A diamond is forever – that is something we can all agree upon. But unlike the nature of the stone itself, giving a diamond engagement ring to your loved one upon proposal wasn’t always the no-brainer we’ve come to expect from today’s society. These styles and bands were popular options for engagement ceremonies before the onset of the diamond and may serve a modern couple with a keen eye to the traditions of the past.
The world – especially in the era of social media – is filled with creative and breathtaking engagement ideas that inspire and strike your heart with joy. No matter how one proposes to their loved one, one thing tends to remain true: the diamond ring! But it may come to some surprise that it wasn’t always that way. In fact, some traditions and cultures have had a long history of giving engagement rings without the ever-presence of diamond stones in their respective societies.
Historians say that the ancient Egyptians may have been the first people to use a band or ring as a signifier of a wedding ceremony. Made from braided hemp or reeds, this shape was the symbol of infinity and represented an everlasting love. Placed on the fourth finger of the left hand, Egyptians believed that a vein in this finger ran straight through to the heart and was given to a woman with the confidence that she would take care of his house.
These rings, however, weren’t exactly durable. Unlike modern designs that often include materials like 14k white gold or delicate blends of white and rose gold, reed or hemp are impermanent and often broke apart doing everyday tasks. Later, the Egyptians used materials like bone, ivory, or even leather and these rings were highly sought after.
In Rome (another civilization that often gets credit for inventing or popularizing the tradition of ring-giving), rings were given as an offering for a marriage proposal, but served more as a symbol of bride purchase and were sometimes even given to the bride’s father. Eventually, two rings were used: an expensive golden ring to be worn in public and a sturdy iron band for wear during household chores and everyday tasks. The Romans also believed in the relationship between the ring finger and the heart, speaking of a direct connection between the two and therefore, an increased importance on the symbol itself.
Claddagh rings, which depict hands holding a crown or heart, were popularized in this era, symbolizing loyalty, faith, and love and used throughout the Middle Ages and the Renaissance period in Europe, but modern uses of Claddagh rings trace to Ireland and the 17th century.
While diamonds were – and continue to be – extremely rare and valuable gems in the Roman Empire, historians note that wealthier Roman citizens offered engagement rings embedded with valuable stones such as onyx or engraved with meaningful words, phrases, or designs. However, the very first diamond engagement ring in recorded history was commissioned by Austrian Archduke Maximilian for Mary of Burgundy, spurring a massive rush among the European aristocracy for the valuable gem.
Modern diamond engagement rings are unlike anything the Egyptians, Romans, or even Archduke Maximilian could have ever imagined. With laser etched white gold bands and brilliant princess cut diamond stones adorned with eye-catching presentation or a tasteful blend of white and rose gold cushion cuts, there’s never been a better time to be in love.