The engagement ring (preferably a diamond one) has been the main symbol of engaged women for many years. The truth is that the diamond engagement ring’s history is not that rich (less than a century) as it is the result of a brilliant (pun intended) marketing campaign dating back to the early 1990s.
The history of engagement rings as a symbol of loyalty to the woman you want to marry, though, dates back to prehistory! Here’s a brief timeline of the way in which the traditional engagement ring has evolved into what it is today:
The beginning (prehistory to Egyptian times)
There is evidence that even cavemen used a sort of an engagement ring! It was not actually a ring, though. They used cords of braided grass that they used to put on their chosen mate’s wrists, ankles, and waist. In Ancient Egypt, people were buried with a silver (or gold) ring on the third finger of their left hand (the current place of the contemporary engagement ring).
From iron rings to the Gutenberg bible (2nd century BC to 1456)
In the 2nd century BC, the wife was given a golden ring that she was allowed to wear only during the ceremony as well as on special events. To wear at home every day, she was given a simple iron ring by the groom, signifying his “ownership” of her. A century later, in 1st century BC, puzzle rings were used by sultans and sheiks to “tag” their multiple wives. In fact, there is even no mention of engagement rings in the Gutenberg bible, written in 1456!
Mary of Burgundy and the first diamond engagement ring
It was in 1477 when Archduke Maximilian of Austria proposed to Mary of Burgundy with a beautiful well-thought-of diamond engagement ring encrusted with diamonds in the shape of the letter “M”. This is believed to be the first recorded use of a diamond engagement ring.
The DeBeers Mining Company and one of the best marketing campaigns (1873 to 1947)
A new chapter of the engagement ring history book was written with the foundation of the DeBeers Mining Company in 1873 and their brilliant marketing campaign that changed the engagement ring industry forever. Up until 1938, most people thought that diamonds were a luxury item that only the super rich bought. An ingenious marketing campaign conducted by the ad agency N.W. Ayer from 1938 till 1947, however, changed the social attitude towards diamonds and made them appealing to a much wider audience.
After an extensive research done in the US, N.W. Ayer found the perfect way to link diamonds with something emotional that would make (almost) all people buy diamonds and keep them from reselling them – this is how the diamond engagement ring industry was born. The famous slogan, “A diamond is forever” (created in 1948), was titled the #1 slogan of the century in 1999.
20th century (the big brands and the World Diamond Council)
The end of the 19th and the whole 20th century saw a real boom in the diamond engagement rings industry. In 1886, Tiffany & Co. introduced the “Tiffany setting,” which enhanced the diamond’s brilliance by raising it up from the band. In 1918 Cartier came up with the Trinity Ring – it features intertwined hoops in pink gold (symbolizing love), white gold (symbolizing friendship), and yellow gold (symbolizing fidelity).
At the end of the 20th century (in 2000), the World Diamond Council was created in the diamond industry, with the main aim to, “prevent the exploitation of diamonds for illicit purposes such as war and inhumane acts.”
Today, almost no engagement takes place in the developed countries without the presence of a diamond engagement ring. There are, of course, a lot of contemporary approaches to the traditional diamond engagement ring, including the use of multiple metals and different gemstones. Diamonds, however, as well as the “two months’ salary rule” (adopted back in the 1980s) are still considered a must for an engagement ring, especially in the USA and Europe.