Learning Library

Engagement Ring

One of the most significant and meaningful pieces of jewellery one might own.

It is believed that the first appearance of an engagement ring was in 1215 when Pope Innocent III declared it necessary for a waiting period between a marriage proposal and the wedding. To show his intention to marry his loved one, the man gave his wife-to-be a plain metal band.

One style of  engagement ring featured the birthstones of the two people getting married and later this was extended to a six stone ring where the birthstones of the parents were added, with the bride’s parents’ birthstones to the left and those of the groom’s family to the right.

Another popular design was the four stone engagement ring, where the birthstones of the bride and groom were in the centre, flanked by the birthstone relating to the months when the two sets of parents got married.

In Victorian times, the “Regards” and “Dearest” engagement rings became popular, whereby each of the seven letters for the word ‘Regards’ or ‘Dearest’ were represented by a gemstone starting with that letter. For a Regards ring for example, a Ruby, Emerald, Garnet, Amethyst, Ruby, Diamond and Sapphire were often used. Possibly the earliest writings of a Diamond Engagement ring was that of the marriage of the Archduke of Austria, Maximilian I, to Mary of Burgundy in 1477. However, it took a further 500 years for the Diamond ring to become the standard gem used in an engagement ring. This was due to the hugely successful De Beers’ (the largest Diamond mining and distributor in the world) marketing campaign “Diamonds are Forever” in 1947. De Beers is also thought to have come up with the notion that a man should spend two to three months’ salary on an engagement ring, in a bid to drive Diamond sales.

In North America and the UK, the engagement ring is generally worn on the fourth finger of the left hand. This tradition is also thought to go back to Classical times, where it was believed that the “vena amoris”, ‘vein of love’ was found. The origins of this may be from Ancient Egypt, when it was believed that the vein on this finger linked directly to the heart.

Today there are four main gems which feature as the lead stone in the majority of non-Diamond engagement rings: Sapphire (blue and pink), Tanzanite, Emerald, and Ruby.

When it comes to the supporting metal band, although 18k gold is regarded by some as the standard for engagement rings, many people still prefer the harder wearing and more durable 9k gold. As the ring is likely to be worn everyday and all other pieces of jewellery are going to need to complement it, the most important decision to make is whether the metal should be yellow or white.

I personally believe over the next 50 years, as more and more people become re-educated in coloured gemstones, combined with a greater knowledge that Diamonds are less rare than many of its colourful cousins, that more and more people will propose with a more meaningful gemstone. Maybe it’s just wishful thinking, but I can’t see how Diamonds can continue to have such a dominant market share. For sure they will probably be the single biggest seller; after all, there are more pieces found than any other gemstone, but accumulatively, I would like to believe that coloured gemstones will eventually prevail.  

While Diamonds are still the first choice among most celebrities and royalty, some coloured gemstones have also been used: Princess Diana’s (now Catherine Middleton’s) Ceylon Sapphire; Mariah Carey’s Pink Diamond; Jackie Kennedy’s Emerald; and Jessica Simpson recently got engaged with a Ruby ring, her birthstone.

Over the past five years I have had several friends ask me to make engagement rings for them: all but one I have convinced to purchase a coloured gemstone rather than a Diamond. Some selected their partner’s birthstone, others chose their wife-to-be’s favourite colour. If you’re a gent reading this and you are about to propose, why not put a little thought into it rather than just following the crowd?

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A Diamond Engagement ring.