History of Engagement Rings – Everything You Need to Know
The practice of exchanging engagement rings as a sign of betrothal is a special moment for both parties involved, one that is cherished for the rest of their time together. But how did humans come to choose engagement rings as the symbol of their union?. Surely people in medieval Europe weren’t using the same practice as we do now?. They were, but the history of engagement rings is a fascinating story, of why rings, in particular, were chosen as markers of everlasting love. And why they are so popular today.
Who Invented Engagement Rings?
Engagement rings, albeit not those worn on fingers, date back to prehistory, so it is uncertain who ‘invented’ them but the general idea seems to stretch as far back into time as humans themselves. Cavemen have been known to tie corded braids made of grass around their mates’ ankles, waist, and wrists to control her spirit and dominate her. The modern practice of exchanging finger rings was adopted as early as the ancient Egyptians. who believed that circles symbolized eternity. Couples of the time wore the ring on the left-hand ring finger, which supposedly contained a vein that is connected to one’s heart. These rings were primarily made of leather or iron.
Later, in ancient Rome, rings came to symbolize ownership and not a loving marriage. But it quickly subsumed its image as representing love and promises. The relative uniformity in civilizations’ practice of proposing betrothal is a surprising, but comforting element of the tradition that it has become. Engagement rings are a unique window into what societies across time have considered beautiful and worthy of gifting a loved one. It is also reflective of the power that engagement rings worn by kings and rulers have projected upon their subjects. Furthermore, rings have traditionally been associated with several noteworthy traditions and practices throughout history. For example, English men in the 1600-1700s gave their fiancées rings with short lines of poetry inscribed inside them. In the 19th century, some women would receive thimbles as engagement presents. The brides would cut the bottom part and wear that as a ring.
When Did Diamonds Become Popular for Engagement Rings?
The incorporation of diamonds into engagement rings is a story glittered with royalty. Back in 1477, Archduke Maximilian of Austria was the first to present his wife, Mary of Burgundy, with a diamond engagement ring-shaped in the form of an‘M’. This heralded the adoption of the practice across Europe for a short time before diamonds receded as a trend. Today, around 80% of all brides receive diamond engagement rings upon betrothal.
The Ups and Downs of Demand for Diamonds in Engagement Bands
In medieval times, such as during the Renaissance, jewelry was a prominent indicator of socioeconomic status. The elite would commission the most intricate pieces, and engagement rings have often embodied this symbol of wealth and power. Following the Archduke’s introduction of diamonds, engagement rings evolved over multiple fashions and trends, and diamonds faded from popularity due to their limited supply. By the mid to late 1800s, black onyx and jet had become popular alternatives. Diamond returned to popularity in 1870 when vast reserves of the mineral were discovered in South Africa. It wasn’t until 1950, however, that diamonds truly became widely adopted in the way that they are today. Before that time, only about 10% of women had diamond engagement rings, but that number has exponentially increased since.
The practice became so popular that even people in countries like Japan, where engagement rings are traditionally not a part of ceremonies, adopted the practice anyway. Today it is one of the biggest diamond markets in the world. Diamonds have come to symbolize strength, unity, and loyalty, and this is what makes it a popular choice among couples.
What Does an Engagement Ring Symbolize?
Rings in Ancient and Medieval Times
The symbolism of engagement rings in ancient and medieval times differs drastically from what they mean today. Back then, in the history of engagement rings. Rings were a way for a woman to claim damages against a fiancée that had not followed through on his promise of marriage. A would-be bride wearing a ring meant that her dowry had been paid, obligating her chosen mate to keep his promise. A broken engagement would severely damage the reputation of the bride to be, making it difficult for her to find another partner.
Over time, this legal obligation was replaced by an economic one. In these eras, only women wore engagement rings, and it eventually became customary for grooms to gift their bride’s expensive engagement rings as a sign of commitment. If he bailed, they could keep the ring and utilize its value.
Rings in the modern age as compared to the history of engagement rings have adopted a purely sentimental value. Men started wearing rings during World War II when couples started exchanging rings as tokens of their love for each other. This practice continues to this day. The symbolism of engagement rings is often tied to the color of the gemstone that is chosen to go with it. Blue sapphire represents loyalty and devotion. While a ruby signals passion. A blue topaz indicates a desire for personal growth, while purple amethysts characterize peace and solidarity. The list goes on, and couples can choose the appropriate symbol for marriage. But the color of the gemstone is only one way to personalize wedding rings. Engravings, particular cuts, and a host of other details give buyers today considerable freedom in customizing their gifts.
Eventually, engagement rings came to be worn only for the period between proposal and marriage. A separate, simpler wedding ring is worn thereafter. However, the romanticism around proposals has resulted in engagement rings being significantly more expensive and fancier than their counterparts. There is some evidence that this trend is on the downswing, but engagement rings largely retain their image as totems of a couples’ undying love for the other.