The History of Engagement Rings: From Iron to Diamonds

Engagement rings have a long and interesting history. They first appear in historical writings and archeological findings dating back to 2,000 years ago. Although the appearance of engagements rings and the customs surrounding them have evolved over the years, their purpose of uniting two people for a lifetime has continued unchanged.

Early engagement rings

History suggests that Egyptian and Greek couples exchanged rings during betrothal ceremonies, but the earliest clear evidence that we have of engagement rings comes from the Roman Empire and the Visigoth Kingdom.

  • Roman Engagement Rings (27 BC – 1453 AD) – Roman emperors ruled the majority of the known world for 1,426 years. Their empire stretched from the United Kingdom and all across Europe to the Middle East. 
    Roman engagement ring

During this time, Roman brides were given two rings to announce their engagement and marriage. The middle and lower class women often received one simple band of iron and one of gold. The woman would wear the iron ring while attending to household duties and the gold ring when she went out into society.The higher class women, especially those who were marrying men in the Roman government, received more elaborate rings to wear in public. These rings often had a wider band of gold and were sometimes adorned with engravings, carved ivory or small, unpolished precious stones.

  • Visigoth Engagement Rings (418 – c. 720 AD) – In 410 AD, Visigoth King Alaric and his armies rose up against the Roman emperor. They famously sacked Rome and over the next 8 years pushed the Roman armies almost completely out of the Iberian Peninsula.Within the Visigoth Kingdom, the craftsmanship of gold reached new heights. Their currency included gold coins engraved with words and depictions of people. Visigoth kings wore ornate gold crowns set with precious stones and religious figures carried gold crosses and other religious symbols.
    Visigoth King AlaricVisigoth women owned gold earrings with settings of precious stones and their engagement rings showed the advancements of their times. Visigoth engagement rings had elaborate settings, some of which resemble the cathedral setting that is popular today, which held roughly polished stones or glass, along with engravings and designs on their bands.
Visigothic gold and silver ring
By the end of the Visigoth Kingdom, engagements were officially recognized by the government and according to the Visigoth Code, once an engagement ring was given and accepted the commitment to marry could not be broken under any circumstances.

Diamond Engagement Rings

A few years after the Roman empire and the Visigoths had faded from the scene, Maximilian the 1st, Archduke of Austria, proposed to Mary of Burgundy with an engagement ring set with a diamond. He changed Mary’s life with that ring and also unknowingly influenced the course of the engagement ring.

Mary Of Burgundy Engagement Ring

Engagement rings continued to play an important part in marriage contracts during the Renaissance, but diamonds were rare, so only those with considerable wealth could afford a diamond engagement ring.

In the middle of the Victorian Era, miners discovered diamonds in South Africa and soon mines were selling millions of diamonds every years. Suddenly diamond engagement rings were accessible to everyone and then just 40 years later the practice of giving engagement rings began to disappear.

Four decades after diamonds flooded the jewellery market, political unrest and economic instability began in Europe and slowly spread to Asia, the United Kingdom and the Americas. As men marched off to fight in the World Wars, couples all around the globe began to purchase only simple wedding bands, instead of engagement rings and wedding bands in an effort to save their hard earned money.

De Beers, one of the world’s leading diamond companies, noticed that jewellery in general was not selling and the diamond market was about to collapse, so they developed a marketing plan that would bring diamond engagement rings back into the spotlight for good.

A diamond is forever De Beers

“A Diamond is Forever” became the catch phrase in all of De Beers’ advertisements and those 4 words are appropriate. For centuries, engagement rings had been uniting the  hearts of two people for a lifetime and now coupled with a diamond, they would also symbolize that love is forever.

The De Beers’ marketing campaign quickly doubled the number of diamonds sold in the United States alone and made diamond engagement rings an important symbol of love and marriage.

Modern Engagement Rings

Diamonds continue to play an important part in engagement rings, but other gemstones are now also being included. These additional gemstones add beauty, value and meaning. Here are a few of the gems that can be used in engagement rings:

  • Sapphires – Princess Diana and Kate Middleton, Duchess of Cambridge, were both engaged with the same ring containing an oval blue sapphire surrounded by 14 solitaire diamonds. Sapphires represent wisdom, charm and fidelity
    Kate Middleton and Princess Diana Engagement rings
  • Rubies – English fashion designer and businesswoman, Victoria Beckham, has 14 engagement rings all given to her by her husband of 20 years, David Beckham. One of these includes an oval cut ruby surrounded by white diamonds. Rubies represent wealth and protection
    Victoria Beckham Engagement Ring
  • Emeralds – Years ago Jacqueline Kennedy, an eternal fashion icon, was engaged with a ring that sported a 2.8 carat emerald and a slightly larger diamond. More recently Olivia Wilde said yes to Jason Sudeikis and received a ring with a diamond set in a halo of emeralds. Emeralds represent wit, eloquence and foresight
    Olivia Wilde Engagement Ring

Choosing an Engagement Ring

Planning the perfect proposal includes choosing a sentimental location and deciding whether to have friends and family present, as well as deciding how to ask “Will you marry me?”.

Choosing an engagement ring can also be broken down into three basic steps:

  1. Decide which metal. We offer yellow, white and rose gold, as well as platinum.
  2. Choose the setting. There are more than 10 different settings for the stones in engagement rings. Some of the most popular settings are: Solitaire, Bezel and Halo.
  3. Pick the gemstones. We offer diamonds, rubies, sapphires and emeralds.

If you have any questions as you choose an engagement ring, get in touch with us. We will be happy to answer your questions and make sure that you receive the engagement ring of your dreams for a competitive price.