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A Brief History of Engagement Rings

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The ring! The one symbol you can wear every day that shows the world that you are engaged, or married. The one piece of jewelry that you will wear every day for the rest of your life. Rings and weddings go together like hand and glove. In our society they are expected, though of course you can customize them to your heart’s content. Diamond, emerald, pearl gold, rose gold, platinum… but where did this tradition start? In ancient times it is believed that rings were worn by the Egyptians. They considered the circle to be a symbol of eternity. The ring was worn on the traditional ring finger of the left hand because they believed that the vein on that finger was connected directly to the heart—or so the story goes. I’m just a wedding blogger, not a historian! Our modern traditions of wedding rings can be traced to ancient Rome and Greece. From there, the tradition spread across Europe. In 1477 Archduke Maximillian of Austria set a new standard by presenting his wife-to-be Mary of Burgundy with a diamond engagement ring. Fellow nobles began to present their loved ones with diamonds, and well, the rest is history. Fast forward to the World War II. Clothing, soap, butter, cheese, and tea were among some of the items rationed for every day citizens in the United Kingdom. Not surprisingly the wartime restrictions extended to jewelry. This resulted in “utility” wedding rings made of 9 carat gold and only weighing a touch more than 3 grams. These rings were then marked in such a way as to show their compliance with the wartime restrictions. I couldn’t write an article about the history of wedding and engagement rings without mentioning De Beers diamonds and their 1947 “A Diamond if Forever” marketing campaign. During the Great Depression the price of diamonds was in a tailspin and engagement rings were falling out of style with the younger generations. The goal of this marketing campaign was to show consumers that an engagement ring is indispensable and that a diamond is the only acceptable stone. While diamonds continue to be the most popular choice for engagement rings today, they are not the only choice. Sapphires have risen in popularity since Princess Diana selected her ring in 1981, and again when her son Prince William gave it to his then fiancé, Catherine Middleton. Today engagement rings can be made of just about anything, gold, rose gold, platinum, silver, diamonds, pearls, and more.


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