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Engagement rings: a brief history

Can you imagine proposing to someone (or being proposed to) without an engagement ring involved? Probably not. But this tradition hasn’t always been around, and in fact, came very close to being abandoned altogether at one point. If you’ve ever wondered how engagement rings as we know them today came to be, keep reading to learn about this love token’s storied history and how it has earned its position as an engagement necessity.


Ancient engagement rings

Engagement rings date back many centuries, with credit commonly given to the ancient Egyptians. However, it is believed that giving a loved one this type of jewellery actually goes back even further in time, to the Romans. During this time, a bride-to-be was usually given two rings, one made of gold and the other of iron. The gold band was for wearing in public, while the iron ring was worn at home as it was more durable.


Engagement rings throughout history

Engagement rings continued to be given and worn after ancient times, throughout the Middle Ages and into the Renaissance period. It was during this time that the engagement ring was first truly documented. In 1477, the Austrian Archduke Maximilian presented Mary of Burgundy with a diamond engagement ring, starting a trend among the nobility and aristocrats, who began signifying their impending marriages with this type of jewellery. The practice continued without many notable examples until the discovery of diamonds in South Africa.


The DeBeers effect

When the DeBeers diamond mine opened in South Africa in the late-1800s, diamonds became much more accessible to the general populace. The mine was producing more than a million carats per year, allowing the tradition of diamond engagement rings to expand beyond the higher social classes.

Following World War I, however, the tradition waned, and the Great Depression did nothing to help. DeBeers, who obviously had a great interest in keeping the practice alive, decided to change this. In 1938, the company began an ad campaign designed to reinvigorate the gifting of diamond engagement rings, and the slogan ‘A diamond is forever’ was coined. Their strategy paid off, and the popularity of this type of ring soared   ̶  and continues to do so today.


Engagement rings today

The tradition of giving engagement rings is alive and well today, and most couples expect to either give or receive this type of ring. Gold and platinum are the most common metals used in engagement and wedding bands, and diamonds are the most popular choice for gemstones.

Many engagement rings feature a single diamond, known as a solitaire, although another common style is a solitaire surrounded by smaller gems. In Western countries, women are usually the ones who sport engagement rings, although it’s not unheard of for both men and women to wear them. Different countries have differing customs regarding this type of jewellery, including who wears it, which finger the ring is worn on, and how it is worn following the wedding.

Even with all these differences, though, one thing is for sure: engagement rings have been worn for centuries, and likely will continue to be celebrated for centuries to come.

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