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A Brief History of Engagement Rings

Everything you ever needed to know about engagement rings

It has been a custom for many generations to present an engagement ring during a proposal — be it a diamond, gemstone, or totally unique metal band. Below is the basic history of the engagement ring.

Ancient History

The use of an engagement ring has been attributed all the way back to Ancient Egypt. However, the custom of exchanging engagement rings is credited mainly to the ages of Ancient Greece and Rome.

In ancient Greece, the exchange of rings was not only limited to married couples. Lovers could also exchange rings. In Ancient Egypt, men who wore rings to symbolise wealth could share it with their wives to represent the joint ownership of their riches. Later on, Ancient Rome took this one step further by having a betrothed couple’s parents exchange these tokens too.

Middle Ages

Pope Innocent III carried the idea of an engagement period through into the Middle Ages. He introduced a compulsory waiting time between betrothal and marriage.

The term “betrothed” derives from the Anglo-Saxon name “troweth.” This meant truth and people from medieval England who had betrothed shared a “truth” or “pledge” to marry one another. Therefore, the ring functioned as a sign of covenant between the couple.

Most of the betrothal and wedding rings back in these times had the appearance of very humble bands. The only way to categorise the engagement ring was by the inscription that had been carved onto the rings. Similar rings to those worn in this period can still be seen worn to this day. Many of the most popular precious stones around today such as emeralds, rubies, sapphires and diamonds were commonly used in medieval times as early symbols of love.

Diamonds were known to have existed for a long time; however specialists date the source of diamond in jewellery to the 15th century. This period corresponds with the time that new methods for cutting gold were established.

The first diamond ring produced for a betrothal was presented by Archduke Maximilian of Austria to Mary of Burgundy in 1477 as a token of appreciation for her faithful advices.

Victorian Era and Present Day

In the late 19th century, engagement rings resembling those of today were very common. The groom purchased best ring he could afford to signal the engagement. A couple of modest bands inscribed with the couple’s initial and date of the wedding are exchanged at the wedding.

Despite the finding of huge diamond deposits in both South Africa and Brazil in the 18th and 19th centuries, people from the upper classes still preferred the coloured gemstones such as rubies, and sapphires. However, the discovery led to an increase in the use of diamond ring as engagement rings. Engagement rings made from diamond however became the standard after a far-reaching marketing drive by De Beers in the middle of the 20th century. This gave rise to the phrase, “A Diamond is forever.” The aim of De Beers’ campaign was to popularise the diamond and bolster its price. This goal was achieved as diamonds were seen inundating the market.

Due to the commonness of diamond in the 20th century, many people have decided to abandon the gold solitaire and resorted to the sapphires and additional coloured gemstones instead.

During the period between the First World War and the Depression, the use of diamond was drastically reduced due to its price. Later on, by the late 1940s, diamond was set as the standard for engagement rings once again.

The Rise of the ‘Man-gagement’ Ring

Despite its rare appearance in much of Western society, a surprising 67 percent of 800 recently surveyed men disclosed their interest to jeweller Robbins Brothers that they would be open to the idea of wearing an engagement ring.

Their belief is that respect and love should be reciprocated. However, there has been an attendant increase in the number of women proposing, as well as gay marriages. This has created opportunity for man-gagement rings. It took the jewellery industry about 90 years to get men to start wearing engagement rings.

A man-gagement ring is similar to a wedding band. Most men prefer a plain circle ring made from precious metals, but more flashy designs are in vogue now. Some couples prefer to get a different ring for the marriage ceremony and the man can decide to wear the new one or wear the combination of the two, similar to the woman’s engagement ring and marriage set.
Some men choose to make use of the rings they have been wearing for a long time. Co-engagement rings are particularly good for couples that – for many reasons – are far away from each other. The engagement rings serve as a warning signal to other women or men signifying that they already engaged to someone.

Engagement Ring Costs

What is the average price of an engagement ring?
Just like houses, cars and other valuable items, engagement rings also have their worth. The price of an engagement ring depends on its appearance, its demand and supply in the market and its qualities.

Tradition demands that men should spend between 1-3 months’ salary on an engagement ring. However, recent reports show that two-thirds of men spend less than a month’s salary on an engagement ring.

The cost of engagement rings can of course range from the hundreds, to tens of thousands of pounds.

Choosing the Correct Metal for an Engagement Ring

An engagement ring is valued by the amount of diamond or gemstone it holds. When looking for the perfect engagement ring to give your fiancé, select the one with high diamond content wherever budget allows.

As specified earlier, there are so many features to ponder when purchasing an engagement ring for your love. Firstly, decide on what metal you want. This will help you select the top engagement ring for your partner. Use this as your guide to the diverse kinds of metals offered for ring settings.

What is the right style?

Decide on your fiancée’s style of ring, and select the colour and the type of metal that goes with it. This will allow you to make the right choice of ring.
If she is a fan of jewellery that is cooler in colour or silver-toned, then platinum or white gold is the best choice of ring to purchase for her. If she is the type that prefers flashy rings, then yellow gold or rose gold are good choices. The combination of metals like white gold and yellow gold are a clever choice, because they blend with any other colour, allowing her to put it on with any outfit.

Warmer metals such as yellow gold can help make a cooler gold colour stand out more, so this grouping is a very good one. For example, setting the diamond in a white metal head (which holds the diamond in place), like platinum or white gold will accentuate the diamond, showing off its brilliance to sparkling effect.


Platinum is a metal with cool lustre in nature. It helps to display the brilliant colour of diamond pretty well. It’s is most one of the most preferable choice engagement rings and wedding bands, and is considered the most precious of all jewellery metals.

Platinum is reported to be five times purer and rarer than gold when used in jewellery. Platinum is durable, making it more preferable for individuals that lead an active lifestyle. More so, platinum is naturally hypoallergenic which makes it the best metal for those whose skins are sensitive.


The choice most commonly seen for jewellery is gold because of its high versatility. The typical measurement of gold is a carat, which is divided into 24 parts. Pure gold is 24 carats, which means that 24 out of 24 parts are gold. Pure gold however is simply too soft for jewellery and so it has to be united with other metal alloys to boost its strength. It’s conceivable to find 22ct gold, but in most cases, it comes in 18ct (75% gold) and 14ct (58% gold). Gold is merged with other metals such as copper, nickel, zinc and silver. The reason for the blending is to increase its durability. The style and percentage of metal alloys are used to determine the shade and colour of gold. For example, 22ct gold is usually a rich, saturated gold colour, while 14ct gold may appear as a slightly paler yellow.

Gold jewellery usually comes in these colours:

Yellow Gold

This is taken from the mixture of gold, red copper and green silver. This blend makes it classic and fashionable. For quite some time, white gold dominated the yellow gold. However, the white gold has regained popularity in recent times.

White Gold

White gold is more fashionable than yellow gold currently. It gets its silvery white appearance from the blending of yellow gold with copper, zinc and nickel. It’s plated with another element called rhodium. This costs about four times more than platinum, and is resistant to scratching and tarnishing. It also provides a white gold and reflective look.

Rose Gold

Rose gold has distinctive and romantic characteristics. It has a deep, pink colour fashioned by combining yellow gold with a copper alloy. The overall percentages of metal alloys are the same for rose gold as they are for yellow or white; it’s just a different mixture of alloys used.

Green Gold

Green gold is not all that common, but has unusual and nature-inspired characteristics. Its soft, pale green colour is gotten by mixing yellow gold with silver, copper and zinc.

Once you have decided on metal, gemstone and general style, the next decision will be to either to buy a ring or have a bespoke ring designed & made. Talk to a reputable jewellery designer, discuss your fiancée’s style, likes & dislikes. Discuss budgets and build a rapport with the person who may be responsible for one of the most important investments you will ever make!

VJG Jewellery specialise in bespoke, quality jewellery, from design to completion. We design and make engagement rings and wedding rings, as well as offering a selection of jewellery in our shop and website.

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