellery. The trustworthy advice of The Antique Jewellery Company was also helpful, and they have a brilliant website too. I fell in love with a Georgian ring with foil-backed diamonds; they helpfully told me that if any water gets onto the diamonds it can disintegrate the foil, leaving you with black diamonds.
Diamonds are the hardest, which makes them the perfect stone for every day and the obvious choice for me. Sapphires and rubies are similarly hard stones, and if you love coloured diamonds but not the price, a sapphire in the same colour will look like a diamond to everyone else.
It's important to try on a variety of styles (especially if you eventually decide to
buy online). Consider the setting of the ring - if you have quite an active lifestyle, it's best to opt for a lower setting, as higher-set stones tend to catch, which can lead to damage.
Size and Resizing
Don't go for a ring more than two sizes larger, because resizing puts a strain on the setting and can lead to loose stones. To be totally confident, have the jeweller insert two small ball bearings either side - the added bonus of this is that, as you haven't taken any metal out of the ring, its value is retained.
The average ring size in the UK falls between K and N, with the most popular size being M. As the bearer of a miniscule size-F ring-finger, my options for finding an antique ring were looking limited. I thought my only option would be to source antique diamonds and have them re-set into a new ring. I eventually came across a smallish auction house in West Norwood, London called Roseberys, who had a flower brooch that also doubled up as a pendant. I knew it was the one, so off I went to the auction house to bid...
If you're bidding at auction, make sure you have a ceiling price to stop you from getting carried away. That brooch was mine for £100 over my ceiling price - but it was a bargain compared to the enormous mark-up it would have been given by a dealer.
We took it to Holts at Hatton Garden and decided to re-set the entire cluster on a wedding band. As the cluster is set in silver and quite large, it was obvious I wouldn't be able to wear this ring every day, but I loved it so much, I was happy to go with it.
Best Online Antique Jewellery Shops
The Antique Jewellery Company - Trustworthy and very knowledgeable.
Annina Vogel - Gold antique jewellery, including some converted pieces.
Hall - This relatively
new brand set up by a former Net A Porter buyer now offers antique
pieces as part of the collection.
Berganza - On the pricey side, but a great selection.
Hirschfelds - A fantastic selection of reasonably priced antique pieces.
Bonhams - Their jewellery
auctions are always brilliant, and you can bid in person or online.
Roseberys - Jewellery auctions tend to be every other month and you can register to bid online.
Annoushka - Not antique, but the Dusty Diamonds range looks it.