The History of Engagement Rings and Wedding Bands

The purpose of Engagement Rings and Wedding Bands are to signify a partnership agreement between two people conveying: Love, Commitment, Trust, Fidelity, Honor and Time without End between the giver and the recipient.  A ring symbolizes a relationship having a complete circle with no breaks and no end or beginning.

Wedding Rings

In ancient times the Engagement Ring and Wedding Bands have a history that spans many centuries and passes through many cultures from around the world. The Wedding Band is thought to have originated in Ancient Egypt, where it is said a plant’s leaves and stems were fashioned into circles of finely woven leaves to signify never-ending and immortal love. It was believed the fourth (ring) finger contained a special vein that was connected directly to the heart and therefore became the official finger for the wedding band. The Romans interpreted the offering of wedding bands as a symbol of love and awarded them as a symbol of ownership. Roman men would “claim” their woman with the giving of a ring. In the Middle East, Puzzle rings had the charming knack of being able to fall apart and put back together again, if one could solve the puzzle. Wealthy Middle Eastern men began to use these rings as wedding bands for their wives, who were often forced to wear a puzzle ring when their husband was away. The husband would know upon his return whether any of his wives had been disloyal, by removing the ring while he was away because the ring was designed to collapse upon removal and could only be put together again if one had knowledge.

Engagement Rings

The ancient Greeks are thought to have been the forerunners in the rising of the traditional Engagement Ring. Given as a token of care and affection, the rings used by the Greeks were known as betrothal rings and were given before marriage.  However, the giving of these rings was not always a prerequisite to marriage and was often given in the same way as a friendship ring might be given today. The ancient Romans weren’t the most sentimental of people, and the early version of their “engagement ring” was thought to have carved keys on them. It has been debated this could have been to symbolize the woman’s right to access and own half of everything following marriage.  However, the more sentimental like to think the key may have been a key to her husband’s heart.

Engagement rings as we know them today became popular around the fourteenth and fifteenth century when the affluent and the royals began to exchange and wear rings set with jewels. These items were fairly expensive which only the royals and the rich could afford to exchange.  It was to be many centuries before these engagement rings would become more popular and traditional.

In ancient times Engagement Rings and Wedding Bands were made of hair, grass, plants or twine.  Today’s Wedding Bands and Engagement Rings are made of beautiful diamonds set in gold or platinum mountings. These high-quality jewelry items are as popular as ever and have taken flight in popularity in mainland China as their middle class takes the tradition forward.

Diamond Tradition

Diamonds became the item of choice for Engagement Rings with the discovery of vast diamond fields in Africa.  A diamond rush was propelled in 1871, at which point Cecil Rhodes, the founder of De Beers, began buying small mining operators, and eventually De Beers Consolidated Mines was formed. By 1888, De Beers was the sole owner of all diamond operations in the country. At one time it was estimated that over 80 percent of the world’s rough diamonds passed through the Diamond Trading Company (a subsidiary of De Beers) in London however, presently the figure is estimated at 40%.

A Diamond is Forever

Responding to an ailing market after WWII, with the help of  U.S. advertising agency N.W. Ayer & Son, in 1947 De Beers launched one of the longest-running and most successful campaigns, which linked diamonds with romantic love using the slogan “A Diamond is Forever”. Coined by Frances Gerety, a copywriter at the advertising agency.  In 1999 Advertising Age Magazine called this the best advertising slogan of the twentieth century.  This slogan also conveyed the idea that an engagement ring should not be resold because of its sentimental value. With its multifaceted marketing campaign, the advertisements focused on the diamond itself rather than the De Beers brand.  Radio programs publicizing diamond trends, TV and film product placement, as well as stories and photographs of celebrities to associate diamonds with the rich and famous, the campaign set out to add mystique and emotional value to the Diamond Engagement Ring.

Thanks to this innovative campaign, the American diamond market was revived, setting new sales records and diamond market trends around the world.  It also standardized the idea a man should spend about two to three months of wages for a diamond engagement ring.  The ‘psychological necessity’ of diamonds purchase had effectively been engrained as the proper engagement tradition.

World-Wide Diamond Tradition

In the 1960’s De Beers aimed to conquer other international markets such as Germany, Japan, and Brazil. Prior to WWII, Japanese women’s jewelry mainly comprised of pearls and coral. Though the importation of diamonds postwar was not permitted in Japan, by 1981, 60 percent of married Japanese women were wearing diamond rings, making Japan the second largest engagement ring market.

It is now estimated that 78 percent of all engagement rings sold every year are diamond. The diamond continues to be an expression of love embodying virtue and passion that lasts forever.

This article was contributed by Frank Fisher.

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learn everything you need to know before you buy a diamond in this detailed book!

learn everything you need to know before you buy a diamond in this detailed book!