You’ve found your one and the only with whom you’re going to spend the rest of your life. Your next step is to pop the big question. Finally, you need to buy a ring for that special someone. Have you ever thought what’s the tradition standing behind the engagement (betrothal or fiancer) and the engagement ring?
The Origins of Engagement and Engagement Rings
According to Wikipedia, you can find the origins of European engagement in marriage practice in the Jewish law, Torah. The process that corresponds to today’s engagement (kiddushin) is mentioned in the Talmud and other sources of Jewish law. Later, Ancient Greeks adopted it. Roman marriage law borrowed the ritual of giving a ring. The fiancé would swear the oath of marriage intent and then present the ring.
According to other sources, the tradition is associated with the ancient Egyptians. They believed circles symbolized the notion of eternity. They made rings out of braided reeds, and wedded couples exchange those rings, which had to be worn on the ring finger of the left hand. The reason was that the ring finger had a vein running right to the heart. It later became known as “vena amoris” (literally translated “vein of love”).
It is believed the ancient Romans started exchanging engagement rings approximately in the 2nd century. Before starting this tradition, they used to give the bride money or an object of value. However, giving a ring didn’t symbolize the notion of love: it had to do with ownership. According to other sources, the tradition of engagement rings dates back to Ancient Egypt: the rest are just instances found in Ancient Greece and Rome.
Pliny the Elder mentioned the bride got a gold ring from the groom during the engagement ceremony and at other events of special importance. She also was given an iron ring that she had to wear at home. This signified there was a legal agreement on the groom’s ownership of the bride.
In ancient Greece, gold rings were gifted not only by married couples, but also by lovers. In Ancient Egypt, if a man wore rings, it meant he was wealthy, and sharing one with his wife represented the joint ownership of riches. In Ancient Rome, engaged couples’ parents had to exchange tokens as well.
In the 11th century, the church gave religious and sacred importance to rings. Later, in the mid-16th century, the ritual of giving rings began to play a special role in the wedding ceremony.
Diamonds as Engagement Rings
The fiancé presents the bride-to-be with an engagement ring while popping the question. As it was already mentioned above, it is believed this tradition dates back to ancient Romans and is associated with their custom of wearing rings (by wives) attached to small keys. This signified the husband’s ownership of his wife.
One of the first uses of a diamond ring for engagement was recorded in 1477. Archduke Maximilian of Austria proposed to Mary of Burgundy with a ring featuring thin, flat pieces of diamonds that had the shape of an “M.”
Soon it became popular among European aristocracy and nobility to wear diamond rings. Also, in the Middle Ages, it became trendy to wear the so-called “posey” rings, which were often designed in the shape of flowers. These were bands that had engraved romantic poems and sayings on them. Moreover, birthstones in different colours have gained enough popularity since the Middle Ages.
Thanks to sentimental Victorians, ornate engagement rings began to be designed with other precious stones and metals as well. It was a trend to wear such jewellery. During the Edwardian era, diamond rings were crafted continuing the tradition of mixing diamonds with other gemstones. They were usually mounted in filigree settings.
In 1880, Cecil Rhodes established the De Beers Mining Company in partnership with other investors. After the opening of diamond mines in South Africa, the gems became available to larger groups of people.
Between World War I and the Depression, diamonds didn’t appear to be that much popular. In the 1930s, the demand for diamond rings fell down in the United States because of hard economic times.
The De Beers Company began a successful marketing campaign using photographs of glamorous movie stars wearing diamonds. Within 3 years, there was a 50% increase in diamond sales. Within 10 years, 90% of the world’s diamond production went under their control. Diamond engagement rings became the largest ever ad campaign in history.
By the late 1940s, it was again popular to wear engagement rings with diamonds. Following the end of the Great Depression, the company’s ad agency N.W. Ayer & Son launched its famous “A Diamond Is Forever” phrase after De Beers created one of the most profitable ad campaigns in 1947. Today, this famous phrase has turned into a classic slogan.
They encouraged men to save up two months’ salary to purchase a diamond ring for their loved ones. Engagement rings became the top line of jewelry in the majority of department stores.
Diamonds were thought to be durable, yet they expressed the meaning that marriage is forever. The purity and brilliance coming from diamonds now symbolize the depth of a groom’s commitment to the bride practically all across the globe. These stunning gemstones are the symbol of the celebration of a union and cherished memory.
Diamonds come in various cuts. The round brilliant cut has always been the most popular diamond cut for engagement, which consists of 58 facets dividing the stone into top and bottom halves. Other cuts include the princess cut, the emerald cut, the oval cut, and the cushion cut, which is increasingly becoming more and more popular.
Today, more than 80% of American brides get diamond engagement rings. A report by Jewelers of America shows that couples spent $4.000 on average on an engagement ring in 2012. Diamond engagement rings are the reflection of the most romantic feelings.