The tradition of gifting a future bride with an engagement ring actually originated in ancient Rome. It was believed that from your left ring finger a thin vein, the “vena amoris”, ran directly to your heart, and adorning this finger was a guaranteed method of preserving “that loving feeling”. Modern science confirms that actually all your fingers house veins that run to your heart… but that’s neither here nor there because, well, tradition is tradition.
Engagement ring designs have certainly changed with time, but their sentimental value has steadily remained. The roundness of a ring symbolizes the endless love a couple has for each other, as well as the merging of two souls. There is little that’s more meaningful than the joyful eyes of a woman who has just been proposed to, and the exultant smile of a man who just heard her much anticipated “yes”.
Let’s delve deep into romance and take a trip through history to discover some of the most famous engagement rings of all time.
Josephine Bonaparte (Marie Josèphe Rose Tascher de la Pagerie)
Napoleon, who was deeply in love with her, showered her with passionate letters filled with his declarations of love. ‘I curse the glory and ambition which keeps me from the soul of my life,’ he wrote. In 1796 he presented his love with a ring of two teardrops in sapphire and diamond, two stones to symbolize the joining of their two hearts. Unfortunately their story does not have the happy ending we hope for. Josephine’s extramarital affairs and her inability to give him the heir he so desperately wanted, compelled him to finally divorce her. Napoleon continued to love her however, and even after the divorce, he insisted that she retain the title of Empress and continued to provide for her and her two children.
Queen Victoria (the 19th Century “It Girl”)
She was born on May 24, 1819, three months after which her betrothed, Prince Albert, was born. They say that both births were delivered by the same midwife (destiny!). Their feelings for each other however, could best be described as love “at second sight”. At the first meeting, the young love birds remained quite cold to each other. But with time she found him to be kind and sweet, and he found her both charming and sincere. Victoria proposed to Albert, (as was the custom for a Queen), and in February 1840, the royal wedding took place. Contrary to tradition, she chose a white dress, a wreath and a five-meter-long veil for the ceremony. The Prince honored her with a unique serpent wrap engagement ring accented with a large emerald, rubies and diamonds. This forever changed the wedding fashion. Their marriage was considered ideal, remiss of cheating, serious quarreling, and scandalous rumors. She called him his angel and the meaning of her life, and he her – his dear wife. They were known to be deeply in love and had 9 children together!
Elizabeth Bowes-Lyon (The Queen Mother)
Elizabeth Bowes-Lyon, (late mother of today’s Queen Elizabeth) never wanted to be a queen. Prince Albert (Albert Frederick Arthur George) made her an offer three times and received a rejection twice (poor guy!). In her words, she was “afraid never, never again to be free, to think, speak and act as I feel I really ought to”. (#earlyfeminism) But alas, in 1923, the persistent future king still managed to put a ring on it. She received a gorgeous oval halo diamond and sapphire engagement ring and voila, she became the Duchess of York. Elizabeth had a higher education, possessed eloquence and was able to earn the sincere love of the people. When during the war they wanted to take the queen with her children to Canada, she said: “The children will not leave England without me. I will not leave without the King. And he will never leave his country!” Now that’s loyalty!
Queen Elizabeth II (Queen of the United Kingdom)
Stately, tall, blond Philip immediately liked the future queen, who he met at a family wedding reception. From birth, he bore the title of a Greek and Danish Prince, but in 1922 his family lost power and moved to Paris. Relatives of Elizabeth did not consider the young man a successful match for her (pish posh!), but thankfully fate decided otherwise. In 1940, Philip graduated from the Naval College, and began serving in the British Navy, where he stayed throughout the war. He wrote sweet letters to his beloved and on returning from the front, his first visit was to her (awww!). In 1946, Philip made a secret proposal to Elizabeth and in 1947 he presented her with a diamond ring consisting of a 3 carat round center stone flanked by 10 smaller pave diamonds. They were married in Westminster Abbey in November of 1947. In 2017, the couple celebrated their platinum wedding anniversary; they are regarded as one of the longest and most successful marriages in the history of the royal family. Amen!
Audrey Hepburn (Actress, Humanitarian, Fashion Icon)
Fragile, talented, captivating … Academy Award winner and humanitarian Audrey, was always very much adored by men and she had two weddings in her lifetime. She took her first trip down the aisle with director Mel Ferrer, whom she met in 1953. A spark instantly ignited between them, and a year later Mel gave Audrey three wedding rings in faceted yellow and rose gold and a white gold eternity band set with baguette diamonds. He wanted his lover to combine them with different outfits and wear them depending on her mood, but she tended to wear them all together as a stack. Their simplicity and elegance perfectly encompass Audrey’s effortless style and she remains a significant fashion icon still emulated today. In 1968 the couple divorced after 14 years together after which Audrey went on to marry Andrea Dotti.
Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis (Former First Lady of the USA, International Style Icon)
Elegant, classy, timeless Jacqueline Lee Bouvier met the dashing John F. Kennedy at a dinner party in Washington DC when she was working as a Photographer/Columnist for the Washington Herald. Instantly smitten, John was quoted as saying “I’ve never met anyone like her”. The couple went on to date for 2 years before the Massachusetts Congressman popped the big question with a gorgeous 2.84 carat Emerald and 2.87 carat diamond stunner. They went on to have two children together. Unfortunately their happiness was short-lived as Jackie lost her husband, President Kennedy, when he was brutally assassinated in Texas in November of 1963.
Elizabeth Taylor (Actress, Businesswoman, Humanitarian)
Elizabeth Taylor is world renown not only for her beauty and acting chops, but for her multitude of lavish trips down the aisle, 8 to be exact, 7 husbands to be precise (Burton got two chances). Not every marriage proposal to Liz was made with a ring, and the most incredible piece she owned was given to her by husband #3 Mike Todd, who unfortunately died in a plane crash in March of 1958. The 29.4 carat emerald was not to be topped by any future husbands. She was most certainly in love with love..or maybe just marriage? Though she couldn’t keep a relationship together for long, she certainly was committed to her extensive array of gorgeous diamond and precious stone jewelry.
Grace Kelly (Hollywood Starlet, Princess of Monaco)
Beautiful American starlet Grace Kelly first met the charismatic Prince Rainier III of Monaco while filming a 1955 Hitchcock film. Shortly after a whirlwind courtship, the smitten Prince proposed to the 28 year old Hollywood star. He gave a legendary Cartier ring to his future wife adorned by an emerald-cut diamond of 10.48 carats, and flanked by two sparkling baguettes. The subsequent high profile wedding, one of the most iconic of all time, was attended by a list of Hollywood royalty. Subsequently, the marriage also marked the end of her budding career. The couple was married for 26 years and had three children together, though many have wondered if the marriage was indeed a happy one.
Diana Spencer (Princess of Wales, Humanitarian) & Catherine Middleton (Duchess of Cambridge)
The story of Diana Spencer and Princes Charles of Wales is sadly not one of undying love and affection as we would hope to believe, but one of grief and betrayal. The lovely Lady Diana Spencer became engaged to Prince Charles of Wales in February of 1981 amid family pressure from his side. Her engagement ring consisted of 14 diamonds surrounding a 12 carat oval blue Ceylon Sapphire, set in 18 Karat white gold. The princess supposedly chose the ring herself, as it may have reminded her of her mother’s. She loved the ring very much and wore it up until her scandalous divorce from Charles in 1996. She will always be remembered for her kind soul, timeless fashion style and philanthropy.
The beautiful heirloom was passed down to Prince William, their first born, who proposed to the lovely Catherine Middleton in Kenya in 2010 after a seven year courtship. The Prince, who was very close to his mother, stated that giving his mother’s engagement ring to Catherine was his way of making sure his mother didn’t miss out on his wedding day. The couple are very much in love and have three beautiful children together. Diana is surely smiling down at them from heaven. We wish this lovely couple all the very best!