Dating back as early as the 15th century, engagement rings have held court as an important symbol in any relationship. Gifting a ring to your betrothed signifies your commitment to each other and your intentions to wed. And while the tradition of engagement rings has remained nearly unchanged for centuries, the designs of the rings have changed considerably. With each new decade, a new trend has emerged, and timeless designs have seen a resurgence in popularity. We gain insight into the sought-after styles of the 21st Century from E.J. Sain Jewelry Company, a locally owned business that has been serving Nashville’s jewelry needs for more than 100 years.

Wayne Clark, Genette Norman and Frances Norman of E.J. Sain walk us through 100+ years of engagement rings.

The Tiffany

“The Tiffany ring is where engagement rings started,” says Gennette Norman, the granddaughter of E.J. Sain. In 1886, Charles Lewis Tiffany debuted the six-prong solitaire diamond, a style that has transcended the trends and remained in-demand for brides for more than 100 years. Drastically different than the Edwardian and Victorian designs, the Tiffany was — and continues to be — a beloved style.

The yellow gold Tiffany style was launched in the late 1800s and made popular by Tiffany & Co., which was founded in 1837. It prevails as a classic option thanks to its simple elegance.

Art Deco Designs: ’20s and ’30s

In the roaring ’20s, rings began to reflect the clean lines and geometric designs common in Art Deco architecture. The rings’ bold, linear designs often featured surrounding diamonds and side stones, and the metals of choice were platinum and white gold.

A stunning example of Art Deco-era rings, this beauty features a geometric design reflective of the 1920s. A wedding band is fused to the engagement ring.

Illusion Mountings: ’40s and ’50s

A style that is no longer favored by brides, the illusion mounting was designed to help the diamond stand out. At the time, the typical carat size was a quarter or, at largest, a half — the size of the diamonds have increased with each passing decade — and this unique setting makes the stone appear larger.

Diamond sales had fallen during The Great Depression, so to ensure diamonds’ continued popularity, De Beers, a leading name in diamonds, launched the “A Diamond is Forever” campaign. Diamonds were no longer marketed as a luxury, but seen as essential in an engagement. De Beers was also behind the “rule” that men spend two months’ salary to buy a diamond — a prevailing thought.

Illusion mountings are no longer in style, as shoppers are directed to put their dollars into the diamond — not into a mounting to make the diamond look larger. Despite its decline in popularity, it remains as a beautiful setting.

Larger Stones: ’60s and ’70s

In the ’60s, Elizabeth Taylor accepted a 33.19-carat ring, and the days of half-carat rings were forgotten. During this period, the Tiffany ring rose again in popularity, while the illusion setting became obsolete. “Women wanted bigger diamonds, and that led them back to the Tiffany, with a half to full carat diamond,” store manager Wayne Clark explains. Also, emerald-cut rings were a rising trend, although the cut had been common for nearly 200 years. “Emerald cut has a lot of class, and it is very elegant, especially in two carats and larger,” Wayne shares.

When hunting for a ring, there are many factors to consider, from cut and clarity to metal type and stone color. Round stones dominate about 80% of all diamonds today, but fancy cuts, such as the emerald cut, may better suit your style.

Colored Stones: ’80s and ’90s

In the early ’80s, more elaborate rings were in vogue. Women were requesting side stones, and after Princess Diana’s engagement ring with a 12-carat oval blue sapphire surrounded by 14 solitaire diamonds, they were also seeking gemstones of color. “In the ’90s, every girl wanted a bigger stone, and they didn’t want their ring to look like everybody else’s,” Wayne explains. Custom rings ensured that women got what they wanted and that their ring was unique.

Larger and colored stones had a major moment thanks to celebrities and royal figures who donned mesmerizing engagement rings. Sapphires are still in style, and Kate Middleton verifies the trend by wearing Princess Diana’s ring.

An example of a design stylish in the ‘90s, this three-stone ring features two side stones. Today, the trend continues with a center oval diamond.

Three-Stone Rings: 2000s

Three-stone diamond rings symbolize the past, present and future. In 2001, De Beers once again launched a memorable campaign for this style ring to emphasize its symbolism and meaningful design. Another design element of the 2000s, halos allowed the opportunity to marry old with new. Diamonds dating back 100 years were given new life with the addition of a halo. Yellow diamonds were another coveted style, although they never became widely popular because the stone is so limited in quantity.

The past, present and future ring became commonplace as engagement rings and anniversary rings and continue to hold court as a well-liked style.

In this ring, a 1900s stone is enhanced by a modern halo design. Prior to the 1900s, stones were old mine cushion cut; today, brilliant-cut diamonds dominate the market.

Versatile: 2010s and today

The styles of today marry 100 years of enduring style and influence and women gravitate towards timeless designs. While some rings are easily identifiable according to the era in which they were popular, modern designs are lasting and versatile. A prime example of a meaningful, elegant design is the ring from E.J. Sain that Owen Lipscomb offered to his fiancé Trivette when he proposed at the Fox Theatre in Atlanta. “It means so much to me that I was able to buy an engagement ring from the same jeweler as my father did for my mother,” Owen told Gennette after the proposal. “The ring turned out more beautiful than I could have imagined. Trivette was absolutely blown away.”

Versatile and stackable rings are customary for brides of today. For brides who have been previously married, an eternity band is a fashionable choice.

Owen proposed to Trivette on one knee at the Fox Theatre in Atlanta. Image: Submitted

The ring Owen gave to Trivette was a custom solitaire ring. A longtime relationship between the Sain and Lipscomb families, both of whom have been in business for more than 100 years, made the purchase even more meaningful. Image: Submitted

The marquis says it best: “She said yes!” Congrats to Owen and Trivette! Image: Submitted

From the Tiffany to the custom rings popular today, fleeting fashions, memorable designs and lasting styles have defined the ever-changing approach to engagement rings. We can’t wait to see what trend comes next — Wayne and Gennette foresee the continued popularity of round and oval stones and custom design.

These rings are available for purchase at E.J. Sain; pricing information is available upon request. E.J. Sain is located at 4009 Hillsboro Pike, Ste. 212, Nashville, TN 37215. Learn more at (615) 385-1212.

All photography by Leila Grossman of Grannis Photography unless otherwise noted. 

This article is sponsored by E.J. Sain.