Presenting a diamond engagement rings only became common practice in recent history. However, a ring as a symbol to express love and betrothal dates back thousands of years. Over the years traditions and expectations have changed and moved on. But for centuries the term engagement has been associated with a ring.
It is widely believed that it was the Egyptians were the first to use rings as a symbol for being wed. They believe the complete circle represented eternity and a couple would exchange rings made out of woven reeds. They would wear these rings on their left hand ring fingers, much like today. It was believe that in this finger there is a vein that runs directly to the heart, this vein has been named “Vena amoris” which in Latin literally means “vein of love”.
There have also been historians that believe the Ancient Greeks also had traditions of exchanging rings before marriage. But the first proof we really have of “engagement rings” is from the Romans.
However originally it wasn’t for the romantic reasons rings are given today it was to show ownership of the woman, similar to the bride price. The man would typically present the woman with two rings one made of gold, which she would wear in public; and one made of iron which would be worn at home while doing household chores. Throughout Roman history, the use of both gold and iron rings has had many different meaning as well as engagement rings. Another type of engagement ring that was popular in Roman times was a gold Fede ring, which shows two hands and sometimes two hearts joining together. This trend also continued into the medieval times.
During the Middle Ages marriage and engagement were taken very seriously. For the engagement was as binding as the marriage. The betrothed couple would appear in front of the priest to make their solemn promises and exchange rings. During the medieval times posy rings and fede rings were very popular choices for engagement rings.
In this period the “banns of marriage” were also implemented firstly by the Catholic church meaning that all to-be marriages must be made public knowledge to ensure there were no objection or lawful reasons why a couple may not be wed. This made it even more appealing for a man to show that his betrothed was no longer available for courtship as there would be a waiting period (roughly 40 days) before the couple would be allowed to marry.
Grooms were also obligated to pay a “deposit” at the engagement ceremony, if he then tried to back out of the agreement he would have to pay a penalty. This was equal to four times the betrothal price.
It was the King of the Romans Maximillian I, who was the first known giver of a diamond engagement ring. It was presented to Mary of Burgundy in 1477. The ring setting of the ring was in the shape of an M decorated with very flat pieces of diamond. During this period it would have been completely unheard of to present a diamond ring to signify an engagement.
16th – 18th Century
In the 16th and 17th centuries the Gimmal ring was a very popular choice as an engagement ring. They are made from two or three loops that are put together to create the complete ring. The engaged couple would wear one part of the ring each and then rejoin them at the wedding ceremony and use them as a wedding ring. With three part rings, a third person could witness the couple’s engagement vows and hold the third part of the ring until the marriage.
Posey rings, that are engraved with small poems were also a popular choice during this period and were often given as engagement rings with love poems engraved on the inside.
On occasion some couples would exchange silver rings to mark an engagement, to be replaced by a gold ring upon the wedding.
The Victorian period was known to be one that was full of love and traditions as the beloved Queen Victoria was so in love with her husband Prince Albert it spread through the nation. Victorian engagement rings were mostly full of symbolism and often featured romantic and sometimes whimsical motifs. These included hearts, bows, flowers and sometimes even snakes (which symbolised eternity, and Queen Victoria’s engagement ring was a snake ring.) Victorian rings tend to be very decorative and often include details such as floral carvings or lacy scrolls in the setting and shank. As well as scalloped edges and rose gold settings.
Coloured gemstones dominated the Victorian era, the most popular were black onyx, opal, sapphire, ruby, emerald, garnet, and amethyst. Albert was known to have a fondness for opals which is one of the reasons many engagement rings form this period feature them as it represented the Queen and her Prince’s relationship.
After Albert’s death the Queen and respectively the entire country went into a period of mourning, during this time a lot of black onyx, engraved gold and enamel can be found on jewellery from this time including engagement rings.
Diamonds also began to make more of an appurtenance at the end of the Victorian era. This was due to the fact that a large diamond deposit was discovered in South Africa. Diamond cutting techniques still were perfected as they are today. However the Old European Cuts of this period have certain draw as each is completely unique. Tiffany & Co. also introduced the six-prong “Tiffany Setting” which raised the diamond above the shank to help maximize its brilliance. As you will know this technique is now used on almost all rings featuring diamonds.
20th Century – 21st Century
It was during the Edwardian times, at the beginning of the 20th Century, that a man presenting an engagement ring became a social custom that was followed by all. During this period the rings tended to be ornate. Following from the Victorian styles there were many delicate floral designs and many incorporated filigree decoration.
As we move through the 20th Century, the popular styles for the periods had a big influence on the styles of engagement rings such as the Art deco period.
During the First World War platinum was very scarce, therefore they was a big trend of using gold instead, during this period engagement rings tended to be quite simple; sometimes featuring a small diamond but often with a gemstone instead.
It was in 1948 that De Beers Diamond Company used the advertising slogan “a diamond is forever” which made everyone want a diamond engagement ring (yes it all started with an advert.) After this, diamonds have been truly known as the stone to have in an engagement ring.
Through the 20th Century trends constantly changed, sometimes it’s the style of the ring itself from clusters to solitaires to trilogies. Sometimes it’s the metal, in the 1950’s platinum and white gold sales outweighed yellow gold. Other time’s it is the shape of the stone, from Asscher cuts to modern brilliant cuts to radiant cut stones.
Since the beginning of the 21st century trends have continued to evolve with many people choosing a fairly minimalist style and more gemstone becoming popular again. On the other hand some couples prefer to look into antique rings with old cut diamonds that have more character and a history behind them. Whichever style of engagement ring you are looking for we can’t wait to help you find it!
Emma Wright – Website Content Contributor / Sales Professional
Emma joined AC Silver as a website content editor with an interest in luxury goods. Emma represents AC Silver on many social media outlets in addition to creating interesting blogs and articles.