The idea of marriage has been around for centuries, even though the meaning has changed throughout the eras. From the very beginning, the use of a ring to mark the connection between the two people has been present.
Nowadays, it is an expectation that couples in love will get engaged, and eventually married. The proposal of marriage is one of the most enjoyable and romantic times of many lives, and there are so many different ways to propose, whether it be a grand public affair or a personal and intimate moment between two people. The one element that stays the same across the majority of these events is the appearance of a ring, usually bearing a sparkling diamond, or multiple.
It all started with a ring
Rings first arose between couples in prehistoric times, although only the shape. Men would create cords from braids of grass to tie in rings around the female waist, ankles, and wrists. By doing this, he was attempting to bring the spirit of the woman under his control and therefore own her. Despite not representing the love and commitment that rings do today, this is where the origin of the shape and exchange between two people began.
It wasn’t until the Egyptians that the ring settled on the finger. The meaning of the ring had also evolved over those thousands of years, moving from possession to eternal love. To the Egyptians, the never-ending circle symbolised never-ending love, with the gap representing the path to the future shared between the couple. Wedding bands were a separate ring in this era too, with modest braided reeds shaped into rings and exchanged between man and wife at the ceremony. It was also during this period that the ring finger was born. The Egyptians chose to wear their rings on their left hands on the finger we now know as the ring finger, this was down to the belief that a vein ran from this finger directly to the heart. This idea was later discovered to be false, but not before the vein was named the Vena Amoris (Vein of Love), back in 1686.
Roman author, Pliny the Elder, recollects the tradition of engagement and wedding rings during the ancient Roman times. The meaning of the rings took a step backwards from love to ownership again, with an iron ring being given to the female in the relationship as a legally binding contract to own her and for wear around the home. On the wedding day, she was presented with a gold band only to be worn for special occasions.
It was over a century later that puzzle rings emerged. Most commonly crafted in the area that we now know as Turkey, these rings were intricate and designed to crumble into multiple fragments if removed. Sultans and Sheikhs would gift these rings to their wives as a measure of reducing any risks of infidelity and maintaining some level of control over the relationship.
In 860AD, Pope Nicolas attempted to bring the meaning of the ring away from ownership and more into the realm of commitment. It became a requirement that should a man want to marry, he must present his partner with a gold ring as a representation of his prosperity and ability to provide for her.
The first diamond did not appear prominently on an engagement ring until hundreds of years later. In 1477, Mary of Burgundy received a gold engagement ring studded with diamonds in the shape of the letter M. Archduke Maximillian of Austria designed the ring, and it gained so much recognition that the most elite followed suit and presented their loved ones with diamond-studded engagement rings for years to come,
Poesy Rings, derived from the French word for poem, ‘poésie’, first came about in the 1700’s. These bands contained exceptionally personal and sentimental inscriptions of poems. The Victorian and Edwardian times were both full of love and romance. Ornate rings attained popularity during these periods when gems were decorated in shapes and floral designs. Later named Dearest Rings, the bands were exceptionally gem heavy for years and are still popular to date for lovers of vintage designs.
Diamonds became a much more accessible rock in 1867 when mines in South Africa were located. Twenty years following this, the renowned Tiffany & Co launched a new design, the Tiffany Setting. The setting includes six prongs, which lifts the diamond away from the band, making it the centrepiece of the ring.
With a multitude of designs and tastes having been established by the 1900’s, custom engagement rings grew popular in the 30’s as couples injected their personalities and love into the ring that represented their love for one another.
The iconic diamond has become an expectation
Diamonds lost traction during the Great Depression after WWI and people lost interest. In order to keep the industry thriving, De Beers established a marketing campaign which became one of the most successful to date. One of the most famous slogans in marketing was created during this campaign, ‘A Diamond is Forever‘. Women came to expect relationships to lead to a diamond eventually, and men were pressured to spend a minimum of one months’ salary on the ring. In the 80’s, this pressure increased when the new slogan: ‘Isn’t two months’ salary a small price to pay for something that lasts forever?’ was revealed.
The future of the diamond industry is anticipated to continue flourishing, with America, China, and India leading the way for the next decade. Over 80 percent of proposals in the US currently include a diamond, whereas eastern countries like China and Japan have evolving cultures where diamonds are becoming more prominent. Traditionally worn on the right hand when engaged, a bride in China would move their simple ring to their left hand upon marriage. However, 30 percent of females are now gifted with diamond rings, which was almost zero in the 90’s. A similar change in culture happened in Japan in the 1970’s.
As a global culture, it is likely the diamond really will be forever and will be a successful industry for the entirety. Like most industries though, it is also likely to go through many more progressions, with 3D rings and custom designs predicted to be the standard, with diamonds of course.