The Definitive History of Diamond Engagement Rings

Nothing says ‘I’m engaged’ quite like a stunning diamond ring. Putting a ring on it has become the ultimate way to show your dedication to the one you love. What’s more, the process of selecting the perfect ring and planning the ultimate proposal has been a rite of passage for decades. But exactly where did this tradition come from? The definitive history of diamond engagement rings is one that crosses cultures and time periods. From ancient traditions, contracts of marriage and glamorous Hollywood movie stars, the engagement ring has taken many different forms. But no matter the shape, style or material, one thing remains the same – the exchanging of rings is a symbol of forever.

An Ancient Tradition

Although they weren’t quite the glamorous designs of today, the tradition of exchanging rings to signify marriage can be traced all the way back to ancient times. Customs of exchanging rings were documented in both Egyptian and Roman cultures. However, these rings were often a symbol of ownership rather than love and dedication.

Romans wore their betrothal rings on the fourth finger as they believed that a vein in this finger ran directly to the heart. The Latin phrase given to this was Vena amoris which tran slates to the ‘vein of love’ adding to the romance of the tale. Unfortunately, the anatomical accuracy of this was later disproved with modern medicine. However, the sentiment remains, and this is still the finger that most cultures wear the engagement and wedding rings upon today.

The Engagement Period

An inescapable truth throughout history is that people died young. Between famine, war, poverty and disease, they really didn’t have time to waste. Once you had met someone you were wanting to lock it down quickly. Therefore, an engagement period was practically non-existent at the early stages of history. It wasn’t until the Middle Ages that Pope Innocent III declared a waiting period between an arrangement to marry and a wedding ceremony. However, couples were still wanting a symbol of their commitment in the interim and this created the popularity of wearing rings during this waiting (or engagement) period.

One in a ‘Milian’ (Maximilian)

As these traditions grew and the wearing of rings became widely recognised as a symbol of engagement so did the complexity of the rings. Simple gold bands evolved into decorative works with inscriptions, patterning and even gemstones. These symbolic items were now being treated as tokens of beauty, rarity and fashion. It was in the 15th Century that the first gifting of a diamond engagement ring was recorded. It was by Archduke Maximilian of Austria. Diamonds had previously been reserved for royalty and upper classes due to their incredible beauty and rarity. This famous gesture increased the popularity of diamonds and further confirmed their reputation as one of the most coveted gemstones.

A Diamond is Forever

Despite their popularity diamonds were still reserved for the incredibly wealthy making them simply unattainable to the masses. It wasn’t until the De Beers mining company uncovered diamond supp lies throughout South Africa that this precious gemstone became available to the wider market.

This increase in supply launched a marketing initiative in 1947 that saw diamonds soar in popularity. The tagline, ‘a diamond is forever’, was at the forefront of the campaign and connected the superior durability of these gemstones to the sentiment of eternal love. Further to this, De Beers set the expectation that two months’ salary should be put towards the purchase of an engagement ring. This was the first time in history that a standard had been set for what men should expect to spend on a ring.

A Rising Star

Tinsel Town had also fallen in love with diamonds. Hollywood starlets, Audrey Hepburn, Elizabeth Taylor and Marilyn Monroe all received diamond engagement rings making them the desired gemstone of the day. The 1949 cult classic movie, Gentleman Prefer Blondes, featured the song ‘Diamonds are a girl’s best friend’ performed by Monroe, further catapul ting these rocks into the heart of popular culture. By 1951, eight out of ten brides in the United States were receiving diamond engagement rings.

A Modern Love Story

Diamonds continue to be the gemstone of choice when it comes to engagement rings. There unrivalled hardness, beauty and sparkle make them the superior gem for everyday wear. Nowadays, the process of choosing a diamond engagement ring is a custom for most couples. The creation of the international grading system (4C’s of diamonds) by the GIA means that shoppers are now more educated than ever.

Although the expectations and social norms surrounding marriage are always changing, the diamond engagement ring remains an iconic symbol of love and commitment. Recent statistics from Wedding Wire show that 87% of engagement rings feature a diamond centre stone, showing that a diamond is still the gemstone of choice.

The diamond engagement ring has truly stood the test of time as a symbol of eternal love. With their unrivalled durability and sparkle, it is no wonder these beautiful gemstones have been coveted for centuries.

If you’re on the hunt for the perfect rock for your partner, a great place to start is our Diamond Guide . Otherwise, you can book a consultation with one of our DX Diamond Specialists today.