The History of Engagement Rings

Have you ever wondered why we first began lusting after diamonds? Blame it on one enterprising archduke, who arguably started the tradition.

One of the first recorded uses of a diamond engagement ring was Archduke Maximilian of Austria’s proposal to Mary of Burgundy with a ring set with thin, flat pieces of diamonds in the shape of an “M.”

But we can trace this mark-your-territory wedding trend way, way back, eons before Max and his fair Lady M. Below, how our love affair with the rock slowly evolved.

Read: The Lure of the Engagement Ring

Pre-History: The caveman tied cords made of braided grass around his chosen mate’s wrists, ankles, and waist, to bring her spirit under his control.

Circa 2800 BC: Egyptians are buried wearing rings made of a single silver or gold wire on the third finger of their left hands, believed to be connected directly to the heart by the vena amoris.

2nd Century BC: According to Pliny the Elder, the groom gives the bride first a gold ring to wear during the ceremony and at special events, then an iron ring to wear at home, signifying her binding legal agreement to his ownership of her.

1st Century BC: Puzzle rings first appear in Asia, where sultans and sheiks use them to tag each of their wives.

1217: The bishop of Salisbury puts an end to the popular practice of seducing girls into mock marriage with rings made of rushes. His solution? Declaring a marriage with a rush-ring legally binding.

1456: The Gutenberg bible is published. There is no mention of betrothal or marriage rings in this or any other edition of the bible.

Plus: 9 Memorable Love Notes

1477: In one of the first recorded uses of a diamond engagement ring, Archduke Maximilian of Austria proposes to Mary of Burgundy with a ring that is set with thin, flat pieces of diamonds in the shape of an “M.”

1700s: Silver “poesy rings” engraved with flowery sayings are in vogue in Europe. Across the Atlantic Ocean, the Puritans give their betrotheds useful thimbles instead of rings, which are derided as frippery. Eventually, however, many thimbles get their tops sliced off and are worn as rings anyway.

1800s: The highly sentimental Victorians make jewelry from human hair, and use gemstones to spell out names or endearments, such as a D-E-A-R-E-S-T ring set with a sequence of diamond, emerald, amethyst, ruby, emerald, etc.

1867: Diamonds are discovered in the Cape Colony (now a province in South Africa), the beginning of a huge increase in the diamond supply.

1880: Cecil Rhodes, who arrived in South Africa in 1873, founds the DeBeers Mining Company with other investors. Within the decade, they will control 90 percent of the world’s diamond production.

Read: Diamonds: Do All Women Secretly Want Them?

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