A Symbol of Eternal Love: The Engagement Ring from Ancient Egypt to Modern Times
Did you know that engagement rings date all the way back to Ancient Egypt? The Egyptians perceived the classic circle shape of rings to be a symbol of eternity, therefore making them the perfect object to propose and get married with!
Over time, general trends of proposals and engagement rings have varied dramatically, with today’s modern-day rings consistently changing in style and appearance as the years progress. With over 60 million married couples in the US as of 2015, it’s safe to assume that millions of engagement rings have been given and exchanged throughout the years.
To discover more about the history of the engagement ring, how trends have changed over time and even some inspiration if you’re looking to purchase an engagement ring anytime soon, keep reading!
Where did it all begin?
Whilst historical records are sometimes difficult to accurately interpret, the general consensus of opinion is that ring giving dates all the way back to Ancient Egyptian times. As mentioned, the Egyptians saw rings as a sign of eternity and unification. This made them the ideal symbol to exchange with someone you love.
The first wedding rings were said to be made of braided reeds and worn on the left-hand ring finger – a tradition we still see today. However, the concept of the engagement ring wasn’t properly established until Roman times.
The engagement ring
The Romans are said to have been the first to adopt the giving of engagement rings. But, whilst today we see an engagement ring as a grand gesture of love and commitment in asking for someone’s hand in marriage, this wasn’t the case in Roman times.
Engagement rings were seen as a sign of male ownership over a woman, and generally took the format of small ring-shaped pieces of iron attached to keys instead of the more traditional wedding ring design seen in Ancient Egypt. Luckily, the concept of ownership has no association to the giving of modern-day engagement rings today, and the rings themselves have become much more extravagant than iron and reeds!
Now the most commonly associated gem with engagement rings, diamonds weren’t always so popular. In fact, diamonds didn’t become present on engagement rings until centuries after Roman times, with the first ever recorded exchange of a diamond ring being in 1477. Austria’s Archduke Maximillian commissioned the first ever known diamond ring to propose with, and it was this exact ring that sparked the trend of diamond rings throughout Europe.
However, diamonds weren’t commonly available simply due to lack of discovery and knowledge of the whereabouts of diamonds. But, when they were discovered in South Africa in 1880 with the subsequent opening of mines, diamonds became much more accessible with over 90% of the world’s diamond production being controlled by this sole mine founding.
Whilst there was a decline in diamond demand during hard economic times of the 1930’s, various marketing campaigns pushing diamonds with the classic ‘diamonds are forever’ slogan were met with huge success. By the 1940’s, diamonds became the leader in all engagement ring sales and still continue to hold that popularity up until this day.
It’s now estimated that over 80% of brides in American alone receive a diamond engagement ring, with an average of $4000 being spent. Whilst there are many different cuts available with some peaking in trend more often than others, it’s remained generally consistent that the ‘round brilliant’ cut is the most appealing.
But nowadays, the cushion cut diamond is spiking in popularity with the square-shaped princess cut not too far behind. No matter what your personal taste is, diamonds still remain the most popular choice for engagement rings so you’ll be a lot more likely to find a diamond cut to suit your preference over a slightly less popular gem such as the sapphire or emerald.
Designed to represent both a vintage and ultra-modern style, the versatility of diamonds is continuing to increase. If you’re looking to take the plunge and buy that special person the engagement ring of their dreams, check out this Antique Ring Buying Guide if you’re struggling for inspiration.
Engagement rings are considered to be a hugely special part of virtually every marriage. After all, giving an engagement ring is the first step to actually getting married! Paired with so much history behind them, there’s a lot more to the symbolism of engagement rings that meets the eye with diamonds continuing to take the top spot in popularity.
Skye Gill works as an independent jewellery designer. When time allows she writes about all sorts of jewelry topics, from the history of diamonds to how to choose and buy a wedding ring.