May the Circle Be Unbroken – A Brief History of the Engagement Ring

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Spring is engagement season, and if you’re excited about that new diamond on your finger, your mind is probably focused on the future – things like booking a venue, deciding where to honeymoon and obsessing over your guest list.

But if you look to the past, you’ll discover that the ring on your finger has a pretty amazing history. Women (and men) from ancient times, through the Renaissance all the way to present day, have been proudly displaying this symbol of betrothal. And while its history could fill a book, here are some of the interesting facets of the engagement ring’s history.

When In Rome

Like so many things, the engagement ring as we know it probably has its roots in ancient Rome. Records indicate that Roman men presented a ring known as an ‘anulus pronubus’ to their fiancé to mark their betrothal. Although it was originally made of iron, ring makers started to incorporate gold, silver and bronze around the second century CE.

Many of these rings were styled as clasped hands to symbolize marriage. Historians aren’t in agreement, however. Some argue that these first clasped hands rings were gifts from husband to wife, not necessarily from groom to bride.

Fit For a Queen

The practice of giving a ring to one’s betrothed caught on in other cultures independent of Rome, but the diamond engagement ring as we know it today probably got its start in 1477, when Archduke Maximillian of Austria presented a diamond ring to Mary of Burgundy to honor their engagement. Either to recognize his new bride (or himself), Maximillian had the ring stylized with small, flat diamonds in the shape of an ‘M.’

It’s All in the Advertising

While diamond engagement rings remained popular among the rich and general public alike (with some thanks due to Charles Tiffany’s six-prong setting), in the United States, the hardships of World War I and the Great Depression nearly brought an end to the fashion.

Enter De Beers. In 1939 the diamond magnate launched an extensive marketing campaign to combat lack of interest along with a plunge in the price of diamonds. This campaign brought the concept of the Four C’s to the masses, and by the time copywriter Frances Garety brought us the slogan ‘Diamonds are Forever’ in 1947, the diamond engagement ring was considered a must-have for American brides.

Whether your engagement ring is an exciting sign of things to come, or a cherished memory of that special day, knowing the history behind it can only add to the appeal. And the next time its sparkle catches your eye, you might say a quick thanks to Mary of Burgundy.

Jeff Johnson & Co. is a full-service jeweler located in Upper Arlington, Ohio. We specialize in custom engagement rings, keepsakes for significant moments, and giving new life to family heirlooms. Our gemologists are trained by the Gemological Institute of America, and they work closely with each customer to ensure that we meet your vision and beyond. Stop by our showroom at 5025 Arlington Centre Blvd. (off Henderson Road), call 614-459-8890, You can also follow us on Facebook at Jeff Johnson & Co.