Tradition of Engagement Ring
The engagement ring is often seen as a form of public announcement of two people’s love and commitment to each other. It has a long heritage and is common in different societies around the world, but is most popular, especially the diamond engagement ring, in the United States, Japan and Canada.
The exact origin of the engagement ring is unclear. Rings have been associated with love and marriage since ancient times. Perhaps the earliest suggested origin of the engagement ring tradition was in ancient Egypt, where engagement rings were worn on the 4th finger, or ring finger, of the left hand, because that was the finger believed to have the “vein of love” flowing straight from the heart. A simple iron loop used by early Romans to symbolize a betrothal was replaced by a plain gold band around the second century A.D.
In 860 Pope Nicolas I decreed that a gold ring was a requirement to signify engagement and groom’s financial commitment to his future wife and her family.
In the Christian tradition of wearing an engagement ring on the 4th finger of the left hand dates back to the 1549 prayer book. The priest or groom would put the engagement ring on the bride’s first three fingers in turn when saying “the Father, the Son and the Holy Ghost”, finishing on the 4th finger where the ring would stayed. The 4th finger of the left hand is still the traditional finger on which to wear the engagement ring.
Traditionally simple rings of gold, silver or iron were used for engagement rings. Over time the simple ring gained engravings or decoration. By the 14th century, Europe’s privileged classes were dressing their engagement rings with precious jewels as a status symbol and laws were passed to prevent the common people from the owning precious stones or gems. As these laws were relaxed, the practice of mounting gems and precious stones on engagement rings began to spread among the general population. Often a combination of the birthstones of the bride’s parents, the bride, the groom’s parents, and the groom were used on these engagement rings to symbolize the joining of the two families.
It was not until 1477 that the diamond engagement ring as we know it came into being when Archduke Maximillian of Austria gave Mary of Burgandy an engagement ring set with a diamond. At that time diamonds were thought of as magical and created in the flames of love.
This first instance of a royal engagement ring fueled the European passion for diamonds. But the practice was limited to the privileged and very rich as diamonds were very rare and expensive. At this time, other precious and semi-precious stones were used for engagement rings, stones such as This first instance of a royal engagement ring fueled the European passion for diamonds. But the practice was limited to the privileged and very rich as diamonds were very rare and expensive. At this time, other precious and semi-precious stones were used for engagement rings, stones such as emerald, amethyst, ruby, emerald, sapphire, and topaz.
At the end of the 19th century, when large deposit of diamonds were discovered in South Africa, diamond prices declined and diamonds for the first time became affordable to used regularly in engagement rings.
The modern day traditional diamond engagement ring didn’t begin until the 1930s, when the De Beers diamond company decided to encourage Americans to buy more of their diamonds.
After WWI, De Beers experienced a drop in diamond sales that lasted for almost two decades. In the early 1930s, De Beers turned to the PR firm of N.W. Ayer to launch a national advertising campaign to promote its diamonds. Ayer convinced Hollywood actresses to wear diamond rings in public, and encouraged influential fashion designers to discuss diamond rings as the new trend. The advertising campaign worked and between 1938 and 1941, diamond sales went up 55 percent. By 1945, the typical American bride wore a diamond engagement ring with a matching wedding ring. In 1947, a copywriter dreamed up the slogan “A Diamond Is Forever.” The sale of diamond engagement rings continued to rise in the 1950s. By 1965, 80 percent of American women wore a diamond engagement ring.
Today the diamond engagement ring is by far the most popular type of engagement ring. It is the custom for the man to privately purchase the engagement ring and present it to his future wife or fiancée when he proposes marriage. But more and more men are making the proposal without a ring, or with a substitute ring, and the real engagement ring is picked out by the man and woman together as part of the marriage process.
In The United States, it is customary for the man to give a woman an engagement ring and for the woman to wear one. De Beers tried to convince more men to wear male engagement rings, but the campaign has generally been a failure. There are several countries where males traditionally wear engagement rings. In these countries the male’s engagement ring is frequently used as the wedding ring.
Regardless of how you feel about the origin of the tradition of the diamond engagement ring, the tradition is here to stay. And what better way is there to symbolize two people’s love and commitment to each other than the diamond engagement ring?