The History of Engagement Rings
At some point in our lives we have thought about the big question; whether that its reminiscing on how it happened to you, how you did it to someone else, how you’re going to do it, or you dream proposal. Someone kneeling down on one knee, the look of love in their eyes, the shock on the other’s face, and the big reveal of the beautiful ring. It’s a milestone in anyone’s lifetime if marriage is on your list – but why do we make this big show of presenting a ring to the one that we love? Lets have a look at the history of engagement rings.
Anthropologists believe that the engagement ring came about from an ancient Roman tradition, where wives would wear rings attached to small keys, indicating their ownership to their husbands. These rings were crafted using a variety of materials such as ivory, bone, flint, copper and iron, and once adorned signified mutual love and obedience. Later in the era, gold rings became the material of choice, being found in the ruins of Pompeii.
Only from 850 AD onwards, these rings gained an official meaning. Pope Nicholas the First declared that gold engagement rings would be used by man with intent to marry. In 1477, Archduke Maximilian of Austria proposed to Mary of Burgundy with a gold ring bearing a diamond – he paved the way for all engagement bands from now on. He designed his ring with pointed diamonds spelling out the letter ‘m’. How romantic! As the wealthy travelled across Europe, as did the tradition of engagement rings and wedding bands.
During the enlightenment period (1715 – 1789), engagement rings took a much more gothic design in the form of gimmal rings. These rings, which usually came in twos or threes, adorned intricate carvings and had a clasp design that joined together when worn all at once. This design signified the union of two people. Between the 15th and 17th century, poesy rings also became popular. The poesy ring held a short inscription on the inside of the band which was hidden when worn, making the wearer feel as though they were keeping an intimate secret.
It wasn’t until 1947 when De Beers released their advertising campaign ‘a diamond is forever’, which caused every woman to crave a diamond engagement ring as their band of choice. From this time onwards, engagement rings became the leading lines of jewellery sold in many jewellers across the world.
Diamond rings also came with a monetary benefit for women. In the 20th century, many women did not work and were stay at home wives, or those which did work tended to leave their jobs after being proposed to. The diamond engagement ring gained popularity due to the safety net they provided if their marriages ended – the ex-husband would come away with all of the money, but the woman would be left able to sell her engagement ring to tide her over until she could find an income.
Now in the 21st century, the engagement ring is just as popular as ever if not more due to the passing of laws regarding same-sex marriages. Planned proposals are gaining popularity due to both partners being able to pick the perfect ring together, whether that be traditional rings or bespoke pieces. The trend of diamond engagement rings may now be on the turn however, with more contemporary designs taking rise including coloured gemstones, or no stones at all.
BY VICTORIA FLETCHER