History of Engagement Rings

Since the Cavemen…

How Archaeologists discovered the pre-cursor to the engagement ring dates to cavemen. A woman was given braided grass to wear on the wrists, ankles, and waist, signifying she was the man’s chosen mate, and further, he owned her spirit. There is varying thought on the origin of engagement rings as we know them today. Some attribute it to the ancient Egyptians, others to Romans, or Greeks.

For the most part the symbolism has remained intact, but with progress the meaning has gone from that of ownership of a woman to being a token of undying love and eternal devotion.

Roman women would don a ring of iron to denote a marriage contract. It indicated ownership by the man, proved he had paid a dowry and as affirmed a woman would be obedient.

Often these rings had protruding keys built in, which some historians suggest further highlighted a woman being owned. The wealthy had two rings, the iron to be worn in public and a gold ring to be worn in the house.

We’ve come a long way, baby!

Pope Nicholas I was the first to give an actual meaning to the engagement ring. During his reign (858 -867) he deemed a ring a symbol of man’s intent to marry, to express his eternal love and commitment.

Photo by Gabriella Clare Marino on Unsplash

It wasn’t until the 17th century the giving of a diamond engagement ring became commonplace. During Queen Victoria’s reign there was a shift away from arranged unions, and couples were marrying for love. Newly discovered diamond mines meant a surge in the popularity of the gem. Of course, then as now any gem goes, but the diamond maintains it’s spot as the preferred option. 

The opening for the finger also had a significance. It was thought to represent a doorway to the future. Historians believe the first diamond engagement ring can be traced to the Archduke Maximillian of Austria. He proposed to Mary of Burgundy with a diamond ring in the 1400s.

Photo by K. Mitch Hodge on Unsplash

The slogan “A Diamond is Forever” has been ingrained in most of our heads. We can thank DeBeers for that.  In 1947, DeBeers Corp, a diamond mining company and retailer in the UK, launched the brilliant marketing campaign. This sent diamond sales soaring. With celebrities wearing them both on and off the red carpet, diamonds became THE gem for engagement rings. The strength and durability of diamonds say timelessness, and it is no wonder they remain the top choice in engagement rings.

Have your ever wondered why engagement rings are typically worn on the 4th finger of the left hand? This too can be attributed to The Romans, who believed there was a vein running from that finger straight to the heart. Once married, the wedding band is meant to be worn under an engagement ring to be positioned closer to the heart.

Other cultures have different traditions. In Western Europe an engagement ring is worn on the right hand. In Chilean tradition, both the men and women exchange engagement rings. In Hindu culture a toe ring is given and in West Bengal Iron bangles plated in gold and silver are given.

It is interesting that all of these are circles, no beginning, and no end symbolizing…

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