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One of the best loved nuptial traditions in Western culture is the engagement, the period during which a couple promises themselves to each other prior to marriage. It is generally marked by intimate celebrations with family and friends, and most importantly the bestowing of engagement rings. Prospective grooms and brides often choose their ring together, or it can comprise a surprise gift offered during a formal proposal. Either way it’s a romantic tradition with a romantic history through the ages. Couples in the greater Denver, CO area can learn more about it with a visit to a reputable jeweler such as Matheu’s Fine Watches & Jewelry.
A Romantic History
The engagement ring tradition is said to have started in ancient Rome. Couples exchanged rings made of bone or metal, often with a tiny key attached. In this era, marriage contained elements of ownership of the husband over his wife. Some Roman wives wore two engagement rings, one made of precious metal for public outings, the second made of humbler materials for wear while working at home. It may be during this era that the custom of wearing an engagement ring on the fourth finger of the left hand began, over a vein called vena amoris (the vein of love) that was believed to run directly to the heart.
Unlike wedding bands, which have remained relatively simple and unadorned, the engagement ring has evolved to be crafted from more and more diverse valuable materials – platinum, gold, semi-precious and precious gemstones and most of all, diamonds.
All About Diamonds
The clear white brilliance of diamonds has become synonymous over time with romantic love as expressed in an engagement ring. The trend kicked off with what is said to be the very first diamond ring, purchased by the Archduke Maximilian of Austria for his bride-to-be, Mary, way back in1477.
The discovery of significant diamond deposits in South Africa in the late 1800s and the subsequent rise of mines and companies such as De Beers throughout the 20th century has resulted in the ubiquitous marketing of diamonds (as in “diamonds are forever”) as the material symbol of love.
A taste for rings with a large central hand cut round diamond developed first in the 1800s, and detailed settings (which often incorporated small stones) became increasingly elaborate and delicate right into the 20th century. In the 1920s flapper era and the Art Deco period that followed, a mix of diamonds and colored gemstones (such as sapphire, emerald, ruby) became popular.
In the 1940s, yellow gold began to replace platinum as the setting material for gemstones as the latter material was required for the WW2 war effort. During this period and in the decades to follow matching engagement rings and wedding bands were introduced, with shared materials and designs. But the more ornate nature of the engagement ring relative to the simplicity of the wedding band persists to this day.
Celebrity Engagement Rings
High profile celebrity engagements often spark new trends in engagement ring styles. Most of us will remember Princess Diana’s striking blue sapphire and diamond cluster from when she became engaged to Prince Charles in 1981. The ring went on to be presented to Kate Middleton, when Diana and Charles’ son Prince William proposed to her in 2010. And sapphires have been an engagement ring favorite ever since.
When American royalty JF Kennedy and Jackie Bouvier first announced their engagement in 1953, they had no engagement ring. But Jackie’s flamboyant diamond and emerald ring did make appearances after the wedding. Her reluctance to show it off ran counter to the growing custom of brides-to-be showing off their engagement rings. In the modern era, social media and selfies fueled the trend for showing off big rocks (see Jennifer Lopez, Arianna Grande, Kim Kardashian and countless other showbiz and fashion celebrities) to the wider world.
A Modern Twist On Tradition
In the modern era, engagement rings are all about personalization. Rings are carefully chosen by couples (often together) to reflect the personality of the wearer. Settings can be custom designed to include elements and symbols of importance to the couple and their family traditions.
Although interest is strong in the traditional big clear diamond “rock”, there is renewed interest among brides in retro styles such as Asscher and emerald cut diamonds, as well as large solitaire and pear-shaped diamond styles.
Engaging couples have also become more discerning about the quality of ring components, educating themselves on the aspects of diamonds that determine its quality and value – including cut, clarity, carat grade, and color. There is interest too in ethically-sourced diamonds, gem provenance and the re-purposing of stones that have come down the generations of family members. As trends come and go, couples are looking harder for meaning, especially for pieces meant to be worn everyday such as the engagement ring. Perhaps because of this more and more hard-working millennial couples are choosing stones and materials other than diamonds with which to express their love.
Much more meaningful than just about any other piece of personal jewelry, engagement rings represent romantic love, commitment and the joining of family forces to go forward. As long as there are couples in love, there will be diamond engagement rings.
If you’re about to take the big step of giving or accepting a marriage proposal in the Denver, CO area, visit Matheu’s Fine Watches & Jewelry to learn more about the stunning tradition of engagement rings. Matheu’s carries an extensive selection of fine diamonds and gemstones in spectacular settings. Or talk to the knowledgeable sales staff about a custom design engagement ring or personalized engraving to make this life event that much more special.