In the western world, an engagement ring is believed to be the ultimate expression of true love. But where did this tradition originate?
The history of the engagement ring dates back to ancient times and, like many other traditions, the giving of an engagement ring seems to have originated with the Egyptians. The circular shape is said to represent an eternal cycle, symbolising everlasting love and devotion. Couples exchanged rings made from braided natural materials like grass and reeds. The rings were worn on the fourth finger (now called the ring finger) of the left hand, where it was believed there was a vein that led directly to the heart. This vein (or nerve) was later named Vena Amoris.
Here began a custom that continues in many cultures today. Centuries later the tradition of using diamonds in an engagement ring began when Archduke Maximillian of Austria offered Mary of Burgundy a delicate band adorned with diamonds in the shape of her initial. This gesture won him her hand and heart over another hopeful suitor and started a trend among European aristocracy.
By the end of the 19th century, engagement rings very similar to those we wear today were quite common. Set with a pearl or the best stone the groom could afford, they indicated the couple’s commitment and intention to marry. The couple would then, during the wedding, substitute the engagement ring for plain bands inscribed with their initials and the date of the ceremony
Following De Beers’ “Diamonds are forever” campaign, the 20th-century engagement ring market was overwhelmingly dominated by the diamond. Although still popular with more traditional couples, many others have decided that the diamond solitaire is old news and instead are opting for rings set with sapphires, morganite and other coloured gemstones.
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