In the times of Ancient Egypt rings were considered as the most personal objects, which people wore. They were used as personal talismans, as status symbols and, of course, as a pledge of love for another person.
The history of the wedding ring has no clear path; it changes with each religion and each nation’s people’s views on marriage. The tradition of exchanging rings originated about 3,000 years ago. And the first diamond engagement ring was recorded in the will of a widow who passed away in 1417. So why are rings, especially those with diamonds, a major symbol of romance?
What were the first wedding rings?
It was the Egyptian pharaohs who first used rings to signify eternity. The circle has no beginning or end and reflects the shape of the sun and moon, which were worshipped by the Egyptians. The Egyptians also believed that the open space in the middle of the ring represented a gateway to the unknown.
Egyptian ouroboros rings depicted a snake swallowing its tail, symbolizing the eternal cycle of things. Ouroboros is one of the oldest symbols in the world, and its name in Greek means “devourer of tails”.
When Alexander the Great conquered the Egyptians, the Greeks adopted the tradition of giving rings to their lovers as a sign of devotion. Many of these rings represented Eros or Cupid, the god of love.
In turn, when the Romans conquered Greece, they picked up this tradition and began to use iron and copper rings in marriage ceremonies. Sometimes the iron rings had an uncomplicated pattern on them. By the 2nd century A.D., most rings were gold.
Beginning in the 3rd and 4th centuries AD, gold rings became more luxurious in style, and attempts were made to adorn them. This was how givers flaunted their wealth.
The fede ring was fashionable at that time, it depicted two right hands interlocked together, symbolizing friendship, partnership and marriage contract. Fede rings were made of gold. Later, the Romans began to personalize their rings by carving their portraits on them.
The ancient Egyptians believed that in the ring finger of the left hand there is the “vein of amoris” or the “vein of love” which leads directly to the heart. The Romans adopted this tradition and also wore wedding rings on the ring finger.
Many hundreds of years later, everyone knows that the “vein of love” does not exist, but the tradition of wearing rings on the ring finger still exists.
Engagement Rings of the Middle Ages and Renaissance
Since the Middle Ages, engagement rings began to be adorned with precious stones. Medieval Europeans used rubies, a symbol of passion, sapphires, a symbol of heaven, and diamonds, a symbol of unshakable power.
In medieval Europe, both Roman fêtes and portrait rings were popular. Around the 1600s, the fede motifs began to be incorporated into Gimmel rings (the ring consisted of two or three parts). The girl wore the ring from the engagement, and during the wedding, the groom put the engagement ring on her finger as well, combining them in a matched set. The full ring featured two right hands clenched together.
Around the 1600s, the Fede ring evolved into the Claddagh ring, which depicted a pair of hands holding a heart. Gimmel rings with the Claddagh motif had a third center piece with a gemstone.
During the Renaissance and Elizabethan periods, poetic rings became popular. Poems were inscribed on them, inside or outside.
The Puritans of colonial America considered jewelry frivolous. Therefore, husbands often gave thimbles instead of rings to their wives. Brides used them in sewing clothes and decorations for their new home. Over time, they could saw off the tops of thimbles to get a ring.
When did diamond engagement rings appear?
The oldest surviving diamond jewelry dates back to 300 BC. The first known diamond ring was found in Rome. Diamonds at that time were rough and were valued more for their hardness than their brilliance.
The first registered diamond engagement ring, however, dates from 1417, when it was mentioned by an English widow in her will.
The first famous diamond engagement ring was given as a gift in 1477 by Archduke Maximilian of Austria to Marie of Burgundy. The ring is said to have been made of small flat diamonds, and decorated with the letter “M”. A fitting gift for a future duchess who was the most enviable bride of the time.
During the Victorian era, diamond engagement rings became especially popular. It was influenced by Queen Victoria’s love of diamond jewelry.
When did they start separating engagement and wedding rings
In the 12th century, the Christian church declared marriage a holy sacrament and declared it an obligatory church ceremony. Rings were part of it. A rule emerged that no man should put a ring on a woman’s finger unless he intended to marry her.
Before that, rings did not always signify marriage. They were often given as a token of fidelity or engagement. That’s when rings began to be divided into two types: a more personal engagement ring and an engagement ring sanctioned by the church.
Now, as centuries ago, engagement rings symbolize fidelity, love and devotion. In recent decades, they have become an expression of a couple’s individuality, and they are worn not only by women, but by men as well.