The Long History of The Diamond Engagement Ring

The history of rings being exchanged in matrimonial arrangements goes back so far in human history that it is not possible to declare with total conviction when and where the practice began in earnest. Some believe the ancient Egyptians or Greeks should be acknowledged as the originators of the tradition, but the furthest back solid evidence-based research can take us is to the mighty Roman empire. The custom there was for husbands to ‘own’ their wives, who wore rings attached to small keys as a symbol of their betrothal. But this only really gives us an indication of the use of rings to signify engagement or marriage. 

When did diamonds become part of the picture? 

In 1477, Archduke Maximillian of Austria is recorded as commissioning the first-ever diamond engagement ring, leading to a trend among European aristocrats which endures to this day. Victorian sweethearts adopted and expanded this in England and began exchanging ever more ornate rings, of varying precious metals, often encrusted with diamonds and other gemstones.

The 20th century and the rise of post-war capitalism

The Great Depression of the 1930s in the United States saw diamond prices collapse and with only 10% of rings containing a diamond just before WWII, the tradition threatened to disappear altogether. 

The real shift in attitudes came in 1947 when the industry powerhouse De Beers launched what might be considered the world’s most successful publicity campaign, the slogan of which endures to this day – ‘a diamond is forever.’

How much is enough?

Another cunningly successful campaign by De Beers began in the 1930s when the company suggested men should spend the equivalent of one month’s wages on any diamond engagement ring. Playing on the knowledge no man would want to feel the shame of being branded as cheap, the idea became entrenched and is now an accepted tradition, observed almost the world over.

Ironically for the couple involved, statistics show those spending greater amounts on the engagement ring are at a higher risk of getting divorced, citing financial stress as a significant contributing factor.

Who owns the ring?

Legal interpretations vary wildly from one country to another but there are some basic tenets behind the tradition:

  • If the man breaks the engagement, the woman is not obliged to return the ring
  • If the woman breaks the engagement, he is entitled to take it back 
  • The ring becomes the actual property of the woman when the marriage is certified

Australians take note: In a landmark case in New South Wales, a man sued his former fiancée when the marriage fell through and she threw away the ring. The Supreme Court deemed it a conditional gift and she was ordered to pay him $15,250

Australian tradition

Although not borne of the indigenous culture, where a ceremony involving ‘wishing stones’ is observed, the European tradition of diamond engagement rings took hold and abides in wider Australian culture. The engagement ring is worn on the left hand until the moment it is to be replaced by a wedding ring when it is transferred instead to the right hand.

If the time has come for you to pop a certain question of your own, contact Mazzuchelli’s for diamond rings and check out an incredible range of stunning pieces fit to adorn any treasured finger. 

Photo by Daria Kopylova on Unsplash