A History of Engagement and Wedding Rings
Nowadays when one thinks of a classic engagement ring, they usually picture a gold or platinum ring with a solitaire diamond, or perhaps with more than one diamond. Wedding bands are usually a thicker band ring, some quite simple, while others have intricate designs or stones included. Although these styles of rings are considered ‘traditional’ they have actually only been in fashion for about the past 100 years. Today we will take a look at the styles and symbolism of wedding rings throughout history.
Walk like an Egyptian (Ancient Egypt 3050BC-30AD)
The always fashionable Ancient Egyptians are believed to be the first to wear engagement rings, as the circle symbolized eternity. The rings were fashioned out of plant material or silver or gold wire. They wore the ring on the third finger of the left hand because they believed that finger had a vein in it which connected directly to the heart (romantic if not anatomically correct).
When in Rome (Ancient Rome 753BC-476AD)
Ancient Rome was a society that prized their military domination, so it is no wonder their engagement rings were made of iron, which signified strength. A woman’s acceptance of the ring formed a legally binding agreement of the husband’s ownership of her (not very romantic).
By the Book (Byzantine Empire 330-1453)
In this deeply religious society, wedding rings traditionally incorporated a scene depicting a man and woman facing each other with a central figure blessing their union.
Stuck in the Middle with You (Middle Ages 500-1400)
It was a custom in medieval times for Jewish grooms to give their wives wedding rings that had elaborately detailed temples or houses on the top. These rings were oversized and not intended to actually be worn in everyday life. In Anatolia (modern day Turkey) husbands often gave their wives puzzle rings; sets of complex interlocking metal bands that arranged to form a single ring. It was given as a test of monogamy as it was believed that if a woman took off the ring she would not be able to put it back together again and would thus be caught (talk about no trust!). Another trend of the time was the posy ring. These rings had poems or mottos inside the band and the inscriptions were written in French, the international language of love. It was also during this time period, in 1447, that the first recorded diamond engagement ring was given to Mary of Burgundy from the Archduke Maximilian of Austria (clearly ahead of his time).
Da Vinci a la Mode (Renaissance 1300-1600)
In the 1600’s the fashionable wedding ring was the Fede (faith) ring which showed two hands clasping. The Fede ring inspired the still popular Irish Claddagh ring, which has two hands clasping a heart topped with a crown. Another engagement ring which became in vogue during the renaissance was the Gimmel ring. This ring had two interlocking bands, one which the woman wore and one which the man wore during their betrothal. At the wedding ceremony they would take off their rings and lock them together to become one, which the woman would then wear.
All Work and No Play (Puritan New England 1630-1800)
The Puritans were definitely not the most fun group of people, in fact they went so far as to ban Christmas! So it’s not that surprising that they prohibited their members from wearing any jewellery due to its ‘moral worthlessness’. A common wedding gift from husband to wife was a practical thimble. However, after the wedding many women would remove the top of the thimble and wear it as a ring (when a woman wants jewellery she gets it!).
We are Not Amused (Victorian England 1837-1901)
Although Victorians are often portrayed as being uptight and stuffy they were actually quite sentimental, and Queen Victoria herself was very much in love with her husband Prince Albert. Rings during this era often had terms of endearment spelt out using the language of stones, which used the initials of gemstones. The word LOVE was often spelled out using lapis lazuli, opal, vermeil, and emerald. Another attractive engagement ring style was that of the serpent wrapping around the finger, often with rubies for eyes or an emerald for its head.
Diamonds are Forever (1867- Present)
In 1867 Diamonds were discovered in Africa, which opened up a huge supply of the precious gem. Before this time diamonds were very rare and only found in India and Brazil. In 1880 the DeBeers Mining Company was formed and within a decade they controlled 90% of the world diamond production. In 1886 Tiffany &Co. introduced the Tiffany setting, a 6 pronged ring designed to maximize the diamonds brilliance by raising it up from the band. In the 1900’s the princess ring with three to five large diamonds became a sought after engagement ring. The fashion in the 1920’s was to have one solitaire diamond set on a platinum band for durability. During WWII platinum was restricted for military use, and yellow gold rose to prominence. In 1947 DeBeers presented their brilliant marketing slogan “A diamond is forever” and since then the appetite for the strong and beautiful diamond has endured.
The Tradition Continues with Kimberfire
While the style, sentiment and symbolism of engagement and wedding rings has changed throughout history, the gesture of giving a permanent symbol of love and fidelity to ones beloved has remained. When deciding on a style for your special ring, whether it be a classic solitaire or something completely unique, Kimberfire can answer all your needs. We specialize in creating engagement and wedding rings which will endure and sparkle until the end of time.
(Photo Credit: Berganza)
Sara is the Jewelry Production and Social Media Coordinator at Kimberfire – a brilliant way to buy diamond engagement rings, fine diamond jewelry and loose diamonds in Toronto, ON and across Canada. She holds a Bachelor of Fine Art from York University and a Diploma in Jewellery Arts from George Brown College. She is skilled in jewellery design using CAD software, as well as traditional goldsmith techniques. When she is not immersing herself in all things jewellery, Sara is a dog mom to Barley, her beagle mix rescue dog who loves a good tummy rub.
What an interesting article! I wouldn’t be happy with a thimble either 🙂
Thanks for reading! I think all the ladies would agree with you about the thimble 🙂
Hi, Sara! I really like the way you have presented this article about the history of wedding and engagement rings in various eras and different times in the past. I learnt a lot from your article and I will surely share this article as much as possible. Thank you.