The Origins of Engagement Rings

by Kate Reid
July 6, 2022 / Engagement Rings

Round Halo Engagement Ring White Gold | Rosetta (Brilliant)

Many spend years dreaming of the day their true love will drop down to one knee and propose with a stunning diamond ring. But, have you ever wondered how and when this romantic tradition began?

The first documented proposal with a diamond engagement ring dates back to the 1400’s when the Archduke Maximilian of Austria proposed to Mary of Burgundy in the imperial court of Vienna in 1477. Mary of Burgundy received a simple diamond ring and although it may be modest when compared to today’s standards this ring upped the ante for this time. The Archduke’s gesture set off a trend amongst the wealthy where men would present their chosen women beautiful diamond rings. 

Prior to this, the engagement ring was a simple band, some may have had engraving. This is said to go all the way back to the Ancient Egyptians. Mummified bodies have been discovered with simple metal bands remaining on their ring finger.

Over the centuries engagement rings have evolved in both style and meaning. What is now seen as a declaration of love is not necessarily how it began. Rather than a ring being given to the lady out of love, it was once a symbol of ownership and a way to show off a man’s prized possession.

Thankfully, we have come a long way since those times just like engagement ring designs have also come along way.  Let’s see how the engagement ring has evolved over the centuries:

  • 1477 The first documented diamond engagement ring, is presented to Mary of Burgundy from Archduke Maximilian.
  • 1500s In Shakespeare’s time, rings were heavily referred to as engagement and wedding rings.
  • 1700s saw the birth of the Poesy Ring, a gold ring with an engraved inscription.
  • 1800s The Victorian Era, also referred to as the era of love, designs reflected the romanticism of the time. Flowers, hearts and other patterns were prominent. Three stone engagement rings were also one of the most popular styles at this time. It was also when diamond deposits were discovered in Africa significantly increasing the supply, leading to the invention of the classic 6-claw engagement ring.
  • 1900s The Industrial Revolution has started and the rapid growth and prosperity saw the tradition of engagement rings being adopted by the masses. It was no longer an exclusive tradition set aside for Royalty and the wealthy. With the advancement in technology, designs became increasingly more sophisticated and the Round Brilliant Cut diamond was perfected.
  • 1920s and 30s The Art Deco movement follows on from the Edwardian period. With it, we see a transition from ornate to geometric patterns and increased use of colour. The Art Deco movement is still one of the most popular periods of design continuing to be a source of inspiration for many.
  • 1940s Although the war saw a drift towards more affordable engagement rings the popularity of the tradition did not die. Engagement rings actually became the number one jewellery item in American department stores.
  • 1960s The Princess Cut was invented. From this time on, with the continuous advancement of technology, more diamond cuts were created.
  • 1980s and 90s Engagement rings reflected the style of the time – yellow gold with big diamonds were the choice for many women.
  • 21st Century Moving into the 21st Century where white gold is the choice of metal for most and Round Brilliant Cut diamonds are the most popular by far. This does not mean other styles are unpopular. More and more women are looking for unique designs and are drawing on the many different eras to recreate a vintage piece or come up with a striking modern design.

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