The history of engagement rings

(Last modified: January 21st, 2020)

metals4U engagement ring blog

At metals4U, we’re passionate about metal and its many uses.

One of the most romantic applications is in the crafting of engagement and wedding rings, which inspired us to learn more about the history of this tradition.

In the UK alone, we perform an average of 1,000 Google searches for “how to propose” and 246,000 searches for “engagement ring” every month, according to Google Keyword Planner, serving to emphasise that we are truly a nation obsessed with weddings and engagements.

Interestingly, December sees the highest spike for “how to propose” inspiration, with it almost doubling in search volume over the festive period.

But, how has this tradition evolved to become what it is today? We delved into the history books to find out…

A step back to ancient times

A symbol of unity, engagement rings go back as far as ancient Egypt, where couples would place a ring made of twisted plants on the fourth finger of the left hand. This was because Egyptians believed it connected to the heart by the vena amoris – a Latin word meaning “vein of love”. It was believed that the vein in the fourth finger on the left hand ran directly to the heart.

As well as rings made from plants, rings were also made from the other, higher quality materials, such as leather or ivory. It was said that the higher the quality of material, the wealthier the giver.

The introduction of two rings

In ancient Rome, women were given two rings on their wedding day, each made from a different metal. A gold ring was given for the woman to wear in public, and often symbolised wealth and importance, while an iron ring was given to be worn at home, to complete house duties, to reduce the risk of it becoming damaged. Rings had a secondary, less romantic meaning too and wedding bands during this era typically symbolised a man’s ownership of his wife, showing others that she was ‘spoken for’.

Age of Enlightenment era

The intellectual and philosophical movement that dominated Eurpe during the 17th, 18th and 19th century introduced gimmel rings.

Gimmal rings symbolised love and usually included two or three hoops, or a clasped hand design. When several gimmel rings were worn together, they joined to create one ring, and the clasped hands symbolised the union of two people.

Scots-Irish claddagh and rose-cut diamonds were also commonly used in engagement rings during this period as they symbolised love and loyalty.

The Victoria era

The trend of engagement rings really took off as a result of the relationship between Queen Victoria and her husband. Victoria and Albert’s romance was seen as a symbol of wealth and upper classes. Engagement rings were also stripped down to simple bands, which were usually worn on the right hand and transferred to the left hand during the wedding ceremony.

It was also during the Victorian era that Tiffany and Co founder, Charles Lewis Tiffany, created the iconic six-prong engagement ring design we know and love today. The six-prong arrangement, which houses the diamond, raised the stone above the setting and added glitz and glamour to a ring.

Present day

In more recent times, diamonds of all shapes, sizes and colours have taken centre stage on engagement rings.

The 1920s introduced geometric shaped diamonds, the 1970s saw square cuts becoming popular, while the use of precious gemstones such as sapphires and rubies became a popular trend in the 1980s.

That trend shot to prominence after Princess Diana’s iconic engagement ring, given to her by husband-to-be Prince Charles, was introduced to the world.

Gold and silver are commonly associated with engagement rings, and since around 1900, platinum, white and yellow gold have also become firm favourites among couples.

Today, engagement rings can vary from couple to couple, with some preferring more glitz and glamour, and others favouring more simple rings.

Custom wedding and engagement rings are also a big trend, with more and more couples preferring a bespoke ring to symbolise the uniqueness of their relationship.