The History of Engagement Rings

The History of Engagement Rings

When we think about the tradition of marriage proposals and the excitement of the engagement ring reveal, it evokes powerful emotions within us. Most people will tell you an engagement ring symbolizes love, commitment, and sharing a lifetime with the one you love. But what if that wasn’t always the case?

While we don’t want to be the ones to burst that romantic bubble, you may find the history of engagement rings quite unexpected. We’ll share some of the eye-opening details of how engagement rings originated, the rise of the diamond ring, and a path down engagement ring traditions over the years.   

When and Where Did Engagement Ring Traditions Begin?

Gold wedding ring set

Some experts believe the ancient Egyptians deserve credit for the engagement ring. After all, the Egyptians valued the circle as a symbol of eternity, having no beginning or end. The Egyptians were known to exchange beautifully braided reeds or rushes worn as rings.

Other experts share a different theory. They believe the truth behind the gifting of an engagement ring may have originally been a sign of ownership, started in Ancient Rome.

The First Betrothal Rings of Ancient Rome

In Ancient Rome, the first betrothal rings were typically made of bone, flint, ivory, copper, or iron. Rings signified an agreement to enter a business contract and were often gifted to the woman’s father rather than to her. The rings were a means of their signatures, representing a pledge of obedience, possession, and sometimes love.

After marriage, it was common for the woman to wear two rings. An iron ring was worn in the home to symbolize ownership. A gold ring was only meant to be worn while in public to display wealth and ownership.  

How Engagement Rings Became Official

Engagement rings were not given an official meaning until 850. At that time, a declaration made by Pope Nicholas I deemed that an engagement ring would:

The Original Guidelines for Engagement Rings

  • represent the intent of a man to marry a woman
  • be made of gold, the most treasured metal for the betrothed
  • signify a man’s financial sacrifice

The First Diamond Engagement Ring

Diamond ring on succulent

At their start, engagement rings were not yet adorned with diamonds as we traditionally give them today. It was not until the Archduke Maximillian of Austria proposed to Mary of Burgundy in 1477 that diamonds graced an engagement ring.

The first of its kind, the Archduke’s engagement ring to Mary is said to have boasted long, slender diamonds mounted onto the band in the shape of the letter M.

Gimmel Engagement Ring Traditions

The use of diamonds on a betrothal ring was still overshadowed by the popularity of gimmel rings in 1525. Gimmel rings were created with two to three hoop-styled rings, which came together to create the look of one united ring.

The tradition of gimmel rings was for the bride and groom to wear a portion of the ring following their official engagement. Then, as part of the ceremony, the happy couple would rejoin their betrothal bands, re-creating a single ring meant to be worn by the new bride.

Silver Posy Engagement Ring Traditions

By the 1600s, posy rings made of silver were the preferred engagement jewelry. These new rings of endearment, often mentioned by Shakespeare, held engraved ballads and poems of love on the inside. During some ceremonies, the silver posy rings were exchanged for posy rings of gold.

Protests of Engagement Rings Begin

By the mid-17th century, engagement and wedding rings became the center of controversy in the commonwealth of England. Rather than accepting these rings as a symbol of love and commitment, they were hailed as nothing more than an endorsement for church rituals. The Puritans protested observance of wedding rings, arguing it condoned the unconverted.

The Slow Rise of the Diamond Ring Trend

Although word of the first magnificent diamond ring proposal had spread, the use of diamonds in an engagement ring took some time to catch on. Although there were sightings of diamond engagement rings around the US, they weren’t a common jewelry piece until the 1930s.

The Discovery of Diamonds Creates Curiosity

diamonds on black background

In 1867, an exciting discovery of diamonds in a South African province turned the tides. This significant discovery of stones was later noted as the start of the diamond supply increase.

By 1940, the sale of diamond jewelry was soaring. This also marked the birth of a new engagement ring tradition. Diamond rings were stylish, desirable, and in demand. As a result, grooms began accepting wedding rings, too, incorporating the use into the wedding ceremony tradition.

Within the same decade, diamond ring sales skyrocketed upwards of 60%. Engagement and wedding rings quickly became the number one piece of jewelry sold in nearly every department store.   

DeBeers Makes Their Mark on the Desire for Diamonds

By 1947, the desire for diamonds had hit a new high. The first diamond advertising campaigns burst onto the scene, creating awe and demand. DeBeers, a British company mining diamonds in South Africa, enlisted the help of celebrities to introduce the world to the now infamous slogan, “A diamond is forever.” Needless to say, diamonds became all the rage as they were seen both on and off the silver screen.

Popular Engagement Ring Trends Throughout the Decades

While some engagement ring styles have stood the test of time, others have come and gone. Each era has made its mark, from the color and style of stone and precious metal to the intricate setting designs. Let’s take a look at some of the most sought-after diamond ring trends throughout the decades.

Engagement Ring Trends by Decade

Rings of the 1900s to 1920s

The Edwardian style was quite popular in the early 1900s. These diamond rings offered delicate details while highlighting large diamond center stones. In addition, it was common for jewelers to design diamond rings with as many stones as possible. This style sparked an ornate engagement ring tradition many women still love today.

The European cut diamond was the most coveted around the 1910s. Now considered an antique diamond, this cut preceded the round brilliant diamond cut.

European Cut vs. Round Brilliant:

Cutout Diamond Shank Engagement Ring
  • focus on carat weight vs. brilliance
  • 58 facets vs. 57-58, determined by lack of a culet
  • Hand-cut by eye vs. use of modern technology 

Rings of the 1920s to 1940s

During the mid-1920s, a burst of fresh designs appeared with the Art Deco movement. With the popularity of angled lines and a splash of bold colors came diamond rings with angular cuts to match.

During this time, the jazz era sparked a passion for color. Bright and bold were not uncommon, and women wanted their jewelry to match. As a result, diamond ring designs became less dainty and more daring.   

Rings of the 1940s to 1960s

To keep diamond rings affordable, jewelers explored new designs by the 1940s. As a result, engagement rings took on a new look with intricate flowers and leaves, flowing bows, and romantic hearts. The inclusion of these designs in the metal lessened the need for more diamonds, keeping the price tag affordable to more.

Yet, by the mid-40s, the fashion trend shifted to the solitaire and cushion-cut diamond rings. By this time, engagement ring traditions everywhere included diamonds.

It’s certainly worth noting the late 50s marked the rise of the emerald cut diamond. Elizabeth Taylor’s breathtaking engagement ring spread a wave of desire for this gorgeous engagement ring style.    

Rings of the 1960s to 1980s

Sapphire and Diamond Halo Ring

As the early 1960s approached, more celebrity engagements sparked diamond trends. Engagement rings were styled with colored gemstones, baguettes, and many set in platinum.

This period brought back a love for vintage style and highlighted the diamond and sapphire combination. It also produced incredible pave cluster diamond rings.

The 60s and 70s saw the return of bold, angular stones. Emerald engagement rings continued to soar in popularity, and the larger, the better!

Yellow gold returned as the most sought-after metal choice for engagement ring designs throughout the 1970s.

Rings of the 1980s to 2000s

1980s engagement rings carried on the yellow gold design. Rings that featured multi-colored gemstones with diamonds became a popular trend during this period.  

By the time the 1990s approached, cooler metals like platinum and white gold became the most desirable.

The early 2000s saw the halo engagement ring take the jewelry industry by storm. 

A Popular Shift in Today’s Engagement Ring Traditions

Today we tend to see engagement rings designed with an array of colored stones and unique flare. When celebrities are spotted with breathtaking baby pink diamonds and intricate floral halo designs on their ring finger, the world watches in awe.

Two tone diamond engagement ring

Center stones exceeding 20 carats are often splashed across social media for all to drool over. From oval to tear-drop, if a trend-setter is wearing it, we want it.

Even more notable in new engagement ring traditions is the man-gagement ring. It is estimated that roughly five percent of husbands-to-be choose to wear a men’s engagement ring with their fiancé.

The man-gagement ring is typically a simple men’s wedding band style. However, you're probably wondering what they do when the ceremony rolls around, and it's time for the actual wedding band. While some men choose to use the man-gagement ring as their wedding ring, others wear it on their right hand, add it to a chain, or simply tuck it away with their wedding memorabilia.

Finding Your Ideal Engagement Ring

As you begin the search for your ideal diamond ring, we’d love to help make your experience a memorable one. There are many considerations to make when selecting your engagement ring, and we want you to be confident in the investment you and your significant other make.

The 4 C’s of a Diamond

We know the feeling of being swept up in the moment when stunning diamond rings surround you! No one could blame you for falling in love with each one but walking in prepared with a bit of diamond knowledge will help you select a high-quality forever diamond.

Before considering your desired setting or even the preferred shape of your stone, it's essential to know the 4 C’s of every diamond. The 4 C's ensures diamond grading consistency and reliability throughout the industry. In addition, it provides you with peace of mind knowing every stone is put through rigorous evaluation. Every diamond is graded according to strict GIA standards.

GIA Standards

  • color
  • cut
  • clarity
  • carat weight

What is Diamond Color?

The color of a stone actually refers to its lack of color. Therefore, the slightest color variation may have a significant impact on a diamond’s quality and price. A reputable jeweler will be more than happy to allow you to view each diamond you are considering.

What is Diamond Cut?

The grading of a stone’s cut includes symmetry, dimensions, and light reflection. Often mistaken for shape, the cut is critical, as it determines how a stone will perform. In addition, the cut influences a diamond’s formation, reflection, and pattern of light. In other words, a high-quality cut is responsible for the sparkle that catches your eye. 

What is Diamond Clarity?

All diamonds will have inclusions. These tiny imperfections are generally caused by the intense pressure and heat a diamond sustains during formation.

The GIA Clarity Scale considers many factors, including size, location, and the number of imperfections visible when examined under 10x magnification. 

What is Carat Weight

Carat weight refers to how much the stone weighs rather than its size, as most assume. One metric carat is defined as 200 milligrams. Each carat is subdivided into 100 points, providing jewelers a precise measurement down to the hundredth decimal.

Fink’s Fifth C of Diamonds

Diamond Inspection

Here at Fink’s Jewelers, we have a fifth C of diamonds, Clif. For over two decades, each of our diamonds has been hand-selected by Clif.

He takes the time to put each stone under rigorous inspection. Clif’s high standards go above and beyond, ensuring our customers have the highest quality diamonds to choose from. Only those that exceed his meticulous system will be chosen as a Fink’s diamond.

In fact, Clif is known to reject roughly 99% of the diamonds he inspects, regardless of their excellent grading report.

Consider a Custom Engagement Ring

You may have a vision of the perfect diamond ring but can’t seem to find anything that compares, or perhaps you’d like to incorporate an heirloom into your engagement ring. Considering a custom engagement ring allows you the creative freedom to design your forever ring.

Fink’s offers highly skilled jewelers and dedicated design teams eager to help create your unique ring. We’ll guide you through the entire process, ensuring we make your vision a reality.

Whether you follow engagement ring traditions and trends or create your own, we know you’ll follow your heart to your perfect diamond ring.