The origins of engagement rings and wedding rings. For thousands of years, the representation of the bond between two people has long been a ring. These romantic and inspirational gestures have held steady, but where exactly did they come from? Though De Beers didn’t create the diamond engagement ring, they are associated with popularizing diamond engagement and wedding rings in the 1940s and ushering in the modern era of engagement rings.
Why Do We Wear Engagement and Wedding Rings?
The earliest known example of wedding rings came from Ancient Egypt, where bands were traditionally made from braided papyrus, and placed on the third finger of the left hand. This ancient civilization believed that the shape represented an everlasting circle, and the relationship would endure just as long.
Romans believed that the “vena amoris” (vein of love) connected this ‘ring’ finger to the heart. Early forms of ‘betrothal rings,’ were formed from husbands’ keys, to embody a literal key to his heart.
By the 2nd century BC, upper-class Romans began to use betrothal rings instead of dowries, which the groom paid to his future father-in-law. Rather than papyrus, a simple iron band was typically worn by the bride at home. In public – and for special occasions – she donned a gold band. Both symbolized the husband’s ownership of his wife, and metal wedding rings quickly became the societal standard.
The Revival of the Engagement Ring
The gifting of engagement rings died out until the 13th century when Pope Innocent III obligated a waiting period between engagement and marriage for would-be lovebirds. It was decreed:
We absolutely forbid clandestine marriages…when marriages are to be contracted they must be announced publicly in churches…so that if legitimate impediments exist, they may be made known. Click To Tweet
The required span of time and further religious hoops to jump through, revived the tradition of giving an engagement ring.
Who Designed the First Diamond Engagement Ring?
The most significant shift in engagement band trends was thanks to Archduke Maximilian of Austria during the 15th century. This nobleman presented the first diamond engagement ring to Mary of Burgundy, commissioning the ring to be inlaid with gemstones in the shape of her first initial.
At the time, diamonds were incredibly expensive and considerably rarer than they are today, making this quite an extravagant gesture. Within a few years, however, European aristocrats and royalty began to demand luxurious precious stone designs. Unsurprisingly, this is a trend that has remained popular since.
How Did Wedding Ring Traditions Evolve?
Romans were among the first to give wedding rings, though it is thought that signet rings were the inspiration. Men wore signet rings to be used as a wearable ‘signature’ for official documents, as few people at the time could write. Carved ring styles carried over to Byzantium, where the couple’s faces would be engraved onto the metal surface. When Christianity became the official religion, an image of Jesus or a cross was also added. Byzantine women began to don signet rings as both fashionable and functional statements.
Gimmel rings were incredibly popular from the 1600s through the mid-1800s, owing to the improvement of blacksmithing techniques. The rings were adorned with enamel, hand-cut stones, and carved features like hearts and flowers. Similar to a puzzle, gimmel rings are composed of two or three bands that link together. Brides and grooms would wear them separately during the lead-up to marriage, and combine them at the altar, symbolizing the coupling of two souls.
Promise Rings Have Long Been Given
Commitment and pre-engagement ceremonies have occurred as long as – if not longer – than the concept of marriage. And (much like relationship dynamics), the significance of giving promise rings has changed over the centuries, too.
Fede rings feature two clasping hands with intricate enamelwork. These have been fashionable European styles for over a millennia, especially the Irish Claddagh ring, which is worn for a variety of reasons. Some modern wearers change their band’s location based on their marital status.
Between the 5th and 17th centuries, poesy rings were designed and given to signify love, whether platonic, religious, or romantic. Words or short statements were engraved to personalize an otherwise common band, but only the wearer would know the secret meaning.
Where Modern and Ancient Ring Traditions Combine
Whether they know it or not, many modern couples have been inspired to engrave intimate, funny, or religious messages on their rings by the influence of poesy rings. The concept of personalization is more important than ever, and an array of engagement and wedding traditions are reflected in jewelry choice.
Whether conventional, vintage, or Mokume Gane rings, each twosome can find the perfect celebration of their love in their own special way. One trend is very clear, however: Modern grooms and brides overwhelmingly choose ethically-sourced jewelry with recycled gold and sustainable diamonds.
At Jaume Labro, we understand that crafting your engagement and wedding rings requires nothing less than perfection. Contact us today to begin designing your Mokume Gane jewelry with our expert team of artisans.