I Do Love You: The History of the Engagement Ring

engagent ring history

Since nearly the beginning of time, people have been using precious stones on rings to propose to their significant others. While different cultures have different customs, the idea of presenting a gift when proposing is nearly ubiquitous worldwide and throughout time. 

So without further ado, here is the history of the engagement ring in a nutshell. 

When Did Engagement Rings Become a Thing?

The dark history of engagement rings dates back to the Egyptians in the 2nd century BC. At that point, the ring did not represent love but symbolized a business contract. Wives wore a ring to signify ownership by their husbands. Ancient Egyptians wore yellow gold rings resembling a snake swallowing its tail, symbolizing eternity. The ring was also worn on the left-hand ring finger. Back then, the belief was that a “vein of love” that led to the heart was in that finger. The trend persists to this day even though the “vein of love” does not exist.

ancient Egyptian rings
Even the ancient Egyptians had engagement rings.
Photo Credit: The Metropolitan Museum of Art.

When Alexander the Great conquered Egypt, the Greeks adopted the custom of presenting rings to their partners. Then, when the Romans conquered Greece, they also picked up the practice, which continued through the Middle Ages. 

During the Medieval period, a distinction between engagement rings and wedding bands occurred. Wedding bands appeared because of so much confusion regarding the legitimacy of weddings. Styles continued to evolve, and by the time of the Renaissance, engagement rings began to more commonly include precious stones and resemble modern wedding bands.

The History of the Modern Engagement Ring

Engagement rings in the early 19th century displayed a Victorian style, later replaced by an Edwardian style. The Victorian style is characterized by rose cut, old mine cut, and marquise cut diamonds. The Edwardian Era exemplified a flowery style. One of the most iconic features of these rings is the filigree designs on the setting. 

art deco engagement ring
Beautiful emerald Art Deco style engagement ring.

Finally, in the early 20th century, engagement rings developed Art Nouveau and Art Deco styles. The Art Nouveau style utilized organic and natural linework, while the Art Deco style is known for its symmetrical and geometric designs. Engagement rings developed a more minimalist style towards the middle and end of the 20th century. After De Beers’ famous advertising in 1940, the solitaire ring became the most popular style. 

When Did Engagement Rings Start in America?

Engagement rings entered the United States in 1840. But it wasn’t until over a hundred years later, in 1947, that diamond engagement rings as we typically know them today became popular. The popularity of the diamond engagement ring began with the famous De Beers slogan, “Diamonds are forever.” 

Their advertisements in the ’40s also featured distinguished Hollywood stars adorned in diamonds. Ultimately, the marketing efforts by De Beers Company resulted in a 50% increase in the sale of diamonds in America in just three years. 

Modern Engagement Ring Trends

Contemporary engagement rings in the 21st century use a combination of styles seen throughout the ages. These new styles often combine sleek minimalistic designs with the sweeping lines and geometric shapes of the Art Nouveau and Art Deco styles. 

In today’s highly connected and social media-driven world, celebrities and social media influencers affect engagement ring styles, and many are breaking away from tradition. For example, pearls are catching fire as a new engagement ring trend as actresses and singer Emily Stone, Michelle Williams, and Arianna Grande all sport pearl engagement rings. 

history of the engagement ring
There are several popular engagement ring styles.

What Does an Engagement Ring Symbolize?

An engagement ring, predominantly in Western cultures, indicates that the person wearing it intends to get married. The ring is given to the woman in a relationship under the condition that there is an intent to marry. But there are cultural differences in engagement celebrations.

For example, in the Nordic tradition, both men and women get an engagement band. In Asian countries, women receive necklaces or toe rings. Despite the cultural distinctions, people worldwide use jewelry to represent an intent to marry. 

Popular gemstones worldwide for engagement rings include sapphires, emeralds, rubies, and diamonds. Medieval rings used sapphires to represent the heavens, rubies for passion, and diamonds for faithfulness. The most popular ring styles symbolizing engagement are solitaire, halo, and three-stone. Each type can be used to represent the relationship or the future bride. For example, a three-stone engagement ring can symbolize the Holy Trinity if you’re a Christian couple. 

What Are Some of the Most Famous Engagement Rings in History?

The most famous engagement rings in history gained their title from either their mark on society, how recognizable they are, their size, or their grandeur. Here are some of history’s most famous engagement rings. 

history of engagement ring Mary of Burgundy
Mary of Burgundy had a lot of ornate jewelry.

Mary of Burgundy 

Mary of Burgundy received the first recorded diamond engagement ring in the history of the world. In 1477, the Archduke Maximillian of Austria presented Mary with a diamond ring shaped like an “M.” This is presumably because of her first and his last name. Maximillian’s gift started a trend among royalty that would later trickle down into society. 

Diana of Wales engagment ring
Princess Diana had a lovely sapphire engagement ring.

Princess Diana 

Princess Diana’s blue sapphire ring outlined in diamonds in a white gold setting is one of history’s most recognizable engagement rings. This iconic ring broke tradition in the Royal Family since it wasn’t made from family heirlooms. Instead, Charles purchased Princess Diana’s ring from a publicly accessible catalog. In contrast, Queen Camila’s Art Deco diamond engagement ring once belonged to the Queen Mother.

However, Diana’s sapphire ring is quickly turning into a historic family heirloom, as the ring currently sits on the finger of Prince William’s wife, Kate Middleton. It’s also inspired thousands to opt for unique gemstones in their engagement rings.

history of engagement ring Elizabeth Taylor 1953
Elizabeth Taylor had a lovely engagement ring from Michael Wilding in 1953.

Elizabeth Taylor 

Elizabeth Taylor had ten marriage proposals and eight husbands, so it’s no surprise she acquired an impressive collection of engagement rings in many popular styles, from solitaires to eternity bands. Her most famous ring was probably from her engagement to Mike Todd, who got her a nearly 30-carat emerald-cut diamond ring. But Elizabeth Taylor also holds the title for the largest engagement diamond ever. In 1969, actor Richard Burton proposed to Taylor with a 69-carat diamond. The diamond was so big it could not be worn on a ring and instead was made into a necklace.

jackie kennedy wedding
Jackie Kennedy’s iconic ring is hiding behind her wedding gloves and bouquet.

Jackie Kennedy 

The story of Jackie Kennedy’s engagement ring began in 1953 when John F. Kennedy announced to the press their marriage proposal. Initially, the ring consisted of an emerald-cut diamond and emerald with baguette-cut diamonds decorating the arms. The band was revamped in 1961, when John F. Kennedy became President, to display an even more art nouveau style. The new rendition of the ring included oval diamonds to make the ring look like a laurel wreath holding two central stones. 

How Much Do You Spend on an Engagement Ring?

The average amount couples spend on an engagement ring in the United States is about six thousand dollars. But that does not mean you must (or should) spend $6,000 on a ring. This average also factors in people spending north of twenty grand or more on their rings.

Some specialists suggest budgeting and spending approximately three months’ salary on your engagement band. Others suggest spending 5% of your income. Like with the ring, though, no one size fits all, and you shouldn’t feel pressured by the price. The most important thing is to consider what your future bride would like on her wedding day. For example, does she value size or sparkle more? Does she want something simple and classic or more unique?

If you’re considering proposing, do your best to pick your girlfriend’s brain on what she wants in an engagement ring. Many women compile a Pinterest page of ideas for their engagement ring. Be sure to ask your girlfriend or her friends if she has one.

history of the engagement ring

Diamonds Are Forever 

Engagement rings have a rich history dating back centuries, with each Era having its own unique style and symbolism. The most famous engagement rings in history are a testament to the significance of these rings throughout time, with each one reflecting its owner’s personality and style. So be sure to either overtly or covertly include your significant other in choosing the ring. 

What does your engagement ring say about your relationship or the time period you got engaged? Let us know on #getfamilyapp

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