Stephen Cohu shares his wisdom on pre-loved jewellery
There are many reasons for people to consider buying a piece of jewellery to celebrate a birthday, an anniversary, a birth, or a gift for a friend, but the best reason is that it is beautiful and makes the wearer feel special. And with Valentine’s Day just around the corner, a carefully chosen pre-loved jewel will always be a winner.
The human race has adorned itself with all manner of jewellery for thousands of years, from pre-history to the present day, and although styles may change, the meanings remain the same. A gift of remembrance, a celebration of a special moment, a simple gesture of love or friendship or perhaps just a purchase for its beauty and enjoyment, jewellery has it all. Antique and pre-loved jewellery is an excellent way of celebrating, there doesn’t even need to be a particular reason, buy it and enjoy it for its quality and uniqueness and of course its great value for money compared to buying new.
Many people’s perceptions of vintage or antique jewellery will be that it is old-fashioned. Still, an attractively priced Victorian diamond brooch will look fabulous against a dark sweater or jacket and can be worn on any occasion. Antique and vintage pieces are hand-crafted and unique and will often provoke a “Wow!” reaction.
Anniversaries are one of the most popular times to buy jewellery. The etiquette for what to buy to celebrate which anniversary only became standardised in the early 20th century with the publication of “Etiquette in Society, in Business, in Politics and at Home”, published in 1922, which listed gift suggestions for specific key milestone years. This list has been added to and modernised over the last 100 years to become the standard list we have today. Different countries have different lists and, likewise, different birthstones. In the UK, you have to wait 25 years for silver, 30 pearl, 35 coral, 40 ruby, 50 gold, 55 emerald and 60 years for diamond. You should not wait 60 years to give a loved one a diamond!
“The popularity of diamonds for engagement rings really took off in about 1947 when De Beers, the world’s largest diamond company, came up with the advertising slogan - A diamond is forever.”
Perhaps surprisingly, one of the recent developments in “tradition” has been giving a diamond solitaire as an engagement ring. The popularity of diamonds for engagement rings really took off in about 1947 when De Beers, the world’s largest diamond company, came up with the advertising slogan “A diamond is forever”. Before this, any stone could be given; we see many antique engagement rings containing coloured stones.
Such is the power of marketing that today, it would be seen as out of place not to give a diamond for an engagement. Things are changing, though, with our younger clientele seeking out unique jewels that can be any precious stone, antique and vintage pieces with a story to tell with previous lives of love and devotion. So much has changed from Roman times when engagement rings signified a man owned the woman, with nothing to do with love or sentiment!
Let’s take a more detailed look at some fine pieces of antique and contemporary jewellery and a few pointers for what to look out for.
Sapphire and diamond late Victorian navette shape ring
The navette-shaped ring became popular in the late 19th to the early 20th century as a revival of antique pieces excavated on Roman and Etruscan archaeological sites. This unmarked 18ct gold ring features good-size old mine-cut diamonds with just a few facets each and cushion-cut sapphires of a solid blue colour. As a piece of antique jewellery in its original little worn condition, it would make a fine, wearable addition to any collection at an affordable price.
Diamond Solitaire Ring
The solitaire ring is the classic way of setting a diamond that is good enough to stand alone or with small shoulder scintillants. With a solitaire, the price will be entirely dependent on the four Cs: carat weight, cut, clarity and colour. Diamonds are formed deep within the huge pressures of the earth’s core and take millions, if not billions of years, to reach the surface through volcanic activity; therefore, every diamond is unique. Diamonds are graded according to the four Cs, and newly cut stones are often sold with a certificate. Older cut stones are partly priced on grade, but as important is how the stone looks, being lively with plenty of fire. The GIA grading scale is the industry standard, but many gem laboratories grade stones not necessarily all to the same standard.
This solitaire diamond has been graded as 3.2ct weight, colour G/H, clarity VS, old round brilliant cut. The stone is much older than the ring, a 19th-century cut stone mounted in a signet ring in the 1980s.
Renaissance Revival Pendant
Renaissance revival jewellery became very popular in the 19th century, and many pieces were made with such craftsmanship and skill that they fooled many into believing they were originals from the 15th and 16th centuries. This stunning jewel was crafted in the last quarter of the 19th century and is almost certainly Austro- Hungarian. It is made of silver with coloured enamel decoration and is set with old mine-cut diamonds, pink sapphires, and an emerald suspended under three natural pearls. Considering its vulnerability, this piece is in exceptional condition and is perfectly wearable as a dramatic addition to any occasion. Good Renaissance revival jewellery is rare, highly sought after, and very collectable, so expect to pay in the thousands for a good example.
Trillion-cut Tanzanite Pendant
A double line of tiny round brilliant cut diamonds surrounds this triangular tanzanite. Tanzanite is a blue stone showing a purple tinge between a blue sapphire and amethyst. The most vibrant tanzanites are graded AAA and are very sought after. Unlike diamonds, tanzanite has a fixed price per carat. A two-carat diamond will be significantly more than double the price of a similar grade 1ct diamond, whereas tanzanite will be double.
Opal Negligee Necklace
These asymmetrical designs appeared in the late 19th century, where this example dates from. Featuring three fabulous boulder opals that glow and flash vibrant rainbow colours set in unmarked gold (tests as 15ct), this eminently wearable piece takes us back to the glamour of late Victorian and Edwardian times. Many different colours of opals are formed from hydrated silica deposited in cracks in rocks where water very slowly passes through. It takes millions of years to form a large opal, and much opal bearing stone is not of gem quality. They are not of crystalline structure, so they are usually cut in cabochon or bead form. The finest opals come from Lightning Ridge in Australia, displaying exquisite flashes of rainbow colour. Opals come in many colours, from black to white; orange ones are called fire opals, and the value is entirely dictated by the beauty of the light that plays as the stone is moved.
Ruby Cluster Ring
This 18ct yellow gold and platinum ring is set with an oval mixed cut ruby of just over 2 carats, surrounded by round brilliant cut diamonds totalling 1.56ct. It is a classic design; the style is suitable for any coloured main stone, such as ruby, sapphire or emerald. Ruby is a common material but rarely found in cuttable gem quality crystals. As with diamonds, Ruby values are based on the four Cs but with much more importance placed on colour, pigeon blood red being the most valuable. All rubies contain imperfections in the form of cracks or rutile inclusions, and a clean ruby should be looked at with great suspicion as they will either be synthetic or heavily treated. Rubies are usually always paired with diamonds, as a ruby on its own is often rather lacklustre.
Pre-loved jewellery not only celebrates past and future love but is eminently wearable to give pleasure to the wearer, a wealth of beautiful, unique, craftsman-made pieces at very affordable prices. Stephen Cohu stocks a vast range of jewellery at the St Lawrence showroom, which will give you as many ideas as you ever need. A celebration for every occasion, you really can’t go wrong!