Tuesday, May 5, 2009

History Of The Engagement Ring
The history of the engagement ring is more about myth and fantasy than actual fact until you enter the 20th Century when a marked turn of events shapes public opinion beyond all doubt. Today almost everyone's interpretation of the engagement ring is something along these lines: "A symbol of ever lasting purity, love, devotion and commitment between two people". But where did it all start?
The earliest surviving records have shown that Archduke Maximillian of Hamburg may have started the trend among the European wealthy and royalty of giving diamond engagement rings in 1477 by giving Mary of Burgundy a diamond betrothal ring.
What happened before 1477? Was there such a thing as an engagement ring and if so were they set with diamonds?

Pre - History
Lets go back to our ancestors, "prehistoric man" who are supposed to have tied the woman's arms and legs together so she could not escape. It wasn't an attempt at deviant sexual acts, but it wasn't the most flattering way to show how you care either!
Eventually the "bride's" legs would have been released and if she made no attempt to run away then she would just have worn a tied cord with a trailing end around one of her little fingers.
It's certainly an interesting theory ahem!...
Ancient History
The ancient Roman's called their engagement ring the betrothal (Truth) ring. The Romans were the first to wear the ring on the third finger of the left hand.
This surviving tradition seems to stem from the Egyptian belief that the vein from this finger leads straight to the heart. It's thought that the Romans were the first to start inscribing or engraving their rings.
The Middle Ages
The Middle Ages and the Gimmal or "bond" ring was invented, but it's doubtful that this was an engagement ring design. However, sapphires, emeralds and rubies would have been the norm for those who could afford them.
Because diamond is the hardest and strongest mineral on earth it was seen to resist fire and steel and thus symbolize the unbending union of a man and woman in wedlock. So it became more commonplace for the European super wealthy and royalty to give a diamond engagement ring at this time.
Less wealthy citizens would have given a Fede (faith) ring in the form of two clasped hands more akin to the more modern claddagh (clasped hands) engagement rings.
The 18th Century
Diamonds became more readily available when diamonds were discovered in Brazil. Diamond cluster engagement rings were fashionable among the wealthy.
The 19th Century
In South Africa 1870, the vast, newly discovered Kimberley diamond region began to flood the market with not so rare a gem after all! The supply increased whilst the prices fell.
Within 10 years the now famous De Beers Consolidated Mines Ltd. was formed by the Englishman Cecil John Rhodes to control the sale of diamonds throughout the world. Even today they control 65% of the world's diamond trade.
At this time during the history of the engagement ring, the diamond rush gave rise to the notion that the various birthstones were seen to be a rarity (and more desirable) compared to the diamond.
Elaborate engagement rings of sapphire, emerald and rubies (and other precious gems) with diamond accents were therefore more commonplace among those with appropriate wealth.
The 20th Century
From 1880 De Beers were able to control the supply (and price) of diamonds but how were they going to control demand during a period when sales began dropping dramatically (up to 50%) in the 20s and 30s onwards through the great depression?
Just as platinum started to become popular in diamond engagement rings, diamonds were becoming less valued. Platinum was banned for all but war use during WWII and so the platinum diamond engagement rings as we know them today almost died out.
The answer to the problem was a new marketing campaign commissioned by De Beers that began in 1947. Perhaps you've heard the slogan "A Diamond is forever"? This was to mark the beginning of a change in the history of the engagement ring.
Subsequent campaigns would convince families to hold on to their diamonds as family heirlooms... and it worked! Used diamonds were not being released back into the industry which in turn created the demand that De Beers were seeking.
Jewelers were unofficially educated by De Beers to instruct men that two to three months personal wages were an ideal price to pay for the diamond engagement ring that their prospective fiancée's would gladly accept.
In 1953 the world's two most glamorous women of the time Marilyn Monroe and Jane Russell were the stars of the hit film musical Gentlemen Prefer Blondes.
The plot involves Monroe and Russell chasing potential husbands on a cruise to France. The movie also features a very famous song sung by the blonde bombshell Marilyn Monroe, Diamonds Are A Girls Best Friend.
This film would have undoubtedly influenced public opinion at the time and will have advanced the popularity of diamonds for years afterwards through Hollywood glamour.
The film is now 50 years old but it's still a firm favorite of all who love Hollywood and the legend of Monroe. (Of course there are others: High Society, Breakfast At Tiffany’s, Diamonds Are Forever among them)
This is where the tradition of the diamond engagement ring really started, all from an advertising campaign that literally "rocked" the world! (Get it? "rocked".... okay I'll shut up!) So you see buying a diamond engagement ring isn't really a popular ancient tradition.
It's more a combination of "dreaming of being a princess", a clever marketing campaign and compelling Hollywood glamour that ultimately promotes diamonds as the only jewels with which to furnish your loved one as a sign of engagement.
The 21st Century
The history of the engagement ring has moved on and demand for diamonds and platinum diamond engagement rings is still rising. The tradition is here to stay. Estimated 78% of all engagement rings sold every year are diamond.


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  2. Thank you for sharing ! Your article is very good one. I never knew about the history hide behind engagement ring..Informative post !!
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