It turns out we aren’t the only ones captivated by rings and precious gemstones. While the history of the engagement ring can be traced even to prehistoric times with braided grass, the ancient Egyptians are often credited with starting the modern tradition.
Believing that a “vein of love” (later dubbed the vena amoris in 1686) ran directly from the heart to the fourth finger on the left hand, Egyptians believed placing a ring on this finger could bring eternal love. The endless circle of the symbolic ring replaced chains and bracelets that were previously used as jewelry that signified a bonding (Our custom design with etched filigree detailing below, PC Laura Hernandez Photography).
In ancient Rome, according to Pliny the Elder, brides were given two rings: a gold ring to wear in public and an iron ring to wear at home. At the time, the only legal form of marriage, reserved for the elite class, was a union officiated with the groom presenting a ring to his bride.
In the Middle East and Asia, a sultan or sheik would present to his wife a “puzzle ring” or a complex piece of jewelry made up of several rings that formed one cohesive band. Behind the “puzzle ring” was a theme of faithfulness through cohesion. It was widely believed that if the ring were removed, the wife would not be able to put it back on, thus alerting the husband of unfaithfulness.
In 1477, Mary of Burgundy selected amongst her many suitors, Archduke Maximilian of Austria. The Archduke then presented a ring with thin, flat diamonds set in the shape of an “M”—one of the first recorded uses of a diamond engagement ring.
The 1700’s saw a step back in romanticism, with Puritans giving utilitarian thimbles rather than ornamental rings. Even then, many thimbles would have their tops sliced off to be worn as rings.
By the 1800’s, the Victorians would use precious gemstones to spell out pet names such as D-E-A-R with a ring set with a sequence of (d)iamond, (e)merald, (a)quamarine, and (r)uby.
The early 1900’s and modern day engagements rings are largely accredited to more familiar and still thriving retail jewelers: DeBeers, Tiffany & Co., Cartier, etc. By the 1940’s, engagement rings become the leading line of jewelry in most department stores (our well-loved Tiffany-set solitaire below).
The history of the engagement ring isn’t wrought by solely with romantic intentions but one thing’s for certain—from Egypt to Rome to England and America, from braided grass to iron to precious gemstones—the engagement ring has transcended time and civilizations and is still going strong.
Would it be too easy to end with “a diamond is forever?”