The History of the Engagement Ring

The history of the engagement ring and its romantic traditions resonate through time.

The tradition of the engagement ring dates back as far as the fourth century AD.

The tradition of the engagement ring dates back as far as the fourth century AD

The Romans first introduced the betrothal ring as a plain, iron hoop. Among the gentry, the iron ring was worn while indoors and replaced with the more valuable gold band when outdoors. As early as the 4th century AD, inscriptions, elaborate or as simple as “honey,” embellished the inside of the band.

According to Macrobius, a 5th century Roman writer, the betrothal ring was worn on the fourth finger of the left hand. It was believed that from that finger a special vein ran directly to the heart. To this day, the centuries-old custom of wearing an engagement ring in this way has endured.

It was believed that from the 4th finger a special vein ran directly to the heart.

It was believed that from the 4th finger a special vein ran directly to the heart.

Engagement rings weren’t always about diamonds. Keep that in mind as you look for the perfect one. During the Middle Ages, sapphires and rubies initially adorned the engagement ring, while diamonds were incorporated in the 15th century.

The earliest written record of the use of a diamond in an engagement ring was in 1477 by a Dr. Moroltinger, who was advising the future Holy Roman Emperor Maximillian to have a ring set with a diamond for his betrothal to Mary of Burgundy. Resisting fire and steel, diamonds stood for the fortitude of a lifelong partnership.

Early cutting techniques caused gems to look dull and even black. Compensating for these lackluster stones, goldsmiths designed elaborate settings, composed of such romantic notions as rosettes and fleur-de-lis, symbolizing the bride’s purity.

More ephemeral than the diamond ring, the rush ring was hastily made from leaves or grass and lasted in many cases as long as the short-lived engagement. A more enduring and popular 16th century ring, the fede (Italian for faith) betrothal ring signified a marriage’s immutability in its central image of two clasped hands.

Posy rings, which were inscribed with love poems and messages, were popular betrothal rings from the Middle Ages until Victorian times.

Posy rings, which were inscribed with love poems and messages, were popular betrothal rings from the Middle Ages until Victorian times.

Posy betrothal rings were popular from the Middle Ages to Victorian times.

The smallest engagement ring on record was given to two-year-old Princess Mary, daughter of Henry VIII, on the event of her betrothal to the infant Dauphin of France, son of King Francis I, in 1518. Mary’s tiny gold ring was set with a diamond.

Hearts were favorite motifs for engagement and wedding rings during the 17th and 18th centuries. These rings often used rubies (signifying love) and diamonds (signifying eternity).

With the discovery of diamonds in Brazil in the 18th century, diamond jewelry became more readily available, and diamond cluster engagements rings were in vogue. A common cluster design consisted of small rose-cut diamonds arranged around a larger center stone.

Widespread wealth, initiated by the 19th century’s Industrial Revolution and the rich supply of newly discovered African diamond mines, made diamonds available to a greater public.

Diamond experts at GIA also note that this period was marked by revolutionary developments in cutting and polishing, resulting in diamonds revealing a brilliance greater than any other gem. The diamond now could stand alone, and so the solitaire engagement ring, as you can see below, became fashionable.

The simple elegance of the classic Tiffany mounting, introduced in 1886 by Charles L. Tiffany, offered an ideal complement to the beauty of the diamond.

The Tiffany mounting offers an ideal complement to the beauty of a diamond.

The simple elegance of the classic Tiffany mounting, introduced in 1886 by Charles L. Tiffany, offered an ideal complement to the beauty of the diamond. With the diamond set high in an open, six-prong mounting, the design permitted greater amounts of light to enter the gem, allowing it to exhibit maximum brilliance.

Given all the choices that are available to couples today, not only can they choose an engagement ring that represents a centuries-old symbol of love and tradition, but more importantly, a ring that is a personal expression of themselves.

We hope you found this article interesting in providing an insight into the history of the engagement ring. However, should you have any additional questions about this or any other jewellery related topics, you can always: “Ask Our Jeweller”

Be sure to sign up for OUR NEWSLETTER to stay up-to-date on the latest jewelry developments, trends, diamonds, gems, watches, reviews, tips and more!

Comments

  1. kat newkirk says

    Queen Mary Tudor (Bloody Mary) of England was gifted a New World emerald betrothal ring by Phillip II of Spain. It was thought the deep green of the emerald would fade or become yellowish if one’s lover were ever unfaithful.

  2. says

    Great post- I think it wasn’t really until DeBeers began their legendary campaign that the “need” for diamond engagement rings really rose although nowadays different gems and even antique engagement rings are growing tremendously in popularity!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *