Engagement rings – wherever did the tradition start?
The earliest surviving records of engagement rings comes from Roman Times. The Romans called them Betrothal Rings. They were worn then (as they are today) on the third finger of the left hand. The Romans imported the idea from the Egyptians that the vein from the third finger led directly to the heart. The Romans also engraved their rings.
After the Roman empire fell, the Gimmel or Bond ring tradition rose in Europe. While sapphires, emeralds and rubies were also used, the diamond, which is the strongest mineral found in nature was seen as symbolizing the unbreakable union between a man and a woman and wealthy and royal men often gave the diamond ring. Less well off people settled for a Fede or Fate ring which was formed by two clasped hands.
In the 1700s, diamond mines were found in Brazil and diamond cluster engagement rings became trendy among those who could afford them. Then in 1870, the huge Kimberly diamond region in South Africa was developed. Diamonds began to flood the market.
As a result, John Cecil Rhodes formed the De Beers Consolidated Mines Corp. to control the sale of diamonds throughout the world. Today, De Beers controls 65 percent of the world’s diamond market.
Because of the saturation of diamonds, it became fashionable for engagement rings to feature birthstones and other precious stones. Many rings were composed of elaborate designs of many different stones. Diamonds became accents instead of the centerpiece of these engagement rings.
The modern diamond engagement ring concept is a relatively new phenomenon. In 1947, De Beers began an advertising campaign in the United States and western Europe claiming that “a diamond is forever.” This and subsequent campaigns created the idea that a diamond engagement ring was an heirloom. This meant that used diamonds were not released back into circulation and almost all diamonds purchased were new.
De Beers also launched an advertising campaign at jewelery salesmen to have them educate men that a woman expected him to spend two to three times his monthly salary on an engagement ring.
Then, in 1953, the glamour of a diamond engagement ring was captured in the Marilyn Monroe film “Gentlemen Prefer Blondes” which featured the song “Diamonds are a Girl’s Best Friend.”
The post-war era marketing worked. In the 21st century, 78 percent of all engagement rings are diamond.