The History of the Engagement Ring

The History of Engagement Rings and How They Got So Popular

Egyptian pharaohs were the first group in history known to use rings to represent eternity. They thought of rings as having no beginning and no end, which compelled them to give them to their lovers to symbolize their devotion. They wore rings on their ring finger, or the fourth finger of the left hand because they believed it contained a “vein of love” that led directly to the heart and while this isn’t actually anatomically correct, the tradition of wearing rings on the ring finger continues to this day.

Later, when Alexander the Great conquered the Egyptians, the Greeks adopted the tradition of giving rings to their partners. Many of these rings depicted Eros or Cupid, the god of love. When the Romans conquered Greece, they picked up on this tradition and began using iron and copper rings in marriage ceremonies. By the 2nd century CE, most rings were gold. 

While the tradition of wearing rings was catching on in Europe, the world’s love of diamonds actually started in India, where diamonds were gathered from the country’s rivers and streams. India’s wealthy classes popularized them, and diamonds gradually found their way to Western Europe via medieval markets. By the 1400s, diamonds were fashionable accessories for Europe’s elite.

In Medieval times, wedding rings were set with precious gems. Rubies symbolized passion, sapphires symbolized the heavens, and diamonds symbolized strength. In 1477, Archduke Maximillian of Austria commissioned the very first diamond engagement ring on record for his betrothed, Mary of Burgundy. This sparked a trend for diamond rings among European aristocracy and nobility.

Victorians later popularized ornate engagement ring designs that mixed diamonds with other gemstones, precious metals, and enamels. Often these rings were crafted in the shapes of flowers.

Diamond rings crafted during the Edwardian era continued the tradition of pairing diamonds with other jewels and were commonly mounted in filigree settings.

Up until the 1940s, diamonds were just one among numerous gems used as engagement ring stones. Their wild popularity is mainly due to De Beers, the diamond giant that controlled most of the world’s diamonds at the time. The opening of the DeBeers mines in Africa made diamonds more accessible, but during the economic downturn of the 1930s, people stopped buying diamonds. 

In response, De Beers launched a massive marketing campaign and its now classic slogan, “A Diamond is Forever.” They used photographs of glamorous movie stars and celebrities covered in diamonds and associated the durability of a diamond with lasting commitment. Within three years, the sales of diamonds increased by 50 percent.

Today a diamond’s purity and sparkle symbolize two people’s commitment to each other worldwide.

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