Whether or not a woman is totally enamored with the size of her diamond engagement ring makes little difference to the story of its existence. Ask any female wearing one on the appropriate finger how she received the precious piece and she won’t have to dig deep to recall the moment of proposal.
While the giving of an engagement ring – complete with diamond or other stone of choice – has been a tradition now for centuries, it has not always been in practice. Like every good tradition or cultural phenomenon, this one too has its beginnings rooted in history. The story of the first engagement ring is one of love and longing and begins in 1477.
Tradition at that time required the woman (of appropriate financial means) to present her betrothed with a diamond ring. This practice was said to demonstrate trust and faith that the woman now belonged to the man and he could take her as his wife. The Archduke Maximilian of Hamburg changed tradition when he presented a diamond engagement ring to Mary of Burgundy.
The love between Mary and the Archduke was said to be so intense, they could not stand to be apart. Just before the two were set to be married, the Archduke was called to war. As an expression of his love and devotion to Mary, he created an engagement ring for her so she could keep something of him close to her while he was away.
While it is likely their love could have withstood the distance between them, the Archduke took no chances and as a result, a new tradition was born. And, even though it took roughly 100 years for the trend to truly emerge, the resulting variety of engagement rings would charm even the most fickle of brides-to-be today.
During the Renaissance period, engagement rings were often set with a single diamond still in its natural crystalline form. Other varieties included multiple diamonds cushioned in settings of rosettes, letters or fleur-de-lys. Inscriptions inside the rings were common and included love notes or posies.
The arrival of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries brought along the popularity of the gimmel ring. This unique set was made of two hoops that would slide together into one ring when it was closed. The fede (Italian for faith) ring was also popular as it was made of two clasped hands. A common centerpiece between the hands was often a rose-cut diamond heart.
During this time, it was only the very wealthy and the noble or royal couples who could afford such luxuries. Diamonds had only been discovered in India and therefore were in short supply and hard to acquire without the necessary means. As a result, many of those betrothed relied on other gems instead of the diamond, while still maintaining the traditional of the engagement ring.
This trend began to change in the eighteenth century, however, as diamonds were discovered in Brazil. Diamond jewelry entered the fashion scene and engagement rings took on a whole new look. Many engagement rings from this period of time included diamond set bows, sprays of flowers and crowned hearts.
The importance of the diamond engagement ring took on new meaning in the nineteenth century. The Industrial Revolution created much wealth and newly discovered African diamond mines made the gems available to more people. Popular themes throughout the century surrounded sentiment until Tiffany introduced the six-prong solitaire in 1886.
Over the last 100+ years, engagement rings have taken on many shapes, forms and even stones. An engagement ring is considered a true reflection of the personal taste and style of the woman who wears it, while demonstrating the love and promise between her and the man who presented it.
The engagement ring was traditionally worn on the right hand as the fourth finger was believed to contain a vein that traveled all the way from the heart. This practice – which started in the Greek culture – truly joined the man and the woman at heart. In other cultures, the fourth finger on the left hand is considered to be the proper placement to join the two.
As a society today, we still view the engagement ring as the promise of the intention to marry. It is an important step in the ownership of your own life and seldom has a woman walked down the isle who has not dreamed of her ideal engagement ring. As this emblem was once believed to unite the man and the woman at the heart, it is still a symbol of a love that cannot be broken.
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