If you’re in the process of planning a wedding or engagement, there are no doubt lots of traditions that you’re taking into consideration. Asking the father of the bride for permission to wed his daughter; finding the perfect ring to get down on one knee with; getting that something old, something new, something borrowed and something blue…
But have you ever wondered where any of these traditions date back from? Most people don’t give it a second thought, but we want to share with you the history of engagement rings.
The first engagement rings
The earliest evidence of engagement rings being given as a symbol of love dates right back to the ancient Egyptians. Traditionally, these rings were given by men to the woman who they chose to marry, although they weren’t made out of the precious metal and stones that we now use today. Instead, they were usually made out of plants (or ivory or leather, depending on how wealthy you were) and worn on the fourth finger of the left hand, where they believed the vena amoris vein ran straight to the heart.
Not such a symbol of love
Fast-forward to ancient Roman times and engagement rings – or betrothal rings – started to take on a different meaning entirely. Less a symbol of love, they were seen more as a symbol of ownership, with men giving women a ring to ‘claim’ them as their own, in return for money or valuable objects. Roman women were given a gold ring to wear in public and symbolise their wealth, but an iron ring to wear behind closed doors, when doing housework.
The introduction of diamonds
The more familiar looking engagement rings featuring the introduction of diamonds didn’t appear until many years later. One of the earliest recordings of a diamond engagement ring being given, and perhaps the most famous, was way back in 1477. A lady called Mary Burgundy was proposed to by Archduke Maximilian of Austria, who presented her with a ring set with diamonds in the shape of an ‘M’, setting the bar high for all other Europeans of such noble status. Since then, several diamond shapes and cuts have been introduced to suit every taste and budget.
Engagement rings today
Since the discovery of diamonds in South Africa in the late 19th century, diamond engagement rings have become much more accessible to everyone. They began to be marketed to the world, with people being led to believe that ‘diamonds are forever’ and ‘diamonds are a girl’s best friend’. With that being the case, men were encouraged to spend around two months’ wages on the perfect ring for their loved one, to show their commitment and devotion to their marriage ahead.
These days, engagement rings can be as affordable or as expensive as you like. They come in all shapes and sizes, with different cut diamonds, varying numbers of diamonds and a choice of precious metals such as gold, white gold, silver, platinum and rose gold. And, of course, an engagement ring is no longer just a symbol of love given from men to women. It can be from women to men and between same sex couples too.
So, now that you know the history of engagement rings, you can perhaps appreciate the sentiment even more than you already did. The meaning may have changed over the centuries, but no doubt the tradition will continue for years to come.