The gifting of an engagement ring has become an accepted tradition, but have you ever wondered where that tradition began?
The first recorded instance of the giving of an engagement ring dates back to the time of Ancient Egyptians. They believed a circle symbolised eternity. However, the first engagement rings were not quite as glamorous as the ones given now. Back then, couples exchanged rings made of braided reeds. They were wore them on the fourth finger on the left hand, as we do now. This is because it was believed that there was a vein running from that finger to the heart called the Vena Amoris. However, this romantic notion, is unfortunately untrue! The Romans were also believed to give rings of iron which in later years, they switched to gold.
It wasn’t until 1477 that diamonds were added to engagement rings. The first know occurrence of this was when Archduke Maximilian of Austria proposed using a ring with flat diamonds on it making the letter ‘M’. This caused the nobility to follow suit and add precious gems to their rings. However, diamonds were still an exclusive stone. In the 19th century, women would receive thimbles for an engagement, and then cut the bottom of the thimble off come the wedding to be worn as a ring.
However, this was all localised growth in diamonds. It wasn’t until the diamond mine was discovered in South Africa that a real boom in diamonds took place. De Beer’s Mining Company opened in 1880. Within a decade they controlled 90% of diamond production worldwide as they began a cartel. So began the diamond engagement ring ad campaign. Their slogan ‘A Diamond is Forever’ was born along with the encouragement for men to spend 2 months wages on the ring. By the beginning of the 1940s, engagement rings were the top selling jewellery in most department stores. They are now without a doubt, here to stay. Now, more than 80% of American, UK and Irish brides received diamond engagement rings.
So yes, De Beers was right all those years ago, diamonds really are forever!
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