Engagement jewelry in the early 19th century in England was entirely hand made. Diamonds were either rose-cut, with a pointed top, or mine-cut, with a flat top. There was a lack of precision, but also each piece was completely unique. Not many of these antique engagement rings still exist today. Their rarity means that they are also very sought after and, when we do see antique rings, we can marvel at both the style as well as the craftsmanship.
In fact, rock crystal, marcasite and cut steel were all used and even considered respectable for royalty to wear! But when Victoria became queen, there was a rapid and complex change in engagement settings. The young queen’s taste became the nation’s taste.
Every one wanted an engagement ring like the one given to Victoria by Prince Albert: a snake ring with an emerald-set head. Snakes were a symbol of everlasting love, and emeralds were Victoria’s birthstone!
Victoria was on her throne for 63 years, much longer than her marriage to Albert, which ended when he died in 1861. The queen then wore mourning clothing and jewelry for the rest of her life, also creating a new phenomenon: mourning jewelry fashioned from jet, gutta percha and molded horn. In addition, there was even jewelry made from the hair of one’s beloved. Happily, this custom did not follow us into the 20th century!