This guide will break down everything you need to know regarding the history of engagement rings and what started the trend of the diamond.
The history of engagement rings is—pardon the pun—a rather engaging piece of history.
People have been using rings to propose to their spouses for hundreds of years. But we've come a long way since the first engagement rings used back in Ancient Rome.
Whether you're engaged, married, or a history buff, you'll love the story of engagement rings. Here's everything you need to know about engagement rings throughout history.
Like many traditions, the engagement ring dates back to ancient Rome.
Ancient rings have been found in the ruins of Pompeii. The engagement rings of ancient Rome were gold, bone, copper, or ivory, and included no diamonds. Beyond this, though, we don't know a lot about engagements in ancient Rome.
Some believe these gold rings were more-so a sign of ownership than love. A common practice saw the groom pay the family of the bride a "bride price" in exchange for their daughter's hand in marriage. The ring is thought to be a part of that, although this is up for some debate.
Roman-era brides were given two rings: one for the public (gold) and one for home (iron). The rings were known as "betrothal rings" rather than engagement rings then.
Some people believe that engagement rings go back to the ancient Egyptians. Egyptians saw the circle as a sign of eternity. An Egyptian man would propose to an Egyptian woman using a ring made of woven reeds.
Wearing the ring on the left-hand "ring finger" also allegedly comes from the Egyptians. They believed that the left "ring finger" had a vein that connected directly to the heart. In reality, all fingers have the same vein structure, so this isn't really the case.
It's a nice thought, but some historians believe there isn't enough evidence to support the Egypt hypothesis. Because of this, it's safer to go with Ancient Rome as the starting point.
Pope Nicholas I
The engagement ring wasn't made official until the year 860 AD. That was when Pope Nicholas I declared engagement as a necessary step in the wedding process.
The Pope was asked about the difference between the practices of the Eastern Orthodox and Roman Catholic religions. He declared that members of the Western church had to give their loved ones engagement rings. He put into action the banns of marriage, which said all marriages must be made public via engagement.
Engagement Rings Before Diamonds
Pope Nicholas' statement replaced betrothal rings with engagement rings during the Protestant Reformation. Now that they were a necessary part of the marriage process, there was renewed interest.
The Enlightenment era saw the rise of gimmal and posie rings.
Posie rings are simple gold rings with custom inscriptions around them and were very popular through the 15th and 17th centuries. They were often inscribed with romantic gestures and names.
A gimmal ring, or joint ring, is a ring that comes apart into two separate rings. Each spouse gets one half upon the proposal. The ring is then put together on the day of the wedding and given to the bride.
There were even three-way gimmal rings! In these cases, the third ring would be given to someone who would bear witness to the ceremony. They would then give their third of the ring to the bride after the vows were read.
It wasn't until 1867 that diamonds were officially given their name and classification. Miners discovered more diamond mines and more efficient ways to mine diamonds. Diamond production increased, and the price started to lower.
This price drop allowed more people than ever to indulge in diamond engagement rings. Still, they didn't reach the height of their popularity until much later. They were still too expensive for the majority of consumers.
Archduke Maximilian of Austria was the first man to propose with a diamond ring.
In 1477, the Archduke proposed to Mary of Burgundy. Her ring was adorned with narrow diamonds that formed an "M" shape. Talk about pulling out all the stops!
The Archduke's use of diamonds didn't exactly set the trend, though. It got the wealthiest people intrigued, but most of the world couldn't afford diamonds.
It wasn't until 1947 that diamonds caught on. And we can thank a crafty advertising campaign for that.
Engagement rings were going out of style in the 1930s. Diamond engagement rings were the minority. Then, the De Beers company hit the scene.
The De Beers company specializes in everything diamond, from mining to manufacturing. They spent the latter half of the 1930s educating people about diamonds. They taught people about the four C's of diamonds; carats, clarity, color, and cut.
Then in 1947, they came up with the slogan "a diamond is forever." This changed the world of engagement rings forever.
Diamonds soon became a must-have on engagement rings. The De Beers company presented them as never-ending—a symbol that stood for the eternal love of a couple. Now, of course, diamondless engagement rings are a big no-no.
De Beers is even responsible for the "two months' salary" tradition. This was an extension of their advertising scheme to sell more diamonds. The belief was that the more a man spent on an engagement ring, the more trust they had that the relationship would last.
The History of Engagement Rings Continues
We've come a long way since the days of gold betrothal rings.
Diamond wedding rings are now the norm. Plenty of excellent options are available at every price. The two-months tradition is breaking, and it's now acceptable for the woman to propose. Engagements are still evolving.
The history of engagement rings goes on, and the proposals of the future will probably look a lot different than they do today. But don't worry. As long as love is the driving factor behind engagements, proposals will remain one of the most beautiful acts imaginable.
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