The Evolution of the Engagement Ring

Rings as jewelry have been popular for thousands of years. The engagement ring, now a mainstay of the jewelry world, dates back to Ancient Rome. Read on and learn about the true history of these romantic symbols of love.

Platinum 1.51 Carat Yellow Diamond Engagement Ring

It was Ancient Roman custom for brides-to-be to wear two engagement rings: one of iron and one of gold. The gold ring was to be worn in public, and the iron ring was to be worn in the home. This is known to be one of the first instances of women wearing rings to signify their upcoming marriage. Gold betrothal rings were also found in the ruins of Pompeii, dating back to 79 CE.

Antique Buckle Ring, circa 1880
Diamond Engagement Ring, circa 1850

In later years, texts describe rings being a crucial part of solidifying a marriage. Engagement rings were mentioned by the Pope as a common tradition of Roman Catholics in the early Middle Ages. The first documented evidence of a diamond engagement ring being used is with Archduke Maximilian of Austria. In the year 1477, he presented a diamond ring to his betrothed, Mary of Burgundy. 

Mary of Burgundy’s engagement ring. Click for source.

1525 showed the rise of gimmel rings, or two to three rings fit together to form one ring. When engaged, the bride and groom would each wear a piece of the ring, then they would reconnect their rings at the ceremony for the bride to wear. Martin Luther married Catherine Bora with this type of ring in 1525.

16th-17th century gimmel ring, British Museum
Three Piece Wedding Set, circa 1930

In 1867, a large diamond deposit was found in South Africa. This gave more people the ability to use diamonds in engagement rings. However, diamonds were still quite rare in this time period. Many betrothal rings were quite plain, and even Queen Victoria chose to omit diamonds for her ring, opting instead for a snake design with emeralds, a symbol known for long-lasting love.

Diamond Floral Ring, circa 1910
Diamond Solitaire Ring, circa 1925

Diamond engagement rings were slowly declining in popularity until the 1940s, when diamond supplier De Beers created their “A Diamond is Forever” advertising campaign. By educating the public about diamond characteristics, this company put diamond engagement rings back in the spotlight. 

De Beers advertisement, 1940s

With diamond engagement ring popularity at an all-time high, new cuts of diamonds became popular as well. The solitaire setting was a popular choice for many brides-to-be, taking after an advertising campaign by Tiffany & Company. Oval and emerald shapes of diamonds were popular as well. Many couples started choosing to match their engagement and wedding rings, creating the appeal of a wedding set.

Heart Diamond Ring and Band
Emerald Cut Solitaire Diamond Ring

The different types of engagement rings today are numerous. New cuts of diamond, like marquise, pear and the princess cut, created in the 1970s, are incredibly popular. The halo ring is also a beautiful ring popular today – instead of a diamond, the main stone is a colored stone and is highlighted by a ring of diamonds. It is easier today more than ever to have your engagement ring custom made, with any stone you desire. But there are still some who appreciate the timelessness and classic beauty of vintage and antique engagement rings, which bring with them a character and history like no other piece of jewelry.

Pear Cut Solitaire Diamond Ring
1.30 Carat Marquise Diamond Ring
Cushion Cut Sapphire and Diamond Ring
1.52 Carat Ruby Ring With Diamonds

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