The History of Engagement Rings

Diamonds signify enduring love with their unmatched strength and beauty. Their versatile look means they can be worn with anything from a cocktail dress to jeans. The vast majority of engagement rings contain this most esteemed of all stones, but how did we arrive at the point where the betrothal of a couple is marked by the giving of a diamond ring?

In ancient Rome wives wore rings attached to keys as a sign of their husbands’ ownership but one of the first recorded gifts of a diamond engagement ring was in 1477 and was given by Archduke Maximilian of Austria in his proposal to Mary of Burgundy with a ring set with thin, flat pieces of diamonds in the shape of an ‘M’ when an advisor suggested “ At the betrothal Your Grace must have a ring set with a diamond and also a gold ring”. At that time diamonds were thought to have magical powers in relation to love, purity and fidelity. It was also an era when new techniques for cutting diamonds were developed and this then influenced other wealthy contemporaries to follow suit and give diamond rings.

During the Victorian era diamonds started to be mined in South Africa and it was the increase in availability of these stones (by 1872 over a million carats a year were being mined) that led to those of lesser wealth to be able to afford this luxury although diamonds were still considered to be the premise of nobility and aristocracy. In 1886 the world famous jewellers Tiffany & Co introduced the ‘Tiffany Setting’ a six claw design that lifts the diamond proud of the shank to ensure that light refracting through its facets create maximum sparkle. This design was the forerunner of the now classic diamond single stone claw setting engagement ring.

Against this background of an emerging diamond market came the biggest campaign for diamonds that the world would ever see. In 1938 in the aftermath of the Great Depression in America de Beers started a marketing drive for diamond engagement rings which would in later years introduce the slogan ‘a diamond is forever’. By explaining to diamond buyers about the 4 ‘C’s, Cut, Colour, Clarity and Carat it ensured that everyone who wants to buy a diamond can do so with confidence. De Beers also promoted the myth that an engagement ring should cost the equivalent of two months’ salary but this idea has waned with time and with the ability to purchase quality diamonds at very reasonable prices.

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