Saturday, September 19, 2015

History of the Engagement Ring

Posy ring
When you think of an engagement ring, the first thing that pops into mind these days is a diamond ring, but the diamond ring is rooted in the culture of European royalty and that's not where the history of the engagement ring beings. In fact, engagement rings can be traced back to wedding traditions all the way back to the ancient Egyptians.

In ancient Egypt the first engagement rings were made out of hemp, leather, bone or ivory, and were worn on the fourth finger of the left hand. These rings were thought to symbolize the endless circle of love between a couple.

This tradition was picked up by the Greeks after Alexander the Great conquered Egypt in 332 BC. The betrothal bands they wore, though, were usually made of iron, unless you were wealthy. The rich wore more expensive metals including: copper, silver or gold. At times, these rings were engraved with a message or poem which started the tradition of engraving engagement rings and wedding bands.


Diamond and gold engagement rings were very rare. The most notable was in 1477 when Archduke Maximilian of Austria bestowed one to Mary of Burgundy. Then in 1518, the two-year-old Princess Mary, daughter of King Henry VIII, was given a diamond ring as a promise for an arranged marriage with the infant son of King Francis I of France.

For the most part, regular every-day people couldn't afford an expensive ring as a pledge of faithfulness. In the 15th through the 17th century in Eastern Europe, plain posy rings (gold finger rings with a short inscription on their surface) with inscribed messages made popular betrothal rings.

In Ireland, a wedding tradition that began during the Renaissance, included interlocking gimmel rings. One of the rings served as a betrothal ring for the bride, another was worn as a betrothal ring for the groom, and the third ring was held by the best man until the wedding day.

Until the late 19th century, engagement rings among the wealthy were made from colored gemstones. Once African diamond mines made the precious gems more accessible, the Victorians favored a heart-cut solitaire diamond accented with rubies which were a symbol of passionate love, sapphires carried divine favor, or emeralds, which were thought to attract good fortune. Emeralds were historically the sacred stone of Aphrodite, the Greek goddess of love, and Venus, the Roman goddess of passion.

Times changed, and with them wedding traditions and customs evolved. Dowries became a tradition of the past, laws changed, and women were able to sue their fiances for breaking engagements. Engagement rings became a source of financial security and were made of rubies, opals, emeralds and turquoise.
Victorian era diamond engagement ring.

It was Tiffany & Co. who introduced the single solitaire in the U.S. in 1886. This ring style was drastically different than the customary embedded bezel mount. The new cut showcased the jewel's natural shine and quickly became the most requested ring by American brides. It is still the most popular engagement ring setting in the U.S. today, with an estimated 80 percent of modern brides wearing a diamond engagement ring. This popularity can be traced back to the marketing campaign of DeBeers back in 1947 -- "A Diamond is Forever." It embedded the diamond engagement ring into America's mainstream society as the most coveted of engagement rings. 

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