Another name for engagement ring is a betrothal ring. Simply said, it is a ring indicating that the person wearing it is engaged to be married. The ring is presented to as an engagement gift to a partner by the prospective spouse when they propose marriage. It represents a formal agreement to future marriage.
But the engagement ring hasn’t always been what it is today. How much do you know about the rich history of the engagement ring? What is its symbolism? We take a look at these aspects today.
The history of these rings is quite surprising. You might think of them as a symbol of love. But that hasn’t always been the case. Back in the days of Ancient Rome and Ancient Egypt, it was a mark of ownership. That is not much romantic, right?
Some sources claim the Egyptians were the ones inventing the engagement ring. Others claim that the ancient Greeks were the ones to adopt the tradition. But the true history can only be reliable traced to ancient Rome. Let’s take a look at the rich history of the ring.
Sign of ownership
As we said before, in Ancient Rome, the ring was a sign of ownership. Roman women wore rings of ivory, flint, bone, copper, and irony to signify a business contract or to affirm mutual love and obedience.
Mark for marriage
It wasn’t until 850 that the engagement ring got its official meaning. Pope Nicholas I was the one to declare the engagement ring as a representation of man’s intent to marry. At the time, gold was the most popular material used for these rings.
The original ring stack
In the 15th century, engagement rings got a new meaning. They began to embody the symbolism of intertwined unity that we think of today. Back then, there were so called gimmel rings. They were rings comprised of three connected bands.
They begin as individual bands. One was worn by each half of the engaged couple. But on the wedding day, the two bands would be connected with a third, which was the wedding band and worn by the new bride as a wedding ring set.
Rise of diamonds
Nowadays, we often say diamonds are forever. But the first diamond engagement ring didn’t appear until the 19th century. The first diamond ring was commissioned by Archduke Maximillian of Austria for his betrothed, Mary of Burgundy.
After that, diamonds gained popularity among nobility as engagement rings. But it wasn’t until the discovery of diamond mines Africa in the 1870s that they became available to anyone other than members of the aristocracy.
Nowadays, diamond is still a popular option for engagement rings. Yet, more and more brides are opting for colored stones and rings made out of unique materials.
For example, Prince William proposed to Kate Middleton using a stunning blue sapphire engagement ring.
Nowadays, the concept of exchanging rings, or the “double ring ceremony” is a popular thing in the Western world. It wasn’t a common option until World War II.
At the time, the exchange of rings began to symbolize mutual fidelity and respect in a marriage. It was not a symbol of ownership.
Nowadays, it is common for men to wear engagement rings. That is a sign they have made the commitment of a proposal. Hey, as a society, we have moved pass the dogma that men have to propose. Nowadays, women propose as well.
To better understand the symbolism of engagement rings, we have to take a look at specific aspects of the design. Here are some examples:
- The circle shape of the ring is a sign of equal relationship. There is no end and no beginning, symbolizing everlasting love that goes beyond this life
- The circle shape is also a sign of how everything is connected and creates a perfect whole
- Speaking of symbolism, the space in the middle of the ring is a sign of a doorway to a new life together
- The design itself can add more layers of symbolism. For example, a three stone engagement ring symbolizes past, present, and future
- Every gemstone has its own symbolism
- The finger itself, called ring finger of the left hand, was believed to have a vein that ran directly to the heart. It was called the vena amoris and many believed wearing the engagement ring signified love as a connection to the heart
- Nowadays, a lot of couple decide to add a special quote, engraving, or another symbol. Personalization is more popular than ever
When we talk about engagement ring and symbolism, we mostly talk about Christianity and Catholicism. But let’s talk about other religions as well?
- In Christianity, engagement rings symbolize love and commitment between two individuals. Christians follow the tradition of wearing the engagement ring on the left finger of the left hand, which was a practice established by the Romans
- In Judaism, wedding bands are part of the nuptial formality, yet, engagement rings are not very prevalent. But the tradition is changing as younger Jewish couples have begun wearing and buying engagement rings
- Engagement rings are not common in Islam. Yes, younger Muslim couples have opted for one, but they are still a minority
- In Buddhism, weddings are celebrated differently, not in a religious way. So, there are no special traditions to mark an engagement or a wedding. This has opened the religion for new and emerging trends, including wedding and engagement rings
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