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History & Traditions of Engagement Rings

Archduke Maximilian of Austria gave his intended, Mary of Burgundy

Engagement Ring History

The tradition of giving engagement rings set with precious stones dates from medieval times when lovers gave gold rings set with diamonds or coloured gemstones – not only for the beauty of the gems but for their magical properties .

One of the most famous early examples of giving a ring at betrothal was in 1477 when the Archduke Maximilian of Austria gave his intended, Mary of Burgundy, a gold ring set with natural, uncut diamonds.

The tradition of the exquisite, fiery diamond as the perfect gem to give at betrothal has endured through the centuries to this day.

engagement ring history

The modern diamond solitaire was introduced by Tiffany, the famous New York jeweller, around 100 years ago.

The Tiffany setting was revolutionary in that it was the first ‘open’ mount, which allowed light to pass freely through the stone, enhancing its brilliance and ‘fire’.  Previously diamonds had been set with closed backs.

A three stone or ‘trilogy’ ring is another favourite, with the three stones representing your past, present and future.  These can be all diamonds or have a coloured centre stone such as sapphire, ruby or one of the many other beautiful coloured stones now available.

Of course the most important thing about an engagement ring is that it is right for the two people whose betrothal it represents – so any design, material or stone combination is perfect, so long as it is perfect for you.

The tradition of exchanging wedding rings can be traced back through the centuries to Ancient Egypt.  To the Egyptians, the unending circle of a ring was a symbol of eternity and undying love. The early Romans exchanged iron rings as a public pledge of betrothal and by the second century AD were using gold rings. 

Because of the close links between Roman civilisation and early Christianity, the custom of giving rings as a token of love and fidelity was adopted by Christians and the practice carried on through medieval times to the present day.

Again, the answer comes from centuries of tradition. Early wedding rings were worn on the thumb. Later Christian influence and belief in the Trinity started the custom of placing the new ring in turn on each of the first three fingers of the left hand to represent the Father, Son and Holy Spirit, before it was finally left on the third finger. Another legend, from Ancient Egypt, says that a nerve and vein go from that finger straight to the heart. 

Some people still say that the ring stops love leaking out through this ‘heart vein’!

Like wedding rings, the circle of metal with no beginning and no end represents eternal love.  Eternity rings are traditionally set with diamonds which have many mystical associations and are enduring symbols of love and eternity.

Traditionally eternity rings are given on the birth of a first child, although many couples nowadays choose to mark their first wedding anniversary in this way.

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