So, I’ve been married for 20 years and I still love to look at my rings sparkle in the sunlight. When I first got engaged, I used to drive with my left hand on the steering wheel completely flexed, just so I could look at my ring the whole time. I loved just staring at it. Also, don’t do that. Mostly because I don’t want to be blamed for a car accident! But, I gotta believe you guys are doing similar things as excuses to stare at your rings, amiright? The question is tho, how did we get so lucky that these baubles became tradition? So…we decided to find out. As if Egypt wasn’t cool and mystical enough, we get to thank them for being the style icons they for deeming the circle a symbol of eternity, which made this gorgeous accessory one we all still enjoy today! And like all fabulous things fashion-related, it was fun to learn about how places and decades transformed the tradition!
Wedding rings came before engagement rings. The first known use of wedding rings was by early Egyptians 🇪🇬, who wore hemp wedding rings and placed them on the fourth finger of their left hands. They recognized the vein that ran along that finger led directly to the heart; as such, they dubbed it the “vena amoris,” or the vein of love. While the hemp rings they wore symbolized eternal marriage, the material of the ring did not. Constant wear and tear eroded the hemp and therefore wasn’t quite the best material to represent an unbreakable bond! These rings also lacked the radiance and sparkle of the rings that would become tradition in the future.
Iron was used initially by the Romans, who then later used gold. And of course, leave it to the country that gave us Versace, Gucci, and Armani to start adding diamonds to wedding bands – Viva Italia 🇮🇹! Italians believed diamonds were the product of plain stones forged by the flames and heat of love…ahhhhhh how romantic!
Our grooms have the Greeks 🇬🇷 to thank for their wedding bands – a tradition they began in the 14th century! The United States 🇺🇸 adopted this custom of dual rings in the late 1930s, at the beginning of World War II; this tradition continues today.
In 1477, Archduke Maximillian of Austria 🇦🇹 is thought to have given the first engagement ring – a symbolic gesture meaning commitment to marry. He presented a gold ring to Mary of Burgundy with a formation of small diamonds into the letter “M,” representing the archduke’s name. But let us not give the credit to the good archduke. Mary of Burgundy was a very wealthy and educated woman who wrote to her betrothed, “At the betrothal, your Grace must have a ring set with a diamond and ALSO a gold ring.” Love this. She might be my spirit animal…
In the 17th and 18th centuries, Engaged Europeans exchanged silver rings as a symbol of their intent to wed; these rings had a message engraved inside. At the wedding, the silver engagement ring would then be exchanged for a gold ring, representing their transformation from engaged to married.
In the late 19th century, an enormous deposit of diamonds was found in South Africa 🇿🇦. From then on, diamonds became commonplace for engagement rings 💍. Shortly thereafter, Tiffany & Co. created the Tiffany Setting, in which the diamond is raised above the band, making it the centerpiece of the ring. Thank you Mr. Tiffany!
Engagement and Wedding Ring changes over the past 100+ years
Engagement and wedding rings are still the most popular tradition associated with both engagement and marriage. Like many traditions, parts and pieces evolve over time. Although the sentiment remains the same, the styles of both engagement and wedding rings have continued to change over the years.
The 1900s: With the advent of the industrial revolution, the early 1900s were filled with growth and affluence. Engagement and wedding rings represented newfound wealth, with ornate diamond rings featuring platinum bands.
The 1920s + 1930s: It was all about Art Deco. Geometric styles, accented with rubies and sapphires, highlighted a more modern look than the more feminine styles of the decade prior.
The 1940s: World War II brought many hardships, making platinum very hard to find. Even with financial distress, engagement ring designs grew larger and bolder during this decade, but a change was made from diamonds only as the main gemstone to simulated rubies and sapphires.
The 1950s: Audrey Hepburn, one of the most recognizable faces of the decade, chose stackable diamond band rings. Each was a different color of gold, and she would choose white gold, yellow, or rose gold to match her outfit (ahhhh, choices!). Although she never stacked them herself, the multicolor stackable ring design became popular during this decade.
The 1960s: Popular culture had the biggest influence on engagement rings in the 60s. And it was two unforgettable women who changed the game: First, John F. Kennedy presented Jacqueline Bouvier with a stunning emerald and diamond ring worth over one million dollars; both of the main stones were just under 3 carats each! And those were surrounded by baguette diamonds! But never one to upstaged (even by a president!), Elizabeth Taylor’s 33-carat Asscher-cut diamond ring from Richard Burton blew up the headlines due to its sheer extravagance in 1963.
The 1970s: This new generation of couples wanted something new, different, and unique to them; they didn’t want the same look as their parent’s engagement rings. Enter the princess and radiant cuts; the square shapes became and still remain a popular selection for brides to be.
The 1980s: Two words: Royal. Wedding. Everyone was obsessed. Lady Diana became a phenomenon in the royal world, and when Prince Charles gave her the now-famous oval sapphire surrounded diamonds, people couldn’t get enough. Five years later, another royal engagement, that of Prince Andrew to Sarah Ferguson produced another engagement ring icon similar to Diana’s ring. Fergie’s ring was almost identical to Diana’s but featured a ruby instead of a sapphire. Both Diana’s and Fergie’s rings were replicated and sold for years.
The 1990s and 2010s: During both of these decades, not one individual style was a front runner. Year by year, new creations would rose and fell in popularity, but like most classics, the simple solitaire diamond maintained its constant popularity. As such, the style, the cut, color, clarity, and carat became the key factors to consider, as the single stone was the focal point of the ring.
Today: Today’s trend is all about unique and custom designs that reflect personal style. Couples want to participate in designing and creating engagement rings and wedding bands that are theirs alone. Uniqueness is what sets today’s rings apart from previous decades.
So there you have it. How we started wearing these lovely tokens of love and how they’ve evolved over the years. Whatever your style, rock it like it’s your own and admire the heck out of it! Just don’t get in an accident doing so!
Happy Wedding Planning!