Have you ever wondered why the diamond is the engagement ring of choice? Where did the idea originate from? Why is the diamond considered the ultimate symbol of love and adoration? For centuries, diamonds have been widely known as the universal symbol of eternal love and commitment. This is mainly due to the fact that diamonds are beautiful, strong, and durable, much like the tradition of a lasting marriage.
It is believed that the tradition of gifting an engagement ring featuring a diamond stone or centerpiece originated in 1477. This is the year in which Archduke Maximillian of Austria gave a diamond ring to Mary of Burgundy.
After this proposal, giving a diamond engagement ring became a widespread trend among the wealthy and famous. Around the globe, the upper classes began to follow suit and give the sparkly gems to their beloved and betrothed.
Over the next few centuries, giving diamond engagement rings was relatively limited to only the richest and noblest families. However, in 1870 several diamond mines were discovered in South Africa. This greatly increased the availability and affordability of diamonds to the general public.
As supply increased, declining costs allowed even those who did not don a crown to invest in diamonds. The market was flooded with a newfound diamond supply, and sales flourished in Europe and the United States.
In the late 1930s, the United States became the premium marketplace for high-quality diamonds, effectively making diamond engagement rings a common choice in America. Focus on marketing the diamonds was transferred to the U.S. as sales in Europe reached an all-time low just before World War II.
Though both continents were still experiencing the effects of the Great Depression, Americans clung to the idea that diamonds would last forever and be able to be passed down for generations to come. Since then, Americans have consistently purchased diamonds for engagement rings and other commemorative jewelry.
When an engagement ring is given, it is customary to wear both it and the wedding band on the left ring finger. This ancient tradition originated from Greece, whose citizens believe that the vena amoris, a vein located in that finger, is a direct line to the heart.
Prior to the tradition of choosing a mate before purchasing a ring, many men in the Middle Ages would do just the opposite. They typically kept a ring tied to their hats, and would give it to their chosen wife-to-be once she was found.
These betrothal rings in the Middle Ages were frequently inscribed with love poems and other messages. Also called “posy” rings, they remained popular until the Victorian Era.
Customary in earlier ages, many mates were chosen and agreed upon by the families of the bride and groom. Princess Mary, daughter of Henry VIII, was betrothed to the infant Dauphin of France, heir to the throne of France, when she was only two years old. The engagement, which took place in 1518, resulted in a gift of a diamond set in a tiny gold ring. This was the smallest engagement ring ever recorded.
During the rule of Louis XVI, from 1754 to 1793, the popular engagement ring style included a diamond cluster shaped like a long, pointed oval. These remained quite popular for the next 150 years.
Diamonds and rubies, signifying eternity and love, were commonly combined in rings used in the 17th and 18th centuries. Styles also featured many heart patterns, a popular symbol during that time.
In the 18th and 19th centuries, coloured stones still remained quite popular in engagement jewellery. Themes used in many rings would include several stones which spelled out a word or name with the first letter of each stone. For example, “dearest” would be represented in a ring containing a diamond, emerald, amethyst, ruby, epidote, sapphire and turquoise.
Serpents were considered a symbol of good luck, and used in many engagement rings in the same time period. Queen Victoria was given a ring using this motif.
Solitaire settings, as one of the most popular styles of engagement rings, were not introduced until the late 19th century. In the early 20th century, the “princess ring”, which features multiple diamonds, became popular in the U.S. This served as the original influence for the currently-popular three-stone style.
Platinum became the metal of choice in the early 20th century for engagement rings due to strength and durability. Later, during World War II, white and yellow gold was used for bridal jewelry because platinum was restricted to military use only.