The History of the Engagement Ring
Receiving an engagement ring from a loving partner is one of the most exciting and significant moments in a woman's life. Representing the intention to wed, the engagement ring is an important milestone in a couple's relationship. According to tradition, the engagement ring is a symbol of undying love, eternal devotion, and the promise of a life together. Surprisingly, the history of such a symbolic gift is not well known.
In ancient Egypt a ring symbolized the endless circle of love between a couple. The earlier engagement rings used by the Egyptians were made out of hemp, leather, bone or ivory. These engagement rings were usually worn on the fourth finger of the left hand, which is said to contain the vena amoris or "vein of love". This vein runs from the fourth finger to the heart, making it the perfect place to wear an engagement ring. This tradition was later adopted by the Greeks after Alexander the Great conquered Egypt in 332 BC. The ancient Greeks wore plain bands known as betrothal rings. These bands were usually made of iron, although the wealthy may have worn more expensive metals like copper, silver or gold. These engagement rings sometimes contained a message or poem engraved onto the ring. This started the tradition of engraving engagement rings and wedding bands.
Diamonds were believed to be discovered in India around 800 BC. Since their discovery they have been valued for their beauty and rarity. Diamonds are the hardest known naturally occurring mineral, making them a perfect choice to represent an everlasting marriage bond.
The first recorded diamond engagement ring was given by Archduke Maximilian of Austria to Mary of Burgundy in 1477. This started the trend of diamond engagement rings among royalty and the wealthy. For those that could not afford a diamond engagement ring, the Gimmel, or Claddagh ring became popular in the 15th and 16th centuries. This engagement ring consisted of two rings worn by both lovers and was then combined at the wedding ceremony to make one complete ring.
Because diamond engagement rings were costly, engagement rings in the 17th and 18th centuries usually contained colored gemstones such as sapphires, emeralds or rubies. The discovery of large diamond deposits in South America and Africa in the 18th century brought the price of diamonds down significantly. This enabled the diamond engagement ring to be available to a large number of people.
During WWII platinum was needed for the war effort and was restricted to military use. This caused a decline in the platinum engagement ring, which resulted in the rise of yellow gold and white gold diamond engagement rings. With the Depression causing a major decline in diamond engagement ring sales, De Beers coined the famous phrase "A Diamond is Forever" in 1947. This marketing campaign led to the rejuvenation of the diamond engagement ring.
Over the years the diamond engagement ring has become a symbol of not only a couple's love for each other, but also a symbol of personal style. With thousands of styles to choose from, the engagement ring has evolved far from the simple band. Engagement rings during the Renaissance era contained single rough diamonds. Cluster style engagement rings were popular in the late 18th and early 19th centuries. The majority of the antique engagement rings we see today are white gold and platinum filigree engagement rings from the early 20's. The Tiffany, or solitaire engagement ring, was introduced in the late 19th century and is still popular today. The three stone diamond engagement rings became popular in the U.S. in the early 20th century. In modern times, women are also buying engagement rings for men. Ranging from the traditional plain band to a band with diamonds, men can also boast of their engagement. No matter which style you choose, the engagement ring has and will forever hold special meaning for you and your loved one.