Every tradition has been initiated by someone in history and engagement ring shouldn’t be any different! But who was the first lady who put a ring on her left hand to express her love and commitment to her fiancé? Or who was the first gentleman who proposed with a diamond engagement ring to prove his love and loyalty?!
In this article, we will look back at history to find the very first person or civilization who initiated the diamond engagement ring tradition.
History of diamond engagement ring
When looking back at history, there are always certain eras that great changes take place when a tradition is initiated and a critical mass follows. Diamond engagement ring follows the same pattern so we highlight the periods that affected the initiation and evolution of diamon engagement rings:
It was the Persians who initiated the tradition of “ring” to represent commitment in contracts. It all started with the “Mehr Ring” in Mithraism (MehrAein in Persian language) which had strong following at the time. Later, the tradition was cemented in Zoroastrian symbol of “Faravahar” to represent devotion to the god but it was also used in personal commitments and contracts with others. As is shown in the symbol, the ring is held in the left hand because it is closer to the heart. When it came to marriage, the ring was worn on the fourth finger of the left hand so the symbol of commitment to marriage was always carried closer to the heart.
The statue of NapirAsu held in Louvre museum is the best indicator of Persian tradition of wearing engagement ring. She has a ring in her ring finger representing her marriage to the king Untash Naprisha of Elam.
When Persia was conquered by Greeks, the engagement ring tradition was picked up and later was adopted by Romans when they conquered Greece!
There was a similar concept in ancient Egypt where rings were used to represent eternity. Their ring however was an “ouroboros”, a serpent swallowing its own tail symbolizing the eternal cycles of existence. They also believed the open space in the middle of the ring represents a gateway to the unknown!
They followed the tradition picked up from Persians but put their own mark on the engagement ring by adding the motif of Eros or Cupid, the god of love.
The most documented history belongs to Roman era. They initiated the tradition of 2 engagement rings, one made with iron to be worn at home and one with copper for public events. The iron ring was also called the “key ring” because it had a key motif to symbolize that the wife gets control of the household after marriage. Sometimes the key ring had inscriptions such as “Πουλχρης’ which means “beauty’s ring” referring to the bride as the most beautiful woman. Gradually gold became the metal of choice by 2nd century CE to symbolize “Good as gold” promise of the giving man.
Romans followed the same tradition of wearing the ring on the fourth finger of the left hand because according to “A treatise of Spousals, or Matrimonial Contracts” by Henry Swinburne, they believed in an Egyptian idea that a vein called “Vena Amoris” or “vein of love” existed on this finger that lead directly to the heart!
Later, the ring design was the center of focus to represent the wealth of the giver. That is when “fede ring” became popular which had the motif of two right hands clasped together, symbolizing partnership and marriage contract. Personalization of the ring also became common as they carved their own portrait into a “portrait ring”.
- Medieval and Renaissance
It was the medieval era that popularized gemstones in engagement rings. Diamonds were used to symbolize strength, rubies for passion and sapphires for heavens. Fede and portrait rings were still common but “gimmel rings” came into picture during this period in Europe which had 2 or 3 interlocking bands. So couples would wear a band during engagement but at the ceremony, groom would place his ring on her finger to create a united set that revealed two right hands clasped together.
- This also evolved to “Claddagh ring” with 2 hands holding a heart often carved from a gemstone. “Poesy rings” became trendy in renaissance era where poetry was inscribed on the band.
- Mary of Burgundy
The first recorded diamond engagement ring was gifted in 1477 by Maximillian I, the Holy Roman Emperor to his first wife, Mary of Burgundy. The small diamonds were set in a way to reveal letter, M, her initial. This event made diamond engagement ring popular among aristocrats and nobles.
- Queen Victoria of England
She famously had strong interest in diamonds and with rapid mining taking place in South Africa; diamonds became popular even among common people.
- De Beers campaign
In 1947, De Beers launched a marketing campaign to increase diamond sales that was significantly low due to the great depression. They used advertising slogan “diamond is forever” and invested in Hollywood movies and actresses such as Marilyn Monroe to promote diamond as “a girl’s best friend”. They obviously succeeded because diamond sales were skyrocketing in 50s and 60s.
Engagement ring tradition is as old as human history because commitment and loyalty to promises has always been important specifically for Persians who initiated engagement ring tradition worn on the fourth finger of the left hand. To make this commitment invincible, the strongest stone in existence was chosen by Romans that also added the highest sparkle and brilliance to the ring. The design though has been through a long evolution to arrive at the current trend of individuality and personalization.
Regardless of who initiated the tradition, you have the power and choice to design your own Diamond engagement ring so it reflects the personality of your relationship. However, with the help of a master custom engagement ring designer in Vancouver you can come up with an individualized diamond ring that initiates a long lasting marriage.