Engagement ring tradition is relatively new in comparison to the custom of exchanging of
wedding rings. The tradition of the wedding ring goes back to ancient times
while the offering of the engagement ring only reaches back to the Middle Ages.1
The association between rings and marriage is thought to come from the ancient Egyptians
who viewed the circle of a ring as a symbol of eternity and the practice of exchanging
rings as a promise of eternal love in marriage.
Today we still uphold that ancient tradition of exchanging wedding rings when
two people get married but have also embraced the historical Middle Age practice of
offering an engagement ring as a symbol of our commitment to the relationship
and our intent to marry.
Engagement Ring Tradition
It wasn't until 1477, towards the end of the Middle Ages, that we find the
first documented offering of a diamond engagement ring.
A love struck
Austrian named the Archduke Maximilian of Habsburg commissioned a diamond ring
as an engagement present for his betrothed, Mary of Burgundy, who is thought to
be the first girl ever to receive a diamond ring to celebrate an engagement .
Although engagement ring tradition is thought to stem from this love affair
it would take a few centuries for it to take hold.
In the United States, the
common practice of offering an engagement ring didn't surface until the 1840s
and the custom at that time was that they were given to both men and women.2
Engagement Ring Tradition & Diamonds
It wasn't until the 20th century that the tradition of a man buying an
expensive diamond ring for his fiancée in order to legitimize a marriage
proposal became widespread.
Two factors are thought to have played an important role here—one
piggy-backing on the other.
The first were marital law reforms that took place in the 1930s and 40s in
the U.S. that no longer allowed for any legal recourse in the case of a broken
engagement. Since there were no longer any perceived repercussions for breaking
an engagement, an expensive diamond engagement ring was seen to fill that void
by becoming a measure of one's level of commitment.3
A second factor in solidifying the tradition of the diamond engagement ring
as an essential component to any proper wedding engagement was a groundbreaking
DeBeers marketing campaign in 1947.
It proclaimed that "A Diamond is Forever" and positioned diamonds as a symbol
of love and commitment and was in fact voted as the best slogan of the 20th
century by Advertising Age.
In another marketing effort, DeBeers suggested that two to three months
salary was a good measure for how much to spend.
sure were clever marketers!
Diamond sales soared and from that point on,
diamond engagement rings became
as much a part of engagement ring tradition as getting down on one knee was to
Which finger and why? The custom of wearing an engagement ring on the fourth finger of the
left hand comes from a belief that various cultures have subscribed to over the
years based on the Latin term Vena Amoris which literally means the vein of love and was believed
to run from the ring finger directly to the heart. True or not, it's sweet and
Engagement Rings Today
Although they have a rich history and are steeped in tradition, there are so many
more things to think about today when
an engagement ring that never crossed the minds of the ancient Egyptians,
good old Maximilian, or even our grandparents.
The financial aspects of getting engaged today cannot be
overlooked and are helping to form new traditions for engagement rings and
Always remember that love is not measured by how much you spend. It doesn't matter if
you spent a king's ransom or bought one from a gumball machine,
if the commitment and love are real the ring is precious regardless of how
much it cost.
Love is what's in your heart and the
commitment you have for each other while the ring itself is merely a
Engagement ring tradition dates back hundreds of years and has a rich history
that has evolved over time to accommodate a changing world.
Social pressures, myths, legends, clever marketing and traditional beliefs
have all played a role in the tradition we uphold today and will continue to do
so well into the future.