Engagement Rings: History & How The Diamond Ring Became Popular

Engagement Ring History Graphic

When hearing the word engagement ring, most people tend to envision some sort of sparkling diamond ring. Although recent years have shown colored gemstones and vintage rings as a popular choice, engagement ring trends have evolved over the centuries and if you look into the past traditions, diamonds were not always sought after. If you love diamond rings as much as we do, here’s a brief history of engagement rings used throughout the ages.

Engagement Rings: Pre-History to 1460’s

If any person tried to propose like this today, they would probably be arrested! However, it has been recorded that cavemen tied woven grass cords around the wrists and waist of his chosen mate to supposedly bring her spirit under his control. Luckily, a more civilized tradition began around 2,000 B.C. in Egypt when a single gold or silver wire was worn on the left hand. This is where the term ‘ring finger’ came from! Ancient Egyptians believed that the fourth finger of the left hand connected directly to the heart through the ‘vein of love.’ Although there are many different traditions that surround engagement rings today, all cultures agree that the ‘ring finger’ is the finger between the middle finger and smallest finger on both hands.

In the 1st and 2nd centuries B.C. history tells us that during a marriage ceremony the groom would give his bride a gold ring to wear that day and for special events and an iron ring to wear at home. The iron ring denoted her binding legal agreement of his ownership of her. A similar tradition in ancient Asia began with sultans requiring each of their wives to wear a puzzle ring which guaranteed her fidelity. In the 12th century, rings made of marshy reeds called ‘rush-rings’ were used as a sort of ‘sport’ to trick women into a false engagement. This practice was ended but as you can see, the history surrounding engagement rings isn’t without scandal.

Engagement Rings: 1470’s to the Present

In the late 1400’s in Austria, the Archduke Maximilian was the first to be recorded using a diamond engagement ring to propose. We are eternally grateful this tradition was started and knocked out the caveman ways!

Popular in Europe from the 1600-1800’s were engagement rings called ‘posy rings’ that were gold or silver rings enameled with rhyming love verses inside the band while the outer part of the band was decorated. This trend created the eventual popularity of engraving engagement rings. The ‘posy’ engagement rings did not have gemstones and diamonds as those were still fairly rare and not used until the 1800’s. There is record of diamonds, emeralds and rubies used in betrothal rings during the Victorian era (1830-1900) and it was common to have these gems delicately spell names or endearments.

Diamonds discovered in South Africa led to a huge increase in the world’s diamond production by the late 1800’s and in 1886 the ‘Tiffany setting’ was born. This engagement ring raised the diamond up from the band using 6 prongs and therefore, showcased the diamond’s brilliance. By the early 1900’s, catalogs like Sears & Roebuck, featured affordable diamond engagement rings and by the 1940’s, the diamond engagement ring was the leading line of jewelry in most department stores.

The last 60 years in the United States has seen engagement rings rise in tremendous popularity with diamonds being highly sought after. Unfortunately, diamonds and engagement rings have not been without controversy and the diamond industry created the World Diamond Council to protect human rights and prevent the diamond trade from using diamonds for any acts of war or exploitation and inhumane acts. For this reason some couples choose different gemstones in their engagement ring, like birthstones, which can sometimes be more cost effective as well.

For a few couples, love knows no boundaries as the ring Richard Burton gave to Elizabeth Taylor was over 33 carats and has an estimated worth of $8.8 million! Obviously, most of us are not at that level but a study by a bridal group in 2002 stated that over one-third of couples spent at least 2 months’ salary on their engagement rings.

Needless to say, the engagement ring is a sign of love and also one of the biggest purchases one can make. There are endless options and possibilities for engagement rings of all shapes, sizes and price ranges so if you want to learn more about engagement rings, stay tuned for next month’s article about engagement ring styles and current trends. As always, if you have any questions or need help finding the perfect ring, come visit our Gilbert showroom.

Explore the rest of our Engagement Ring series:
Engagement Rings: History
Engagement Rings: Settings Guide