Engagement rings are rings mainly worn by women as an indication of being engaged to be married. They are worn by men too, but when worn by men they are most appropriately referred to as ‘management rings’. In the western world, most wedding rings are mounted with either diamond other gemstones. These rings are made from precious metals and in some cases metals like stainless steel and zirconium.
A gold-diamond engagement ring
VARYING USE OF ENGAGEMENT RINGS
Marriage cultures relating to the use and acquisition of engagement rings vary from place to place. In most western cultures engagement rings are worn on the left hand’s fourth finger (third finger after the thumb). This finger is referred to as the ‘right finger’. Women in some countries like in Nigeria and many other African cultures, wear engagement rings in the middle finger (the longest finger) on the left hand. This is done in order to differentiate them from married women. In some parts of the Middle East, engagement rings are worn on the right hand and moved to the left hand on the wedding day. Engagement rings are not worn on the fingers at all in some cultures.
In some countries, like the United States and Canada, it is customary for only women to wear engagement rings. However, in other countries both partner wear engagement rings (even matching ones sometimes).
Engagement rings are mainly made from gold and platinum but rings from stainless steel, silver or titanium may be used. They are sometimes mounted with gemstones like diamond and sometimes they are not (especially in parts of the world where matching rings are used for the couple)
WHEN ENGAGEMENT RINGS STARTED- A timeline
The use of rings for engagement is an age long practice. Engagement in those ancient times is actually betrothal. Even in ancient biblical times (as recorded in the Torah and Bible used by Jews and Christians respectively), there was a record of a mother (Sarah) presenting a golden nose ring to her to-be daughter-in-law (Rebecca).
2ND CENTURY BC
The history of engagement ring use can be traced to ancient Rome. Even the use of fourth finger for wearing engagement ring can also be traced to them. They believe the fourth finger contained a vein (vena amoris in Latin) which was linked to the heart and wearing the ring in that finger indicates love. In ancient Roman culture, at around the second century BC, a gold ring and an iron ring were given to brides-to-be. They were to wear gold rings in public while the iron ones were to be used at home for doing house chores. Prior to this time, roman brides-to-be wore rings made from Ivory, bone, flint or copper.
An ancient roman engagement ring made from iron
During the reign of king Chindasuinth in the Kingdom of Visigoth (spanning modern day southwestern France and Iberia) in the mid-seventh century, he introduced a set of laws known as the ‘Visgothic code’. The visgothic laws highlighted the use of rings as a symbol of engagement (or more accurately, betrothal).
There is also an evidence of the use of engagement ring in the western church during or before the mid-ninth century. In Pope Nicholas’ letter to the Boris of Bulgaria, he clearly stated how that the men in the western church give engagement rings to their wives-to-be.
In 1477, the first ever recorded engagement ring made from diamond was commissioned by Archduke Maximilian of Austria. The archduke commissioned the ring for his betrothed spouse, Mary of Burgundy. This led to the popularity of diamond use for engagement among European nobles and aristocrats.
In the 16th century, the gimmel and posie rings became popular as engagement rings. Even Martin Luther, the father of Protestantism engaged and married his wife Catherine Bora with a gimmel ring. Gimmel rings are rings made up of two to three loops that fit together to form a complete ring. When a gimmel ring is used as an engagement ring, the couple would each wear one hoop which would be rejoined when they wed for the bride to wear. In the past, gimmel ring was known as joint ring. Posie ring on the other hand are ring with short inscriptions. They are no longer in use, except in cases where the couple feel like using vintage or antique rings for their engagement.
A gimmel ring
The discovery of diamonds in South Africa in the year 1866 led to the popularity of diamond. Although diamonds were popular, only the high and mighty (nobles) used it for engagement rings. This is because of it high cost and uneasy accessibility. People of lesser means and even rich folks who were not in the realm of nobility and aristocracy stuck to the use of simple metallic rings.
In 1939, De Beer Company launched a campaign seeking to advertise diamond rings. This campaign gained prominence in 1947 when the 4Cs of diamond and the slogan “a diamond is forever” was used for advertisement. The use of diamond ring as engagement rings became popular, as the durability of diamond was captioned by this campaign. This campaign boosted the purchase of diamond and by extension, its use in the production of engagement rings.
Engagement rings for men, which are statutorily known as management rings only gained prominence in the 21st century. Although not all ‘engaged’ men wear this ring, but the percentage of men using it are gradually increasing. Since the 20th century, jewelers tried to popularize the concept to no avail as engagement rings were associated with femininity.
A management ring
Diamonds are highly valued. In spite of the high value placed on diamonds, many people have replaced their use with other precious gemstones. Precious gemstones like emerald, sapphire, and ruby are popularly used in recent times for making engagement rings. Amethyst, turquoise, garnet, pearl, topaz, lapis lazuli, opaz, onyx, aquamarine and many other stones can also be used. Colored diamond rings have gained popularity in recent times too as opposed to colorless diamonds popular in time past.