History of the Engagement Ring

Where did all start? Genesis Diamonds trace back the history of engagement rings.

Following a couple’s decision to become engaged, usually one of the first acts is to look for an engagement ring – that is, of course, if the fiancé did not already present one at the time of his proposal. This tradition is taken as just that – a tradition. However, did you ever stop and think about where this tradition began and when it began? Probably not. So the time has finally come for you to be enlightened.

 Proposal_by_Charles_Robert_Leslie

Not Just the Pyramids

We can actually thank the ancient Egyptians for the concept of an engagement ring as they were the first to present engagement bands to symbolize an eternal cycle as represented by the round shape and its empty middle as a gateway.

Following the Egyptians, it was the Romans who started to give engagement rings as a sign of ownership, not as a sign of love. Remember, these were the days when women were considered no more than chattel and the wife was the possession of the husband. Also, engagement rings for the Romans did not necessarily end with marriage as they were often given as a sign of friendship.

The engagement rings given by Roman men had a small key engraved into the ring. The key was believed by some to symbolize the protection and reverence for the husband’s heart; however, that was probably sugar-coating the symbolism, and its true symbolism had more to do with the unlocking of wealth. And perhaps as a precursor to modern times, in second century B.C., Roman brides were given two rings – a gold one to wear and display in public, and an iron one to wear at home whilst doing the housework.

There is also a school of thought that the Ancient Greeks were early adopters if not the actual creators of engagement rings; however their rings were often given following the nuptials.

You Can’t Keep a Good Ring Down

Following their use in Roman times, engagement rings dropped off the radar for a good few centuries – not that there were radars back then. Their reintroduction stemmed from a rater unlikely source – Pope Innocent III. He proclaimed that following a couple’s engagement, there should be a waiting period. The rings represented this period and the couple’s patience and devotion during that period.

The most prominent and earliest documented use of an engagement ring though was the diamond ring given by Archduke Maximilian of Austria to Mary of Burgundy upon their betrothal in 1477. As is the case today, trends often trickle down from royalty to the masses and this is what happened following this very public engagement and wedding. First the aristocracy and wealthy joined the trend and once diamonds were discovered in Africa in 1870, the trend finally could finally become accessible to almost everyone as diamonds became more affordable.

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Meanwhile, Back Home

In the US, during the Colonial Age (1492-1763), it was customary to give a thimble as a sign of eternal companionship. Women would then cut off the top of the thimble and wear it as a ring. This tradition continued as late as the late 19th century. It was then that engagement rings became more common, with diamond engagement rings becoming de rigueur only in the 1930s. And they have never looked back, with approximately 80 percent of women now receiving a diamond engagement ring which they wear all the time.

The humble engagement ring has come a long way since Ancient Egypt. It has transcended borders, cultures, millennia, and religions to be a must-have for any bride-in-waiting. Visit the Ritani engagement ring collection.

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