In today’s social media engrossed world we are constantly bombarded with creative and breathtaking engagement ideas that inspire and strike our hearts with awe. No matter how one proposes to their loved one, one factor remains consistent: the diamond ring! But it may come as a surprise that it wasn’t always the token of choice. In fact, some traditions and cultures have had a long history of giving an engagement ring without the ever-presence of sparkling diamonds.
The Ancient Origins
Historians say that the ancient Egyptians may have been the first people to use a band or ring as a signifier of a wedding ceremony. Made from braided hemp or reeds, this shape was the symbol of infinity and represented an everlasting love. Placed on the fourth finger of the left hand, Egyptians believed that a vein in this finger ran straight through to the heart and was given to a woman with the confidence that she would take care of his house.
These rings, however, weren’t exactly known for their durability. Unlike modern designs that utilize resilient precious metals like gold or platinum, reed or hemp were impermanent and often broke apart during everyday tasks. Later, the Egyptians used materials like bone, ivory, or even leather and these rings were highly sought after.
In ancient Rome, another civilization that often gets credit for popularizing the ring-giving tradition, rings were given as an offering for a marriage proposal. These served more as a symbol of bride purchase and were sometimes even given to the bride’s father. Eventually, two rings were used: an expensive golden ring to be worn in public and a sturdy iron band for wear during household chores and everyday tasks. The Romans also believed in the relationship between the ring finger and the heart, speaking of a direct connection between the two and therefore, an increased importance on the symbol itself.
Claddagh rings, which depict hands holding a crown or heart, were popularized in this era, symbolizing loyalty, faith, and love and used throughout the Middle Ages and the Renaissance period in Europe, but modern uses of Claddagh rings trace back to Ireland and the 17th century when they were exchanged as a token of love.
First Use of Diamonds
While diamonds continued to be extremely rare and valuable gems in the Roman Empire, historians note that wealthier Roman citizens offered engagement rings embedded with other valuable stones such as onyx; these rings were also engraved with meaningful words, phrases, or designs. The very first commissioned diamond engagement ring in recorded history was by Austrian Archduke Maximilian for Mary of Burgundy in 1477. The ring was made of gold and set with diamonds that formed her initial ‘M’. He had made a statement and by early next century diamonds became a symbol of commitment among the European aristocracy.
Present Day Transformation
Fast-forward to today, diamond rings are the most popular choice for most couples. This is the result of a massive 1947 advertising campaign launched by De Beers, a British company that mines diamonds in South Africa. The campaign catapulted diamonds as the ultimate symbol of love and commitment with the tagline “A diamond is forever”. Over the course of a few decades they transformed diamonds from aspirational precious gems to an essential component of any relationship. This was achieved with the help of features in the media covering celebrity proposals and the details of their diamond rings, combined with stories of the emotional value of giving and receiving a diamond.
Diamond engagement rings are now designed unlike anything the Egyptians, Romans, or even Archduke Maximilian could have ever imagined. With laser etched white gold bands and brilliant princess cut diamond stones adorned with eye-catching presentation or a tasteful blend of white and rose gold cushion cuts, there's never been a better time to sparkle in love.