Nowadays it often goes without saying that an engagement will involve the giving of an engagement ring in the Western world, followed by a wedding ring at a later date, however this hasn’t always been the case. At some point in time these traditions began, but when and why, you may wonder. This blog post takes a look at the roots and development of the engagement ring.
It is thought that the first engagement rings were created and worn by the Ancient Egyptians, who viewed the circle as a symbol of eternity. They therefore exchanged braided reed rings before they wed, to be worn on the left-hand ring finger, as it was believed that this finger had a vein which ran directly to the heart – the ‘vena amoris’. This has since been proven untrue, of course, but what a romantic notion it was!
Ancient Romans gave engagement rings, but these rings were less about love, and more a symbol of ownership of the woman. Interestingly, once married, the woman received two wedding rings also: one to wear at home, made of iron, and one to wear when attending special events, made of gold.
In the Middle Ages, inscriptions started being added to the inside of engagement rings, giving them more of a loving symbolism.
Diamond engagement rings didn’t come on the scene until much later on. The ring Archduke Maximilian of Austria proposed to Mary of Burgundy with in 1477 is often cited as the first ever diamond engagement ring. This ring didn’t, however, start a trend, as diamonds were so incredibly expensive and rare at the time. The ring gifted to Mary was set with thin, flat pieces of diamond, arranged in the shape of an “M.”
Moving forward in time to 1840, Prince Albert proposed to Queen Victoria with a beautiful emerald ring, as that was her birthstone (and she gave him two garters in return, as was the custom then). Little did they know that the Queen would soon be receiving and loving many a diamond gift.
Diamonds remained fairly unpopular until they were discovered in British provinces in South Africa in the mid-1800s. Cecil Rhodes, a British Mining Magnate, founded De Beers in 1880 and started mining diamonds. The Queen became known for her love of diamonds over time, and their popularity rose – in general, and as an option for engagement rings.
The Victorians got very creative with their engagement rings, mixing diamonds with other gemstones, and adding inscriptions of poems or messages of love inside the ring, much like people did in the Middle Ages. Precious metals and enamels were also experimented with.
In the current day in the UK, diamond engagement rings are very popular, and most proposals are made with one. While the shape of the diamond/s changes over time, as do settings and metals, the popularity of the engagement ring as a symbol of commitment and love is here to stay.
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