The Story Of The First Engagement Ring Ever Will Blow Your Mind
How it all began...
5 April 2017
Once you’ve been lucky enough to find the one you want to spend the rest of your life with it’s probably time to purchase a diamond engagement ring, find a romantic moment, and pop the question!
As the CEO of a business that revolves around making high-quality handcrafted diamond engagement rings, sometimes, it’s easy to forget where the engagement ring tradition originated and how it has evolved over the centuries. To get to where we are today the Fergus James team has helped me to compile a brief history of the diamond engagement ring.
The Ancient Egyptians
The Ancient Egyptians were global leaders in architecture, construction and agriculture. They are also widely credited with creating the symbolic gesture of loving couples exchanging rings at the wedding ceremony. Egyptian rings, at the time, were normally made out of braided reeds (probably from the Nile) so were very different to the typical rings that can be found today.
The Egyptians also created the symbolism of wearing the left-hand ring finger. They believed that this finger had a blood vessel that ran directly to the heart.
A sample of gold Egyptian rings (image credit: Pinterest)
Speedily moving on a few hundred years, it was now time for the Romans to contribute. The Romans started the tradition of giving the bride to be a valuable ring in advance of the ceremony – this is widely what we know today as being the engagement ring. However, for the Romans, this was as much of a business transaction as it was a moment of romance. Once the bride to be had received the gold ring, it was understood that she was now under the ‘ownership’ of her husband to be.
Romans often gave their wives, once married, a standard Iron ring to wear around the house and kept the gold ones themselves……..such romantics!
A sample of gold and iron Roman rings (image credit: Pinterest)
So after hundreds and hundreds of years and still no diamond in sight – the Egyptians, Greeks and Romans had not used to diamond so when did this start? In 1477, an Austrian gentleman, Archduke Maximilian, proposed to Mary of Burgundy, with a bespoke gold engagement ring containing flat diamonds in the shape of a letter ‘M’ (if Fergus James were around at the time it is likely that the good Duke would have commissioned us for the work). This gesture was a game changer and set a glamorous precedent for European nobility to be more creative with their engagement rings by adding diamonds and beautiful gemstones. The diamond/gemstone bespoke engagement ring was born in Austria.
Long after the Duke had been laid to rest, the first major haul of diamonds, located in South Africa, was discovered by the famous De Beers Company in 1866. Within a very short period of time, they controlled over 90% of the global diamond market.
The 'M' Ring Presented to Mary of Burgundy (image credit: Pinterest)
The Tiffany Setting
In 1886, the Tiffany setting was borne – this classic 6 prong ring raised the diamond out of the ring's metal to stand tall shimmering and shining for all to see. This changed the style and the market boomed – the diamond engagement ring, in a form almost identical to what we see today, was born and took over 2,000 years to get to this point! Diamonds were now well and truly in the mainstream and seen as an essential part of any engagement.
As a result of the Great Depression, the diamonds popularity waned dramatically towards the late 1930’s. Along came a change in focus and the advertising campaign ‘A Diamond is Forever’. Coupled with a strong educational focus on the 4 C’s (no certification in those days) and the expectation setting ‘2 months wages’ spend advice, the market rapidly turned around and has never looked back.
Tiffany 6 Prong Engagement Ring
So what has changed since the world first learned that ‘Diamonds are Forever’? Fergus James is a really good example – transparency, value, along with an unlimited supply of designs, customers can have whatever they want (within their budget of course!)
image courtesy Fergus James