I am not a scholar and have not studied history or diamond-ology (okay I made that word up), but much like you I know that any question can be answered with a quick online. So when I asked myself the question what is the origin of the diamond engagement ring the natural next step was to hit www.google.com and see what showed up. Here are some of the answers I found online and while I cannot verify any of these stories as fact, I have included the links where I found the information so if you are interested in following the trail of truth you can certainly do so and let us know what you find.
I started with the search term “Why a Diamond Engagement Ring” and the first hit was a Yahoo Voices page (1.) that gave a few initial ideas. It said that diamonds were not the original stone used for engagement rings but that emeralds and sapphires were commonly used. It also says that later in the 17th and 18th century, engagement rings, also known as betrothal rings, had both rubies and diamonds. The red rubies signified love while the diamonds, “clear in colour and strong and dazzling, signified eternity.” As I already mentioned, I’m not a historian but the romantic in me likes the idea of melding different stones into one ring and creating a symbol of eternal love.
This same Yahoo page also says that the best reason it can find for why engagement rings are placed on the third finger of the left hand can be credited to the ancient Greeks who believed there was “a vein from the heart that extends down to this finger, and therefore, this finger leads straight to the heart.” Again not a bad explanation but perhaps starting to get a little to physiological for me.
The second hit for the “Why a Diamond Engagement Ring” search was everyone’s good friend Wikipedia (2.). We all know that Wikipedia is only somewhat reliable so just for fun here is a link to The 15 Biggest Wikipedia Blunders (3.). Wikipedia does provide a long history of the engagement ring from ancient times, through the Middle Ages, Renaissance, Reformation, Enlightenment, Victorian Era, 20th Century and 21st Century. Their story about why the engagement ring is worn on the third finger of the left hand is the same as the last page we checked out. They added that some people believed that the the ring formed part of the “bride price” or contract to purchase the bride but go on to say that this has been called into question by real historians (not me just in case you were wondering).
One other interesting piece of the Wikipedia page was that in some cultures around the world both the men and women wear engagement rings and that these are typically matching rings. Now that sounds like a nice idea to me. Why do us guys get left out of the whole engagement process? I’m still happy to do the asking, but once she says yes I don’t mind wearing a little reward on my finger for all that hard work planning a great engagement.
The third hit for my “Why a Diamond Engagement Ring” search was MentalFloss.com (3.). They introduced the idea of thimbles being given to future brides. Here’s a quote. “As late as the 19th century, some American women received thimbles as symbols of their engagements; after the wedding they would often cut the bottom off of their thimbles and wear them as rings.” They go on to add that the addition of a diamond to an engagement ring is a fairly recent trend since diamonds tended to be reserved exclusively for the fantastically rich and royalty due to the rarity of the stone. When the huge deposits of diamonds were discovered in South Africa and other locations around the world, the DeBeers group was formed and these guys developed the “Diamonds Are Forever” campaign which pushed diamonds into the centre of the engagement ring world. Of course a 1971 James Bond movie with the same name wasn’t a bad addition to this idea either.
So that’s as far as my research went. I think I feel reasonably satisfied that I now know a little more than I did yesterday about the origins of the diamond engagement ring. Though now I’m waiting on one of you to do some additional research to tell me which of these facts has been debunked by a real historian and what I need to re-learn.
List of References
Let us know if you have anything to add to our list of interesting facts about the history of diamond engagement rings. Email us at firstname.lastname@example.org