The History of the Engagement Ring

Posted   |  By Grahams Jewellers

Bride and groom posing for wedding photos in the Rome, Italy. Grahams history of engagement rings

Today it is seen as almost a given that when a couple gets engaged; there will be some form of engagement ring. But where did this tradition come from? Let’s take a trip into history to find out …

At the turn of the century, a now defunct law in the USA called the “Breach of Promise to Marry” law/act allowed women to sue their once-suitors for breaking an engagement to be married. The law was in place to protect women who had gone for a tumble in the hay with their groom-to-be prior to the wedding ceremony. In these times, a lot of value was placed on a “chaste” woman. A no-longer chaste woman was seen as less valuable in the marriage market. Should her fiancé break off the engagement after consummation but prior to being wed, the woman would find herself in quite the quandary. Thus the Breach of Promise to Marry Law enabled women to sue and recover damages from her ex-partner.

However, by 1945 this law was falling from favour with law makers and many US states began striking it down. Interestingly, as each state struck down the law, it corresponded with a rise in the giving of engagement rings. Historians and statisticians alike suggest this rise (prior to the big De Beers diamond marketing campaign) was due to the lack of insurance for women – without the Breach of Promise Law, women wanted collateral up front. Not quite the most romantic of origins! This was soon followed up with a very successful marketing campaign by the De Beers Company who can take a lot of the credit for why diamonds are a very popular choice for engagement rings today.

But don’t fear this isn’t the true beginnings of the engagement ring, merely a moment in time where it rose sharply in popularity amongst the general population. Historians date the first recorded diamond engagement ring to be in the 15th century, where Archduke Maximillian of Austria asked Mary of Burgundy for her hand in marriage. The couple was reportedly very much in love until she died tragically in a horse riding accident at the young age of 25.

By the end of the 19th Century engagements rings were becoming less unusual. A suitor would present a ring set with a pearl, or the best gemstone they could afford, to their love interest, signalling to the world they intended to marry. This ring was then replaced with a simple band at the marriage ceremony, often inscribed with initials or the date.

In 1947, De Beers launched its now legendary diamond campaign, extolling the virtues of the diamond. Paired with its slogan that a “diamond is forever”- the symbolism of marriage being a commitment for life was not lost on the masses. Diamonds soon become the must-have gem for engagement rings.

Today, diamonds still reign supreme when it comes to engagement rings and the solitaire cut, made famous by Tiffany, remains one of the most popular styles. Tradition, marketing and expectations aside, we love the classic diamond engagement ring. Nothing beats the fire, brilliance and sparkle of this forever stone nor can anything compare to the look on a loved one’s face of pure joy when they receive a diamond.

For your perfect forever moment consider a diamond from Grahams, fine jewellers since 1932