An engagement ring is a very special ring that tells the world that the person wearing it is engaged to be married. In most Western countries, engagement rings are worn mostly by women, and these rings usually feature diamonds other precious gemstones. In some cultures, both men and women wear matching rings.
The woman’s ring is most often chosen and presented as an engagement gift by a man to the love of his life, while he proposes marriage. It represents the heart’s promise of future marriage.
Sometimes, couples may choose to buy and wear “promise” rings. After the wedding, the couple may wear both engagement and wedding rings, or if they prefer, only the wedding rings.
While those wily ancient Egyptians are sometimes credited with having invented the engagement ring, and the ancient Greeks with having adopted the tradition, the history of the engagement ring can only be reliably traced as far back as ancient Rome. In many countries, engagement rings are placed on the finger nearest the little finger on the left hand. At one time it was believed that this finger contained a vein that led to the heart.
The first well-documented use of a diamond ring to signify engagement was by the Archduke Maximilian of Austria upon his engagement to Mary of Burgundy. This then influenced those of higher social class and of significant wealth to give diamond rings to their loved ones.
Diamonds were first discovered in South Africa in 1866, although they were not identified as such until 1867. By 1872, the output of the diamond mines exceeded one million carats per year! However, diamond engagement rings were for a long time seen as the domain of the nobility and aristocracy, and tradition often favored simpler engagement bands.
In 1938, the diamond cartel De Beers began a marketing campaign that would have a major impact on engagement rings. During the Great Depression of the 1930s, the price of diamonds collapsed. At the same time, market research indicated that engagement rings were going out of style with the younger generation. In 1947 the slogan “a diamond is forever” was introduced. Ultimately, the De Beers campaign sought to persuade the consumer that an engagement ring is indispensable, and that a diamond is the only acceptable stone for an engagement ring.
Like all jewelry, the price for an engagement ring varies considerably depending on the materials used: the design of the ring, whether it includes a gemstone, the value of that gemstone, and the seller. Diamonds have a standardized description that values them according to their carat weight, color, clarity and cut. Other gemstones, such as sapphires, rubies and emeralds, utilize different kinds of grading systems. These may be chosen to honor a family tradition, to use family heirlooms, to be unique, to be socially responsible (they are not associated with blood diamonds, or the pollution caused by gold mining and cyanide processing), to fit the individual’s stylistic preferences, or to manage cost. Synthetic stones and diamond substitutes such as cubic zirconia or moissanite are also popular choices that are socially responsible and reduce cost while maintaining the desired appearance.
The idea that a man should spend a significant fraction of his annual income for an engagement ring originated from De Beers marketing materials in the mid-20th century, in an effort to increase the sale of diamonds. In the 1930s, they suggested that a man should spend the equivalent of one month’s income in the engagement ring; later they suggested that he should spend two months’ income on it. In 2012, the average cost of an engagement ring in USA as reported by the industry was around $4,000.
Engagement rings, like any other kind of jewelry, come in many different styles.
Gold and platinum are the preferred metals for engagement rings, but common metal types such as titanium, silver and stainless steel are also used for engagement rings. This allows for the bride-to-be to exert her own individual style into the ring in a simple manner.
In the United States, where engagement rings are worn by women, diamonds have been widely featured in engagement rings since the middle of the 20th century. Solitaire rings have one single diamond. Archetype of this modern form is the solitaire Tiffany Setting which was introduced by Tiffany & Co. in 1886 and featured the first mount which holds the gemstone with six claws, now known as the Tiffany mount. The modern favorite cut for an engagement ring is the brilliant cut, which provides the maximum amount of sparkle to the gemstone. The traditional engagement rings may have different prong settings and bands. Another major category is engagement rings with side stones. Rings with a larger diamond set in the middle and smaller diamonds on the side fit under this category. Three-stone diamond engagement rings, sometimes called trinity rings or trilogy rings, are rings with three matching diamonds set horizontally in a row with the bigger stone placed in the center. The three diamonds on the ring are typically said to represent the couple’s past, present, and future.
In Nordic countries, engagement rings are worn by both men and women. Traditionally they are plain gold bands, although more ornate designs and other materials are gaining popularity. The engagement rings resemble the wedding bands sold in the United States, whereas women’s wedding rings may resemble US engagement rings.
Traditionally, women in the British Isles may propose marriage to men during a leap year. There is even a darling romantic comedy about this very thing called, “Leap Year.” Women proposing has become more common in recent years, to the point that some jewelry companies have started manufacturing men’s engagement rings. They resemble typical men’s rings, often with a diamond centerpiece. In the countries where both sexes have traditionally worn engagement rings, the rings tend to be plainer bands, and there is no real difference between men’s and women’s engagement ring designs