Fashion Stories and the meaning behind diamond engagement rings - Your visual diary
Hi there fashion, stories and fashion history lovers! Welcome to My Fashion Stories Box Podcast Visual Diary!
Our today’s visual diary will be dedicated to the diamond engagement ring and the meaning behind rings as love token.
Indeed, when it comes to love, diamond rings are a must in our modern world. But why? And when did it start? This is what I will speak about in this post.
A short story on engagement rings: from a sign of ownership to a sign of love
The custom to offer rings as a symbol of commitment dates back to the Roman empire. During that time, it was more a sign of “ownership” over a woman than really a proof of love.
Roman women would wear rings made of ivory, bone, copper or iron to “signify a business contract or to affirm mutual love and obedience”.
Over time, rings would be made of gold as proved the discoveries made on the ruins of Pompeii.
In 850, Pope Nicolas the 1st would link the engagement ring with a more religious meaning. Engagement rings were to become the sign that a man had the intention to marry the concerned woman. Engagement rings were to be in gold.
The first occurence of an engagement ring featuring a diamond was recorded in 1477 when the Archduke Maximilian of Austria who, in 1477, proposed to Mary of Burgundy with an engagement ring featuring diamonds in the shape of a “M”, for “Mary”. However, diamond engagement rings weren’t the rule at that time and we need to wait some centuries to see them becoming the symbol of love and commitment.
In the 16th century, the tradition was to offer gimmel rings, a ring featuring two or three hoops fitting together to form one ring. After getting engaged, the couple would each wear one part of the ring. And, during the wedding ceremony, they would reconnect the hoops to create a unified ring that would be worn by the bride.
This would have been what Martin Luther, the priest who laid the foundations for Protestantism, would have done when marrying his wife Catherine Bora in 1525.
During the Victorian times, engagement rings would mix diamonds with other gemstones, metals and emanels. These rings would be crafted in the shape of flowers and were nicknamed “posey rings” (also known as posy, posie or poesy rings).
For centuries, engagement rings were mixing precious metals and precious gemstones, including diamonds but not only.
So, when did this fashion of diamond engagement ring started? Why do we link diamonds with engagement?
Diamond engagement rings became a furor with an advertisement campaign by the British company De Beers which was mining diamonds in South Africa and was looking for a way to increase sales. It was in 1947, right after the Second World War when the world would enter a certain economic prosperity.
Quite cleverly, De Beers partnered with Hollywood stars and, under the slogan “Diamond is forever”, sales skyrocketed.
Everybody wanted to be a Marilyn Monroe singing “Diamonds are a girl’s best friend” in the 1953 movie “Gentlemen prefer blondes”.
This conception we have that only a diamond ring is the right way to show our love, affection and serious intentions, as well as a certain purchasing power, is quite new and the result of a very well done marketing campaign.
Engagement rings’ trends through the ages
18th-19th centuries: Georgian Engagement Rings
The Georgian era refers to the period encompassing the reigns of the four British kings: George I, George II, George III and George IV. The jewelry of that time is considered as one of the most feminine. Natural, floral and ancient Greco-Roman motifs made of gold or silver were very popular. A special part would also be placed underneath the stones in order to reflect candlelight and make the rings, and other pieces of jewelry shinier.
19th-20th century: Victorian Engagement Rings
Characterised by the reign of Queen Victoria, engagement rings from this period of time are usually ornate with engraved gold settings featuring scroll designs. Victorian engagement rings often have larger colored stones surrounded by smaller diamonds on each side.
1900-1920: Edwardian Engagement Rings
The Edwardian period began when Queen Victoria's son, Edward VII, became king of England. At the same period, platinum was preferred over gold for fine jewelry. This material being harder, jewelers were able to engrave the bands with intricate designs.
1920-1938: Art Deco Engagement Rings
The 20s, starting in the aftermaths of World War I, were a period of liberalisation, prosperity, craziness and joie de vivre. They are also known as the “Roaring 20s” or “Les Annees folles” in French. Art movements as Art Nouveau and Art Deco shaped the style of that time from arts, illustrations, architecture, interior design to fashion. Taking inspiration from the Art Deco movement, engagement rings would feature geometric shapes with the introduction of the emerald cut and the baguette cut. These rings were more minimalist and modern than the ones from the previous periods.
1935-1948: Retro Engagement Rings
The Retro era refers to Hollywood’s Golden Age in the 40s with bold, independent and charismatic actresses as Katherine Hepburn or Marlene Dietrich. Even though the economy was oriented to support the war efforts, engagement rings were all about being bold and big with pear cut marquise cut. However platinum, which was the favored material for engagement rings, stopped to be used during the war and was replaced by gold.
50s engagement rings:
The 50s saw the reintroduction of platinum after the end of the war. The engagement rings would be in white color, as white gold. They would feature engraving and braid details and the stones used would become larger. One of the most popular styles was having a large diamond in the center of the ring with smaller diamonds around it.
60s engagement rings:
After the post war “bling bling”, the 60s came back to a more simple cut, even though diamonds were still in fashion. The wish was to show a more modern and simplicity approach. An example of this trend is Aretha Franklin’s engagement ring created by Ted White.
In 1966, a new trend appeared in the engagement ring fashion: the pear-shaped diamond. An example is the engagement ring Franck Sinatra offered to Mia Farrow: a 9 carat solitaire diamond ring.
70s engagement rings:
In the 70s, the trend was more about angular and geometric cuts. People were looking for uniqueness. They didn’t really take into consideration the size of the diamond. Nothing surprising from a decade which is known as the “Me Decade”, the hippie time and the rejection of mainstream.
Surfing on this personalization wave, and a certain gender equality approach, the bride and groom would start to wear matching wedding sets: jewelers would work on matching wedding bands with your engagement ring and create a matching wedding band for your husband to be.
80s engagement rings:
In the 80s the diamond engagement ring lost its hegemony. Indeed, in 1982, when getting engaged to Prince Charles, Diana Spencer would choose a sapphire and diamond ring, the sapphire being the biggest stone. She would set a new trend for engagement rings with her choice, making women to prefer colored stones as sapphire, emerald or ruby, as in the 20s.
90s engagement rings:
In the 90s, again, back to more simplicity and minimalism with a single round diamond solitaire with a yellow gold, white gold or even platinum band.
An emblematic engagement ring of this decade was Victoria Beckham’s one featuring a marquise cut, ironically also known as the football shaped cut.
2000s engagement rings:
In the 2000s back to big engagement rings featuring colored diamonds as Jennifer Lopez pink diamond ring in 2002. The trend was about having a solitaire diamond with small diamonds on the band.
The different diamond cuts and shapes
The diamond shape refers to the geometric appearance of the stone. This geometric appearance is divided into two main groups:
the round diamonds, referring to a round cut.
the fancy shape diamonds, including cushion cut, princess cut, emerald cut, oval cut, pear cut, marquise cut, baguette cut, heart cut...
Each cut determines how the facets of the diamond are going to interact with the light.
Rings and their meanings depending on the fingers you wear them
According to palmistry, also known as the study of the palm, hands and fingers have a meaning and are associated to the Antiquity gods. Thus, the fingers you wear your rings on would also have a kind of spiritual meaning.
Fingers and Antiquity gods
The ring finger: The ring finger symbolises eternal love, creativity and beauty. It is thought to be associated with the Greek god, Apollo. The Romans associated it with the vena amoris, or the vein of love.
The middle finger: The middle finger is thought to represent responsibility, balance and soul-searching.
The index finger: The index finger is ruled by Jupiter - symbolising ambition, leadership and self-confidence.
The pinky finger: The pinky finger is ruled by Mercury which symbolises intuition, intelligence and persuasion.
The thumb: The thumb is the only finger that isn’t associated with a Greek god. It is believed to symbolise willpower and self-assertion.
Rings, hands and fingers
On the top of that, depending on the left or the right hand, fingers also have a different meaning, influencing also the message you want to convey with your ring.
Left pinky finger - Marital status and the Mafia
Left ring finger - Marriage or engagement
Left middle finger - No statement
Left index finger - Royalty or fashion
Left thumb - A sign of wealth
Right thumb - A sign of wealth
Right index finger - Marriage in some cultures
Right middle finger - No special meaning
Right ring finger - Marriage or engagement in some cultures (Russia, India, Germany for example)
Right pinky finger - Professional status
Of course, these are some of the many interpretations we can give to the placement of rings on the fingers. Some people can see them as a way to declare their marital status as: single, if you wear your ring on the pinky finger, married if worn on the ring finger or looking to get married if worn on the index finger.
It’s up to you to decide the message you want to send with your rings :)
I hope you liked our small excursion in the marvelous world of engagement rings and their history. If you plan to propose, you may want to consider buying vintage rings: they would be as unique and full of history as your love story :)
Gold and diamonds tend to be sourced in conflict zones and the traceability might not be transparent, unfortunately. I quite like this tradition of proposing with the engagement ring of a mother or grand-mother for example. And, in case this is not possible, just have a look at your jeweler’s, at auctions or at antique dealers. You might be able to find the perfect fit :)
Feel free to follow the podcast My Fashion Stories Box on your favorite podcast platform, on social media and on the blog for a visual diary alongside with each episode.
See you there!