Here’s how engagement rings became a symbol for marriage

engagement rings

Have you ever wondered why we use a ring to symbolize marriage? A lot of people have theories, like a ring is a circle so it can signify unending love, or that it was entirely a marketing ploy by a famous jeweler. Both are have been shown to be partially true. In reality, the history of engagement rings goes back thousands of years, to the Roman empire, although they were far less fancy back then.

In earlier known iterations of custom engagement rings, Romans traded iron rings to signify a betrothal. Iron rings later changed to gold rings, but some scholars say that Roman women actually had two engagement rings: one fancy one they wore out in public and another made of iron that they wore at home while attending to their chores and duties. It has also been reported that Romans began wearing engagement rings on the left hand because of it’s association to the “Love Vein” or the “Vena Amoris” which was thought to be a vein in the ring finger of the left hand. Many believed this vein was connected directly to the person’s heart, making it a natural choice for a romantic symbol.

Though there are numerous theories, scholars and historians seem to believe that the first diamond engagement ring was given to Mary of Burgundy in the 15th century when she became engaged to Archduke Maximilian of Austria. Because this ring was given by a royal, it supposedly increased the status of diamonds and thus diamond engagement rings became a new trend for the wealthy.

A popular myth that also emerged about engagement rings is that people such as the Puritans did not believe in fancy jewelry or expensive loose diamonds to demonstrate love, so they instead came up with a new way of showing their engagement: thimbles. It is said that women were given a thimble as a proposal and that some women cut the top off so that they could wear them as modest rings. This has never been historically proven, but is a fun story nonetheless.

After the 19th century diamond boom and increase in diamond mining, diamond engagement rings became even more popular, though generally only with the rich and royalty. While aristocrats, princes, princesses, queens and kings wore diamond rings, others around the world who believed in the symbol of an engagement ring often stuck to more simple and cost effective options, believing that they were not of noble enough blood to wear diamonds. 

After a time, diamonds became more readily accessible to the general population though diamond sales dipped dramatically following the first World War and during the Great Depression. After the economy bounced back, diamond companies began pushing the idea, especially in Western culture, that diamond engagement rings were the way to go, developing the still used slogan “A Diamond is Forever” in the late 1940s. Ever since then, the diamond engagement ring has been customary in marriages, and in fact, an engagement without a diamond ring would seem non-traditional.