The giving of engagement rings feels like a tradition that has been around forever. If you’ve ever seen family heirlooms from your grandparents or great-grandparents, you may already know that engagement rings have been commonplace for at least a hundred years. But this doesn’t tell you how far back the tradition really goes.
So when did the engagement ring tradition begin? When did proposing with a ring become a common practice? Who gave the first engagement ring? And who received it? What is the history of the engagement ring? Finally, what does the engagement ring mean for women in modern society? In today’s guide, we will answer all of these questions and more, so let’s get started!
When Did Engagement Rings Start?
The tradition of giving engagement rings is believed to date back thousands of years. There are some artifacts indicating that ancient Egyptians saw great significance in circles and spheres. Consequently, ancient Egyptian couples planning to get married would exchange rings composed of braided reeds collected from nearby rivers.
Centuries later, the ancient Romans replaced the tradition of giving a bride money or gifts with the exchange of betrothal rings (i.e. engagement rings). At the time, marriage was often seen as an arrangement between families rather than a commitment of love. This meant that engagement rings were not necessarily romantic.
Instead, they were a symbol of a man’s ownership of a woman. The famous Roman author, Gaius Plinius Secundus, more commonly known as “Pliny the Elder,” wrote that a Roman groom would give his bride a gold ring to celebrate the engagement ceremony. Afterward, the bride would wear a simple iron ring to represent the continuation of the legal agreement between the two families.
While these records give us a glimpse of the early history of engagement rings, it is not known exactly when or how the tradition started. However, historians believe that it began as a practical way to show evidence of a legally-binding commitment. This tradition lives on today, albeit with a much greater sense of romance and different kinds of materials.
For instance, the earliest engagement rings were made of whatever materials were available. Some were made of gold (like many modern engagement rings), while others were made of iron or other accessible metals. Rings with precious gemstones were only available to the wealthiest individuals in society, often monarchs and other nobles in their respective kingdoms and empires. It would take centuries before the diamond engagement rings that are so popular today would come into existence for everyone.
Who Gave The First Known Diamond Engagement Ring?
Most historians agree that the first known diamond engagement ring was given in 1477 by Archduke Maximillian of Austria when he proposed to Mary of Burgundy. The alliance formed by their marriage helped pave the way for the Archduke to become Holy Roman Emperor Maximilian I. This title solidified his influence in Europe, which might have had the unintended effect of spreading the tradition of diamond rings more quickly.
It is widely accepted that the proposal between Maximillian and Mary of Burgundy helped ignite the popularity of engagement rings among nobility throughout Europe. But in spite of becoming popular among some of Europe’s most powerful monarchs and nobles centuries ago, the tradition would not reach the masses until the late 19th and early 20th Centuries. A large part of this huge gap in time was due to the high cost of diamonds prior to industrialization that occurred during the Victorian Era.
When Did Engagement Rings Become Popular?
As previously mentioned, engagement rings were used among people of all backgrounds since ancient times. When diamond engagement rings were introduced in the 15th Century, they quickly took off — but only among those who could afford them. While engagement rings continued to be used by most people in Europe and Asia in the centuries that followed, it was not until a momentous discovery in 1880 that diamond rings were finally introduced to the general public.
That year, Cecil Rhodes discovered diamond deposits in South Africa. Rhodes and several investors founded the DeBeers Mining Company a few years later to capitalize on the discovery. By 1890, the DeBeers Mining Company had taken control of nearly all of the world’s diamond production. Central to the company’s business model was the promotion of diamond engagement rings. Even though Rhodes and his company created a virtual monopoly of the industry, they also helped make diamonds far more affordable by simply increasing the supply of available diamonds.
However, it would still take a few decades before diamond rings really became a commonplace purchase. The Great Depression hit every industry, including diamond manufacturers. Once the worst effects of the global depression had subsided, the DeBeers Mining Company and its advertising partners returned in full force. In 1948, Mary Frances Gerety of N.W. Ayer & Son advertising agency came up with the now famous slogan, “a diamond is forever.” This slogan was used to drive the sales of diamond engagement rings — and it worked.
Around the same time, some common practices were introduced to help people understand how to buy diamond jewelry. For example, the idea that a diamond ring should cost 2-month’s salary began around this time, thanks in large part to advertisers like N.W. Ayer & Son. By the 1950s, diamond engagement rings had become the norm, particularly among middle and upper-middle-class American couples.
However, diamond rings were not able to stay affordable on their own. As global supplies of natural diamonds declined and demand increased, prices began to rise. Fortunately, the mid-20th Century saw the discovery of lab diamonds. Not only did this give humans the ability to produce real diamonds in a lab, but it also made diamonds far more accessible again. This, in turn, brought on the diamond industry as we know it today, supplied with larger quantities of both natural and lab diamonds alike.
What An Engagement Ring Means To A Woman In The 21st Century
While the history of the engagement ring recalls ancient legal commitments and even more recent advertising campaigns, it means something very different in the 21st Century. Nowadays, society has largely shaken off the most traditional concepts surrounding marriage. More specifically, it is no longer seen as a way for one person to take “ownership” of another through a legal process. Instead, engagement and marriage are seen as practices that allow individuals to show their love and commitment to each other.
This is the most important symbolism of an engagement ring for the 21st-century woman. It is a physical representation of love. While we have gotten rid of many unseemly ideas from the past, we still hold on to the ones that stand the test of time. Like the ancient Egyptians, we still see a ring as a representation of eternity. This means that an engagement ring doesn’t just mean that a woman is loved right now; it means that she will continue to be loved in this life and the next.
We hope you found this guide on the history and significance of engagement rings both useful and informative! Are you in the market for an engagement ring? Do you want beautiful, certified diamond engagement rings at competitive prices? If so, be sure to check out the luxurious products available at Liori Diamonds today!