The Engagement Ring : Some History
Ever since the beginning of contemporary humans’ existence, people have used different symbols to express their attitude toward the ones close to them. The ring is the most widely used and recognized symbol of love and serious intentions. Throughout time this ring of love undergoes an evolution of its own. Regardless of all the cultural, ethnic and contemporary whims of the times, regardless of lifestyle or religion, the tradition of giving and wearing engagement rings is still alive today. Following history, or at least that part of it which we can find written testaments for, we are looking for the first appearance or mention of anything that may sound like the forefathers of the present-day engagement ring.
Such historical evidence shows that the engagement tradition had existed in Ancient Egypt and, as we know, Egypt was only one of the ancient civilizations where matrimony was not just a formality enforced by tradition. Family was an important part of the Egyptian society. The desire for unification in love through matrimony found expression in many symbols. In Egyptian statues and arts, the tradition of marriage is made eternal; a tradition in which the ring takes up a central place as a symbol of the infinite circle of love. Egyptians believed that the wedding ring must be worn on the fourth finger of the left hand, because this is where the “vein of love” goes through. At first, ancient Egyptians used natural materials for making these rings – hemp, leather, bone, ivory, etc. and only later began employing precious metals in their creation.
This tradition was later borrowed by the ancient Greeks. Their engagement rings were made mainly from iron, although the wealthier among them used more pricy metals, such as copper, silver or gold.
For the ancient Romans, the engagement ring held a meaning which was somewhat different from the one that Greeks and Egyptians gave it. For them, apart from being a symbol of love, it was also a symbol of possession. They made their rings of iron, which in itself was a symbol for strength and endurance.
In the Middle East the engagement ring was also a wedding ring and it was a symbol mostly of humility and patience. In ancient times it was fashioned as a golden band whose ends touched to form a circle. Wives were obliged to wear the band given to them by their husbands. When a man returned from a faraway journey, the first thing he did was to check the fingers of his wives and see if any of them have removed their rings. The shiny spark of gold on a wife’s hand was a testament of her loyalty to her husband.
In the Middle Ages it was preferred that the engagement ring is set with a ruby, which was classified by its red color as a symbol for passionate affection. Sapphires were almost as equally popular, because they are blue as the sky – the beginning of all beginnings and the birthplace of love. In some cultures, especially in the area of Britain’s islands, the engagement ring was forged only from metal but its design spoke of faith and trust. Two entwined hands with a crowned heart above them symbolized understanding, love and friendship between a man and a woman, as well as loyalty and faithfulness.
In Europe, Italians enforce the silver engagement rings, richly engraved and enameled. A little later it becomes an unwritten requirement that the engagement ring be made of gold.
In middle-aged Venice the tradition of a diamond engagement ring was very quick to spread. Then it was a popular belief that diamonds are magical stones created in the fires of love. Despite the fact that they were very rare and expensive and could be afforded only by a wealthy few, this tradition of using diamonds in the making of engagement rings was extended to the 19th century when large deposits of the precious stone were discovered in South America. This made the diamonds affordable for more people and their popularity spread.
Today engagement rings with diamonds are still preferred, because of the beauty of this unusual stone, which is a symbol of strength and eternity, firmness, attachment and love. This is why we say that diamonds are forever, just like the engagement of two lovers and the affection that the ring symbolizes.