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The Lore of Love: The history of engagement rings


Byzantine betrothal ring, circa 7th 8th century AD. Hatton garden
Byzantine betrothal ring, circa 7th-8th century AD.
Ref: 26372

The Lore of Love: The history of engagement rings

What people have received as engagement rings has transformed over the centuries, reflecting the global, social, and economic changes of the time.

The earliest forms of engagement rings can be dated back to the ancient world. These betrothal rings were often known as fede rings, and featured clasped hands, symbolising the consecration of the marriage ceremony. It is one of the earliest and most enduring of motifs used in jewellery, and is seen throughout the centuries.

These early forms of betrothal rings did not often feature gemstones, and instead were more pictorial in their depictions to showcase the marriage union. For example, in the Byzantine Empire, when Christianity came to prominence, we often see two facing profiles or figures of the couple with Christian symbology in between, representing the idea that the couple were joined in the eyes of God.

Arguably, the betrothal of Mary of Burgundy to Archduke Maximilian of Austria in 1477 is the first instance in which the diamond engagement ring is seen. The ring in question features diamonds set in the shape of the letter ‘M’. This set a precedent for other noble and wealthy families when it came to betrothal rings.

Whilst diamonds were largely only available to the wealthiest in society, it was common for engagement rings throughout the next few centuries to feature other coloured gemstones. In Victorian times, rings often displayed the birthstone of the bride, adding a sentimental touch. Indeed, Queen Victoria was gifted an engagement ring from Prince Albert in the form of a serpent, with an emerald set in its head, a personal gesture, referencing her birth month, May.

The Edwardian era saw the increased use of coloured gems, as more trade routes opened up. However, it was the pearl that proved the most popular of these when it came to engagement rings. Known as the ‘pretty period,’ engagement rings also featured beautiful decorative motifs, such as flowers, petals, and leaves, with intricate, and often ornate, metalwork details from every angle.

The popularity of diamond engagement rings came about as a result of a 1947 advertising campaign, by Frances Gerety, for De Beers. With the famous slogan, ‘A Diamond is Forever,’ this campaign not only transformed the market for engagement rings, but in 1999, was also named the ‘The Slogan of the Century’ by Advertising Age. Thus, since the latter half of the twentieth century, the diamond ring has been synonymous with engagements.

Over the past few years, we have seen some couples choosing not to get married, but who still wish to honour their love and partnership with a ring. Today, there are no rules with regards to what one should wear. Here at Berganza, we advocate choosing a piece that you love and will enjoy wearing, whether it be diamonds, or coloured gemstones, a classic solitaire, or even a dress ring! Perhaps one of the most personal pieces of jewellery that you will ever wear, there is no better way to showcase your unending devotion.

If you are looking for the perfect ring to celebrate your love, visit Berganza today, or view our entire collection online! We offer complimentary and fully insured shipping worldwide.


 

Early diamond solitaire ring 'I am a token of love', circa 16th century. Hatton Garden
Early diamond solitaire ring 'I am a token of love', circa 16th century.
Ref: 26421
Georgian turquoise and diamond fede ring
Extremely Rare, Georgian turquoise and diamond fede ring, circa 1750.
Ref: 27515
Victorian colombian emerald diamond ring berganza hatton garden
Victorian colombian emerald and diamond cluster ring, circa 1900.
Ref: 26462
Victorian diamond snake ring hatton garden
Victorian diamond snake ring, English, circa 1861.
Ref: 26808
Burmese ruby and diamond coronet cluster ring hatton garden
Burmese ruby and diamond coronet cluster ring, circa 1915.
Ref: 27856
Vintage flanked solitaire diamond ring, American, circa 1950.
Vintage flanked solitaire diamond ring, American, circa 1950.
Ref: 25676
Emerald cut diamond solitaire ring, circa 1950. Hatton Garden
Emerald-cut diamond solitaire ring, circa 1950.
Ref: 28156
Vintage Emerald and Diamond Three Stone Ring hatton garden
Vintage Emerald and Diamond Three Stone Ring, circa 1970.
Ref: 28213
Arthus Bertrand yellow Ceylon sapphire and diamond dress ring, French, circa 1970. Hatton Garden
Arthus-Bertrand yellow Ceylon sapphire and diamond dress ring, French, circa 1970.
Ref: 27471
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Updated 18/05/2024 at 10:34AM

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