History of the Engagement Ring

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I am getting married in a short time, and I was pondering some of the traditions of marriage recently. One I was very interested in was the history of the engagement ring, simply because it's grown into an extremely prevalent and almost expected tradition in recent years. Time was that engagement rings were optional, at least according to my elders. So what is the history of the engagement ring, and how did it become popularized? 

This article will look at the origins of the history of the engagement ring, and the ways in which it has spread and become more popular lately. 


History of the Engagement Ring: The Precedent

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With everything, someone sets a precedent. In the history of the engagement ring, I imagine it's not any different. Someone out there was the very first person to present a ring upon proposing. Unfortunately, it's unclear just who that person was! 

It's not known just how far back engagement ring history stretches, but it is known that it was Roman tradition for a married couple to wear matching rings. Sometimes these were made of simple iron, but they could be found in silver and gold as well. 

For the purpose of engagement ring history, the first person recorded to have presented a diamond engagement ring was the Archduke Maximillian of Hamburg. He presented a diamond ring to Mary of Burgundy in 1477. This is likely the first time a diamond ring was presented in history, because these things are fairly easy to track. Diamonds were only available to the super wealthy at the time, and peasants and lay people wouldn't have access to them. Only nobility could trade rings like this, and these transactions are recorded, even back in the 15th century. 


History of the Engagement Ring: Popularization

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The history of the engagement ring becomes more interesting during the late 18th century, as new discoveries of diamonds in foreign countries such as Brazil and South America brough the overall price down significantly. For the first time, the fashionable engagement statement of the super wealthy was available to lower classes. Coupled with the rise of the middle class, diamond engagement rings became more popularly used tokens of betrothal. 

Even so, the history of the engagment ring didn't really take off until the early 20th century. Prior to this, the rings were still prohibitively expensive, and they were also considered a bit lavish by certain religious groups. The ring was by no means the only token of promise that a man would present to his potential bride. Thimbles were popular, as well as other jewelry tokens and gifts. 

In the 1930s, the average cost of a diamond engagement ring was much lower than it is today. A man was expected to spend approximately one month's worth of income on an engagment ring. Writing this history of the engagement ring has made me long for the good old days! Today, several month's income is expected to be spent, and the typical ring costs thousands. 


History of the Engagement Ring

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Writing this history of the engagement ring has taught me a few things about the nature of engagement and rings. The first is that the betrothal is the most important part, not the ring. The second thing is that the ring is an important part of engagement and wedding history, dating back to Roman times. Lastly, this engagement ring history has taught me that the practice of exchanging diamond rings is recent, and that it's not the only option! Consider rings with other stones, or something other than a ring altogether! 

Good Luck!