Have you ever stopped to think about the meaning behind engagement and wedding rings? It turns out this special symbol has a rich history going back centuries.
If you had been born in another time — the 13th Century, perhaps — your engagement ring might have been formed from a small circle made out of rushes. A century before that, and you could have been cursed with a lifetime of lugging around a ring cast from iron. It wasn’t until the late 1400s that the first engagement ring, as we know it, was presented in love. It was given to Mary of Burgundy by Maximilian, the Archduke of Austria in 1477. The ring was rumored to bear Mary’s first initial spelled out in flat slices of diamonds. While unusual by today’s standards, Mary probably thanked her gods that her ring still outclassed those made from the braided grass and human hair that had come before.
The next 300 years saw solid progress in the art of declaring love for one’s intended. The Victorians — famous for their passion for all things flowery and romantic — bestowed posey rings upon their betrothed. These rings were made from precious metals such as gold and silver and featured floral motifs and tons of filigree detailing. Gorgeous things, these vintage rings are still in circulation today, bearing simple designs and enormous price tags.
Even things so mundane as sewing thimbles once served as makeshift symbols of engagement between the Puritan couples of early New England. Because jewelry and gemstones were considered vain and proud in this area in the mid 1600s, young gentlemen often presented gifts of serviceable thimbles to the ladies who held their hearts. And just as often, the young ladies sawed the tops out of their thimbles in an effort to turn them back into rings. Say what you will about those Puritan girls, they knew where to draw the line.
It was the late 1800s, however, that gave rise to diamonds as the go-to stone for engagement rings. Partly because of the discovery of large diamond deposits in South Africa and partly because of a monopoly on diamonds by savvy businessman, Cecil Rhodes of DeBeers Mining Company, the stone rocketed to popularity throughout the late 19th and early 20th Centuries. All it took was a single line of text penned by Mary Frances Gerety, a 1948 Philadelphia copywriter, to establish diamonds as the official gemstone of infatuated couples everywhere: “A Diamond is Forever.” was voted Slogan of the Century in 1999 by Advertising Age, and its brief, to-the-point sentiment is still selling diamonds to this day.
If you’re in the market for that one, perfect engagement ring, you’ll be delighted by the many options that await you. Whether you’re drawn to the timeless and exquisite solitaire or your heart yearns for something vintage-inspired, there’s a cut, a setting, a shank, and a carat weight out there to please every bride-to-be, her adoring groom, and every one of her envious friends and family. Best of all, not a single offering available today features grass, rushes, hair, or iron.
Because a girl has to draw the line somewhere.