A potted history of the engagement ring seems to suggest that the custom originated in Ancient Egypt or Greece, although records suggest the first reliable accounts place the engagement ring as a Roman innovation. It has traditional been seen as a sign of purchase, or ownership, where the bride passes from her natal family to that of her husband, although modern scholars believe this may not be exactly the case.
The ring finger was believed to be where a vein ran from the hand to the heart, in Latin vena amoris, suggesting a link directly from the betrothal ring to the bride’s heart, and of course the shape is a symbol of eternity, strength and permanence. At one time, the ring would have been iron, or iron to wear at home and gold on public occasions.
Later on Christians began to adopt the idea, often decorating the rings with precious stones or engravings of joined hands or doves.
The advent of the diamond solitaire ring was a little later, not really becoming popular until the discovery of diamonds in the 19th century, although sheer cost meant that a diamond engagement ring was the preserve of the wealthy. Famously, American diamond cartel De Beers started a major marketing campaign in the1930’s in the hope of aiding the recovery of diamond prices which had crashed during the depression, and successfully managed to change the face of engagement rings as we know them today. Interestingly, the De Beers marketing also made the suggestion that an engagement ring should cost a particular percentage of the male partners salary, which has certainly entered into general usage.
The ‘Mangagement’ ring is a fairly new concept, to the UK at least – in some cultures it is traditional for a man to wear a simple, precious metal ring, which can then work as a wedding band later on or be moved to the opposite hand on the wedding.
Some think the rise in men’s engagement rings may be due to the rise in Leap Year proposals – the male engagement ring offering the one knee proposal method to women proposers. The rise in civil partnerships and gay marriage also plays its part, with same sex couples embracing wedding traditions. A quick browse suggests these mangagement rings tend to be fairly simple bands, perhaps with a subtle, flush set diamond or two, but some designers are now creating more elaborate designs – a move the diamond industry totally failed to make with some amusing ad campaigns back in the 1920’s and 30’s.
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