The Short History of Engagement Rings–From Rome to Now

engagement ring

It’s become common practice for those in love to share an engagement ring as a token of their commitment to the other. But when did this practice start? Rings and bands have been used for centuries as jewelry, and as far back as 5000 years ago, the ancient Egyptians used rings to symbolize love. But when did they start being used specifically to signify betrothal? Understanding the true history behind engagement rings can help us better see how our modern traditions are not so modern after all.

Back to Ancient Rome

As with some fascinating things, the true beginning of the engagement ring can be traced all the way back to ancient Rome. The GIA (Gemological Institute of America) has proof that women wore rings of iron, copper, flint, and ivory. These rings were a way for women to signify their mutual obedience and love for another person. In some cases, these rings were meant to signify a business contract or ownership, and so became a way to signify which the woman was in a contract or wedding agreement with a man.

The Gold Rings of Pompeii

When people traditionally think of rings, their minds tend to go back to the plain gold wedding bands. Gold rings (of engagement) were possibly first found in the ruins of Pompeii. The funny thing is that these engagement rings become a very popular piece of jewelry for the Romans. They actually had women wear an iron or similar ring material at home and the gold ring was reserved for when they went out in public.

In Comes the Pope

Around 850, Pope Nicholas I officially declares that engagement rings are given with the meaning of declaring the intent to marry. These were often called betrothal rings at that point in history. Gold was still the most popular material used for these types of rings. They were no longer meant to address business relationships or ownership, rather, they were a symbol of love and commitment.

The Rise of the Diamond

It may surprise many but the diamond wasn’t introduced into the engagement ring until 1477. When the Archduke Maximilian of Austria decided to propose to Mary of Burgundy, he wanted a ring that was different than anything else. The ring he used to propose was full of narrow and long diamonds that were constructed in the shape of an ‘M’. While this was the first recorded diamond ring of its kind, the rise of the diamond engagement rings didn’t actually catch on until about 1947.

Hopefully, you’ve had some fun learning about the history of engagement rings. When history is introduced to the picture, it helps to amplify the emotion of setting timeless traditions. While the look of the average engagement ring has changed over the years, the reason behind it still remains the same since the days of the ancient Romans.

The post was written by Brooke Chaplan. She is a freelance writer and blogger. She lives and works out of her home in Los Lunas, New Mexico. She also recommends the online range of engagement rings. For more information, contact Brooke via Facebook at facebook.com/brooke.chaplan or Twitter @BrookeChaplan.

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