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Julius Caesar’s wife, Calpurnia, married Caesar in 59 BCE. French Queen Clotilde married in 493 AD. Mary of Burgundy married in 1477. Queen Victoria of the Victorian Era married in 1840. Elizabeth Taylor married her first husband in 1950. And Angelina Jolie married for the first time in 1996.
What do these woman have in common? Even though these women lived centuries apart, in
completely different worlds, all of them wore engagement rings.
The origin of engagement rings in the western world is
debated. The most reliable evidence traces the history of
engagement rings back to ancient Rome. By the second century
BCE, the custom in Rome was established: a man proposing to a
woman would give her two rings, one gold and one iron. The gold
was worn in public as a symbol of wealth, and the iron represented
a long-lasting bond, because iron is strong and resilient. These
rings also represented the man’s ownership of the woman. That’s
not the most romantic notion I’ve ever heard—a more endearing
custom from the ancient world involves the “vena amoris,” a vein
which, many ancients believed, ran from the left ring finger to the
heart. Because of this, we traditionally wear engagement rings on
the same left finger today.
Engagement ring history continues into the middle-ages,
when these rings became serious, binding contracts. Even before
any written proof of marriage, an engagement ring was taken very seriously. These rings were
usually bands of metal, possibly engraved.
The Renaissance gives us the first recorded use of a
diamond engagement ring. Diamonds were rare and expensive,
so simpler metal bands persisted. During the enlightenment,
posie rings—rings engraved with messages or small images—
were especially favored. The tradition of engraving engagement
rings dates back to Ancient Rome (see above) and is still
Later, in the Victorian Era, diamonds became more plentiful. Still, only aristocratic and
royal men could afford diamond rings. Their popularity rose—the Victorian Era was marked by
shows of wealth and splendor, and diamonds in rings added to this tradition among the wealthy.
Diamonds got more and more popular until after World War I, moving into the Great
Depression. The expense and luxury of diamonds was too much for many people to afford, so
after a long run, diamonds fell out of style for younger
Enter jewelry company De Beers Consolidated Mines, Ltd.
In the 30’s, the price of diamonds was falling, and jewelry
companies were losing money. In 1947, De Beers launched the
now-famous ad campaign “diamonds are forever.” Even if
you’ve never heard this slogan, you’ve experienced its effects
—this campaign managed to sway the public opinion so
significantly that through the 50’s and to the present day,
around 75% of Americans purchase diamond engagement rings.
Diamonds became essential to engagement, and diamond rings
began to represent the lasting bonds of marriage.
Today, we still love diamond engagement rings. Celebrities
like Elizabeth Taylor and Marilyn Monroe, and more modern Angelina Jolie and Beyoncé, wear
diamond engagement rings. Other older styles have made their way to the present, too: the
Roman tradition of gold is popular today, along with the tradition of engraving rings with words
and small images which spans engagement ring history.
From the origin of engagement rings to the modern day—from Calpurnia to Angelina
Jolie—styles and trends have changed, but the significance of the ring on that special day has
Engagement rings originated in ancient Rome around the second century BC. A man proposing to a woman would give her two rings – a gold ring to symbolize wealth and one made from iron to represent a long-lasting bond.
An engagement ring represents an upcoming marriage, love and commitment to one another. The circular shape also represents eternity and thus it is a universally accepted symbol of eternal love.
Typically, gemstones like diamonds, sapphires, rubies, and emeralds are some of the most common gems associated with an engagement ring. These precious gems are popular as they look stunning and are highly durable.
Posie or posey rings, were prominently used during the 15th through the 17th centuries in France and England. These rings, carved from gold or silver, featured a short inscription or engraving on the surface, which was typically a message of love.