As summer starts, wedding season is in full swing. How do all marriages (okay, most marriages) start? With an engagement, of course. The presentation of a ring, a grand proposal, and a few months to a few years of planning a wedding. Occasionally, we find ourselves wondering where this tradition began. To get to the bottom of it and honor all the brides and grooms out there, we’re going to explore the history of the modern day engagement ring.
The Start of the Ring
According to a variety of sources, including Reader’s Digest, the first record of engagement rings date back to ancient Egypt and had just as much a romantic meaning as they do today. Ancient Egyptians believed that circles were symbolic to eternity, and at that time, betrothed exchanged and wore rings made of braided reeds on their left hand ring finger. Why the left hand, you ask? Well, there is a vein that runs from your left hand ring finger directly to your heart, later called the vena amoris. How romantic is that?
Of course, not all good things last. The romantic gestures of the Egyptians shifted over the years as it made its way to Rome. Before introducing rings into the mix, Romans would offer the future bride and her family gifts in exchange for her hand in marriage. Eventually, instead of literally buying the bride with goods, the ring was used as a symbol of ownership and only the bride wore the ring.
From Ownership to Symbolism
As time went on, the meaning of the ring and marriage evolved to adjust to cultural and societal changes. The diamond engagement ring first came on the scene in the 15th century. Originally said to have started with the Archduke of Austria proposing to Mary of Burgundy using a ring with an embedded diamond ‘M’, the use of precious gems in jewelry became a status symbol among royalty.
The use of diamonds in jewelry became more mainstream after diamonds were discovered in South Africa. From 1880 to 1940, diamonds became exceedingly popular and a staple part of engagement rings for Western culture. Now, more than 80 percent of American brides receive diamond engagement rings.
Evolving a Tradition
During times of financial strife, such as the Great Depression, diamonds fell out of favor for engagement rings. Instead of the more expensive diamond, people used rubies, sapphires, and other precious gems instead. Most recently, however, the concern of ethically sourced diamonds for engagement rings becomes more prominent among young couples. For both ethical and monetary reasons, gemstones other than diamonds, such as morganite and moissanite, are gaining popularity and moving our culture slowly away from traditional diamond engagement rings.
Still, an engagement ring is all about the couple and the relationship. It is a symbol of commitment and eternal love, just as it was in ancient Egypt. If you’re looking for an engagement ring, consider your relationship and your style as a couple. Whether it means getting a traditional diamond or breaking tradition and finding an alternative, find the ring that suits your love. Every engagement is unique, as every engagement ring should be.