An Oldie but a Goodie: The Antique Set Diamond Engagement Ring:
Welcome back, internet friends! I have news. My little sister Megan has just gotten engaged to an awesome English man named Allan, and it’s pretty safe to say that we are all beside ourselves with excitement. OK, it’s a bit ridiculous really because within ten minutes of finding out I had already set up a Pinterest page for her wedding dress, and saved fifteen dresses on it.
I’ll just say it now, I see her in lace.
THEY ARE SO ADORABLE!
Anyway, the deliriously happy couple (see above) are in the research phase of their diamond engagement ring search, and they are leaning towards an antique style engagement ring. Mainly because Meg loves the vintage style, but also because she used to quite fancy herself as having a Downton Abbey ‘Lady of the Manor’ kinda vibe and she need not bother trying to deny it because we both know this is true, Meg. Yes, I know you are reading this.
Also, please give me back my tiramisu Pyrex dish, it’s been almost a year.
Anyway, Megan (that’s ‘the Pyrex stealing bride-to-be’ to you and I) wants a diamond ring that nods to the art deco/art nouveau-style, without having to choose a real piece of antique jewelry (she ain’t about that legit antique life). And when she asked me what sort of qualities to look out for in a ring setting of this type it was a no-brainer. For an antique look or a vintage vibe, you simply cannot go wrong with some filigree and milgrain detailing. What are these, I hear you say? Well I’ll answer your question with another question: Why don’t you stop being so gawd damn impatient and let me tell you?
Filigree and milgrain are basically two different types of metal work detailing that, when used on a diamond engagement ring (especially together), bring the diamond ring setting under the umbrella of antique or vintage styles. Filigree ring settings comprise of threads of metal twisted together in intricate ways, while milgrain are tiny metal beads enhancing the edges of the band itself. Let’s dig into those a little more, mainly so Megan will stop ringing me on a Saturday morning to ask me.
What is Filigree?
Filigree is a type of delicate metalwork that takes a simply designed diamond engagement ring and turns it into an ornament for your finger. The process itself takes super thin strips/threads of gold (platinum or palladium also work) and twists/curls them into beautiful intricate motifs that are then soldered (fancy terms for attached) to the main ring setting. Take a look at this example, just to feel jealous:
Filigree techniques have been around for thousands of years. In fact, the ancient Greeks were positively mad for it. In the oldie times filigree detailing was all done by hand of course - I doubt the guys and gals back in Plato’s time had the technology ya know? Plus, they were too busy ‘thinking’.
Philosophy, and What Not
Nowadays, the vast majority of filigree is done by adding the design element into the molds or wax models that are used to create rings. These rings are called semi-mount rings, meaning the vast majority of the ring mounting has already been pre-set/pre-made and all you need to do is add the center stone. Handmade filigree rings are rare, but if you can find a specialist and you afford it, it really is the most stunning addition to your ring setting. That’s not to say that the modern way of creating the look doesn’t wield great results, but we just want you to know the different ways this particular technique can be done. We want you to be informed, and we will not apologize for it. Kinda like the way that Megan has not apologized for stealing my Pyrex dish, not that I’m holding a grudge or anything…
No Collusion, No Grudge
What is Milgrain?
I am personally pretty obsessed with milgrain. I have this on my own engagement ring and I just L.O.V.E the effect of it because it really does lift the design to another level. Milgrain set rings have a very thin row of what look like teeny tiny metal beads. These metal beads are mostly found at the outer edges of the ring band itself, but can also be added in around other details near halo or bezel features. Take a look at this insanely stunning example:
Little Bead Detail on Border of Ring. YAS!
And this more elaborate version, with filigree detail underneath the diamond too:
I Think You'll ‘Filigree’ That This is Stunning!
Milgrain has been around for a lot less time than Filigree. Think of milgrain as the younger sister of filigree. Almost like myself and Megan, except way cuter and made of metal. This particular look really took off in the Art Deco era, when everything was about glitz and glam. The milgrain detail added that extra wow factor that every self-respecting Gatsby wannabe was aching to get their hands on. Kind of like Meg and my Pyrex dish, not to bring that back up again or anything.
YOU KNOW WHY
When handcrafted, the milgrain look is actually achieved in a super cool way, and I’m going to tell you whether you like it or not. The jeweler will take what looks like a mini serrated pinwheel (called a knurling tool) and carefully roll that baby up along the metal where they want the effect. Then they will repeat this approximately three more times at slightly different angles, until they have created a tiny thread of metal bead-looking details! Isn’t that fascinating? I won’t mind telling you that I have watched no less than six videos on the process of milgraining today, and once I finish filling your head with knowledge, I’m probably going to go back and watch a few more before binge-watching Netflix for the rest of the night...
It’s a dangerous life I lead, really.
A Word on Metal Choice
You guys, knowing about filigree and milgrain is all well and good. You can impress your friends or your Uber driver with all you know, but unless you are clued up to the metal issue, you are basically wasting your time. Kind of like Megan when she joined the hockey team at school. Harsh but fair. You see, filigree and milgrain are very picky details, and they are BFFs with only certain types of metals. Marry filigree/milgrain with a harder metal and they will live happily with them for a very long time. Try to force a friendship between filigree/milgrain and a softer metal, well we’re gonna have a whole lot of trouble…
Fact: the durability of the metal you choose is absolutely essential to the maintenance of the filigree/milgrain detail. It doesn’t matter if you want yellow gold, white gold, rose gold for your ring metal. But it does matter what purity of metal you choose. Avoid going for 24k gold for example, because the gold content is just too high. This means it’s softer and therefore much less durable. 14k gold (or even 10k gold) is a great choice because it’s mixed with other alloys, leaving it much sturdier. Platinum is even better, but obvo more expensive, so make sure you weigh that up before you take the plunge. Sterling silver is also a good choice for these particular details as it’s actually hard AF, although admittedly some folks might feel that silver isn’t a special enough metal for that all-important engagement ring.
No matter what metal you choose, go with a lower karat purity level. You’ll have a sturdier ring that is less prone to damage and loss of detail over time. After all, there’s nothing worse than holding something dear only to find it gone forever. I’m not talking about anything specific though.
Pros of Antique Settings:
The main upside of the antique setting is the amount of character you can add. Instead of choosing a simple solitaire ring for instance, you can jazz that baby up no end with some intricate filigree detailing and a few cheeky milgrain borders. Adding these details is the easiest way to create that vintage ring style or antique ring look you’ve been craving. Plus, adding these embellishments can distract away from a smaller diamond. Maybe you’ve decided to save for a mortgage, or maybe you blew all your money on Fyre Festival tickets a few years ago (it will never not be funny)… either way if you need to go a tad smaller on the stone, whack on some filigree/milgrain detailing and watch that baby come to life.
Milgrain is also helpful if you want to add a little sumthin’ sumthin’ to the band on your ring (or even your wedding band) when additional diamonds are a little too expensive. Pop some milgrain on that band and watch it add a stunning little embellished frame to your ring.
Bottom line though guys and gals, filigree and milgrain metal detailing can offer you a relatively inexpensive way to add some romance and personality into your engagement ring, without having to beg borrow and steal for the privilege.
Cons of Antique Settings:
Ok there is one fairly big downside when it comes to milgrain details. Milgrain has a short lifespan and actually does wear down over time (especially if you were silly enough not to listen to me and chose a softer metal). If you are planning to wear your ring every day, then we suggest that you get the ring serviced approximately ever ten or so years, just so that a jeweler can check the integrity of the milgrain and make any necessary repairs if some of the beads are looking a bit tired.
Worn Away, Not OK
Another downside of these details is that they can look tacky if not done in a tasteful way. An over-milgrained ring (or indeed an asymmetrical filigree) can really distract from your beautiful and damn expensive center stone, leaving your eyes bleeding from the wacky tackiness of it all. Don’t say we didn’t warn you because we did. This is us, right now, warning you not to buy a tacky @ss ring. You’re welcome.
Less Is Sometimes More
You will also need to take cleaning the ring into account, as all that extra metalwork detailing means more little nooks and crannies for disgusting dirt to get up all in your business. Avoid a grubby diamond by using an old soft-bristled tooth brush and warm soapy water to gently scrub any grossness out from underneath that diamond ring, keeping it in tip-top condition.
I hope that this post that I have painstakingly put together has helped more than just my sister, and that there are a few more peeps out there who’ve armed themselves with the info they need to make the biggest ring decision of their lives!
Speaking of decisions, I’m also hoping that Meg will now make the right one and return my dearly beloved Pyrex dish. In case you don’t remember it Meg: it looks like this, and it was filled with a tiramisu not unlike the one you see here. You ate half of it and then passed out, remember? I do.