Why are diamonds used for engagement rings? A question perhaps gracing many of our lips. These precious stones, known for their unmatched hardness and breathtaking brilliance, have captured hearts and signified matrimonial intentions for centuries. From the artistry of antique diamond rings to the timeless elegance of Art Deco engagement rings, the journey of the diamond as the archetypical engagement stone is a fascinating one.
Whilst vintage sapphire engagement rings, antique emerald engagement rings and more are becoming more of a popular choice, there is no denying diamonds remain the gemstone most associated with engagements.
Join us as we explore the history of engagement rings, highlighting how diamonds emerged as the premier choice for popping that special question.
The history of diamond engagement rings begins with jewellery from Ancient Rome, where simple gold bands were occasionally adorned with uncut diamonds. This period marked the earliest use of diamonds in betrothal, setting the foundation for the deep-rooted tradition of why diamonds are used for engagement rings today.
Maximilian and Mary's meeting in Ghent, 1477, by Anton Petter
Archduke Maximilian of Austria’s proposal to Mary of Burgundy in 1477 with a diamond ring was a pivotal moment in history. This influenced the widespread adoption of diamonds, embedding them in the narrative of love and commitment.
Our collection actually features a remarkable 15th-century piece, a testament to the early history of engagement rings and the enduring appeal of diamonds as significant tokens of affection.
Tudor Table Cut Diamond Ring Circa 1485-1603
Explore our stunning collections, from classic diamond engagement rings to unique Victorian engagement rings, each piece telling its own story of romance and commitment.
The evolution of gemstone choices in engagement rings takes us on a fascinating journey through history, culture, and fashion. Originally, engagement rings didn't always showcase diamonds as they commonly do today…
So, what stones were used in engagement rings before diamonds? In the Victorian era, engagement rings often featured birthstones, each imbued with unique symbolism. Queen Victoria herself chose a serpent ring set with her birthstone, an emerald, symbolising the eternal love between her and Albert. During this era, people valued the personalisation and sentimentality of using varied gemstones in engagement rings.
Victorian Colombian emerald three stone ring, circa 1890.
Then during the Edwardian era, pearls gained popularity in engagement rings. Their soft lustre and elegance complemented the period's preference for refined and graceful designs, often featuring pearls alongside other gemstones and detailed metalwork.
The shift towards using a diamond for an engagement ring was gradual. A significant catalyst was the late 19th-century discovery of vast diamond mines in South Africa, making diamonds more accessible. However, the most influential factor was De Beers' "A Diamond is Forever" campaign in 1947.
Old cut diamond solitaire ring, circa 1910.
This marketing strategy effectively linked diamonds with eternal love and commitment, positioning them as a symbol of marriage proposals. The campaign's success made diamonds almost synonymous with engagement rings, intertwining the idea of an unbreakable bond with the durability and beauty of diamonds.
Today, while diamonds remain the predominant choice, there's a renewed interest in other gemstones, reminiscent of the variety seen in past eras. This trend towards diverse gemstone choices is driven by a desire for individuality and the recognition of unique love stories.
Victorian Burmese ruby and diamond coronet cluster ring, circa 1900.
The choice of gemstones in engagement rings mirrors shifts in cultural values, fashion trends, and economic factors over time. From the personalised birthstones of the Victorian era to the pearls of the Edwardian era and the eventual dominance of diamonds.
So, how did diamonds become the engagement stone? The traditional use of diamonds in proposals is deeply rooted in their symbolism and the sentiments they evoke. Diamonds, known for their extraordinary hardness, are often seen as metaphors for unbreakable bonds and enduring relationships, a key reason why diamonds are used for proposals. Their durability makes them an ideal emblem of a commitment that is meant to last a lifetime.
Beyond their physical attributes, diamonds possess a unique brilliance and clarity that is often likened to the depth and transparency of true love. This visual representation of purity and sparkle is thought to reflect the intense, radiant emotions shared between partners, further justifying why diamonds are used for proposals.
Additionally, the rarity of diamonds contributes to their appeal in engagement settings. This scarcity symbolises the uniqueness of each love story, making the choice of a diamond ring a deeply personal and significant decision.
Golconda type IIa diamond flanked solitaire ring, circa 1950.
One of the many reasons to choose antique engagement rings over modern, is the high quality and uniqueness of the diamonds used in them. The antique diamond rings in our collection, particularly the renowned Golconda diamonds, showcase the enduring allure of these gemstones. The Golconda diamonds, famed for their history and exceptional quality, exemplify the timeless charm and profound symbolism that diamonds bring to engagement rings, cementing their status as the quintessential choice for proposals.
In contemporary times, the answer to whether engagement rings have to be diamond is changing. While diamonds have been the traditional choice, modern couples are increasingly exploring other options that resonate more closely with their personal stories and style.
You might be wondering, do you have to have a diamond engagement ring? Prior to the dominance of diamonds, other stones such as pearls, renowned for their classic elegance, and various birthstones, each with unique meanings, were widely used. These historical choices are re-emerging as popular alternatives today.
Bright Emeralds, for instance, are sought-after for their rich, green hues, symbolising new beginnings and growth. Sapphires, in their various colours, offer depth and a connection to royalty, whilst antique ruby engagement rings are also rising in popularity, being selected for their passionate red tones, representing love and vitality.
Ceylon sapphire and diamond ring, French, circa 1920.
This shift towards alternative gemstones reflects a broader trend in betrothal jewellery, where the focus is on the uniqueness of the relationship and the personal significance of the chosen stone.
We offer a wide variety of jewellery options, from traditional diamond engagement rings to unique vintage rings featuring other precious stones. This variety caters to the diverse tastes and stories of couples, acknowledging that while diamonds remain a popular choice, they are certainly not the only option for a meaningful engagement ring.
If you are starting to think about how to choose an engagement ring, book an appointment to visit our experts in our Hatton Garden store, who will be able to guide you through the rich history of our engagement ring collection, to help you choose the perfect vintage or antique piece for your proposal.