You have met the person you wish to spend the rest of your life with and are ready to pop that all important question “will you marry me?” Traditionally a marriage proposal is marked with the giving of an engagement ring, but have you ever wondered why we do this?
Anthropologists believe that the tradition of giving an engagement ring dates back to the time of the Ancient Egyptians nearly 5,000 years ago. They believed that circles symbolised eternity the hole in the centre of the ring signified never ending and immortal love for the woman wearing the ring. To mark this belief, Egyptian men gave their wife to be a handmade ring made out of twisted and braided reeds, sedges and papyrus. Naturally these rings did not last long and were often replaced with engagement rings made from other natural elements such as leather, bone or ivory with the more expensive the material of the engagement ring signifying the wealth of the giver.
The tradition of wearing an engagement ring on the left hand ring finger is also thought to date back to the Ancient Egyptians as they believed that an engagement ring worn on the ring finger would ignite eternal love as there is a vein that runs directly to the heart. This vein was later called the ‘Vena amoris’ by Latin philosopher Macrobius Ambrosius Theodosius in 395 – 423 AD who believed the vein of love had magical properties. In latter days the vein of love has been disproven but the tradition still remains to wear an engagement and wedding ring on the ring finger of the left hand ring finger.
The giving of engagement rings have also been dated back to the Romans in the 2nd Century when it was given to a bride to be in lieu of a money or a valuable object and was also seen as symbolic of the legal agreement of ownership of the woman by the man who gave the ring.
The very first recorded giving of a diamond engagement ring was one that was commissioned in 1477 by Archduke Maximillian of Austria for his betrothed, Mary of Burgundy. He proposed to Mary of Burgundy with a diamond engagement ring in the shape of an ‘M’ which was made from comprised of thin, flat pieces of diamond. However, it was not until the 1870’s when miners discovered diamonds in South Africa that diamond engagement rings became prevalent within the jewellery industry.
By 1872, the output of the South African diamond mines exceeded one million carats per year and as production increased, diamonds became more widely available to the general public. However, for a long time after this diamond engagement rings were still seen as mark of wealth, nobility and aristocracy.
In 1938, De Beers the world famous diamond cartel created a marketing campaign that would have a major impact on the giving of diamond engagement rings. This campaign initially educated the public about the 4 Cs of cut, carats, colour, and clarity and then in 1947 De Beers created the world renowned slogan “a diamond is forever”. The aim of this was persuade consumers that a diamond engagement ring is the only acceptable stone for an engagement ring as it is indispensable and life lasting. De Beers also created the ideology that at least a month’s salary should be spent on a diamond engagement ring, but whether you spend one month’s, three months’ or the equivalent of a year’s salary on an engagement ring it is the giving of a gift that symbolises your promise of eternal love that matters.