Breathtaking Engagement Rings from Each Decade
Carrying over from the styles of the Victorian era, Edwardian engagement rings in the 1910s were often accented with elegant, lace-like filigree in the band and setting. The delicate designs were typically symbolic, featuring hearts, hands, and other motifs representing love and unity. Jewelry makers were only able to start using platinum for their designs at the turn of the 20th century, but once this became common practice, platinum became the metal of choice for diamond rings.
The 1920s are known for the distinct Art Deco design style that dictated trends in everything from architecture to cars and jewelry, and engagement rings were no exception. The unique style is one of the most quintessential antique ring designs of the last century and is still very desirable today. Art Deco rings are characterized by their sharp lines and geometric designs made up of multiple little diamonds rather than centering around one larger stone.
Art Deco continues to be the most popular design style in the 1930s, with geometric, multi-stone rings remaining on-trend. During the Great Depression, big, blingy jewelry took a backseat for most Americans, save for the ultra rich. Ring styles simplify some during the ‘30s, with a greater tendency to see one larger (often round) stone at the center of rings instead of the multitude of diamonds that were so common in the ‘20s. Platinum settings remain the top metal choice for engagement rings.
The 1940s saw a slow turn away from the sharp lines of the Art Deco era toward floral-inspired rings and even more of a focus on a solitary stone instead of multiple little stones in a ring. World War II also affected engagement ring designs, as platinum became scarce, yellow and rose gold become more widely used in all types of jewelry.
This is also the decade when engagement rings will begin to be more exclusively associated with diamonds, thanks to a little ad with the slogan “A Diamond Is Forever,” from jewelry maker De Beers. Diamonds were of course popular in engagement rings before the ‘40s, especially for those who could afford them for everyday wear, but the heavy marketing of De Beers’ campaign in 1947—in tandem with the opening of the company’s mines in Africa—made diamonds more accessible to and incredibly popular among Americans. The durability and preciousness of diamonds came to represent the serious commitment a man was making when proposing with a diamond in hand, as well as the longevity of a marriage that stone promised.
With greater accessibility to diamonds by the 1950s, there are fewer distinct trends dictating the engagement ring market. However, it’s still clear certain styles were more popular than others. Many rings from the 1950s feature engravings or braid details in the setting—a style we don’t see as much after the middle of the 20th century. Rings during this decade featured progressively larger stones as well. One of the most iconic and enduring shapes of this time period is a large center diamond with symmetrical smaller diamonds, or baguettes, on either side of it.
the 1960s, a “classic” engagement ring look has become widely accepted (see: the trends of the 1950s) and remains a popular style. However, the more adventurous and style-savvy among us start sporting engagement ring styles no one has seen before. Many of those trend setters were Hollywood starlets, whose lives became a great deal more documented than ever before, and the public was keen to emulate them. Think Elizabeth Taylor’s massive diamonds and Jackie Kennedy’s stunning emerald and diamond engagement ring. Thanks to the First Lady-turned-style icon, colored gemstones in engagement rings become very popular.
New diamond cuts become trendy in the 1970s, including princess and emerald cut diamonds. These more modern diamond shapes were accompanied by new setting styles and the popularization of coordinating wedding bands to create a complete matching set.
It’s probably no surprise that yellow gold engagement rings have a big moment in the ‘80s. Engagement ring styles understandably follow the fashion trends of the decade, and the 1980s were no exception. Fancy-cut diamonds become even more popular, with unique pear-shaped diamonds getting a lot of attention. We’d be remiss to not mention the hands-down most famous ring of the decade (and perhaps the century): Princess Diana’s large oval sapphire set in a diamond halo. On the hand of an icon known around the world, Princess Di’s engagement ring influenced ring styles, not only popularizing colored stones again, but also causing jewelers both high-end and commercial to create replica rings.
The 1990s saw the rise of even bigger stones and more fancy-cut diamonds; marquise-cut diamonds became especially popular. White gold and platinum make a comeback after the gilded ‘80s. Engagement rings in the 90s were increasingly diverse in style and design—after all, we did have the previous century of popular ring styles to serve as inspiration. Another big source of inspiration? The internet. Couples had more options than just what their local jewelry shop offered now, meaning every woman’s ring could truly be uniquely hers.
In the new millennium, engagement rings took a turn for the traditional, with platinum and white gold rings becoming super popular again. Plus, classic solitaire rings were more common, as well as three-stone rings, with a large round or square center stone, flanked by two smaller or similar-sized stones. The three-stone design became popular in part because of the symbolism behind the design: the three stones are said to represent a couple’s past, present, and future together.
In recent years, the most popular engagement ring style has undoubtedly been a cushion-cut diamond in a halo setting. Whether round, oval, or square, a halo of little diamonds surrounding a larger solitary stone gives the illusion of one larger stone. There has also been a trend toward rings having thinner bands, both set with diamonds or not, similarly creating the appearance of a larger stone. Princess Diana’s sapphire with diamond ring influenced engagement ring trends yet again when Prince William proposed to Kate Middleton with his mother’s ring in 2010. A few other design trends that we can’t yet predict will pass the test of time, but are certainly becoming more and more popular are a greater use of non-diamond stones (like pale pink Morganite and diamond alternative Moissanite) and rose gold settings.