Before there’s a wedding, there’s an engagement! These days, no proposal is complete without a beautiful engagement ring. But where exactly did the tradition of wearing an engagement ring come from? Our wedding photographers break down the history of engagement rings and how that tradition still lives today.
The tradition of engagement rings goes back a long time. Some people think ancient Egyptians invented them, with ancient Greeks adopting the tradition. However, the history of engagement rings can only reliably be traced to ancient Rome. In ancient Rome, brides-to-be even had two rings- a gold one to wear in public, and an iron one worn at home.
Engagement rings back then were thought to be given as part of the “bride price”, which represented the purchase and ownership of the bride. Later in the Middle Ages, an engagement ring was given during the betrothal ceremony as a sign that the bride has accepted the pledge to marry and won’t break it.
Fun fact: the first well-documented use of a diamond ring to signal engagement was in the Renaissance era, when Archduke Maximilian of Austria proposed to Mary of Burgundy, with a ring featuring long and narrow diamonds in the shape of an “M”.
Engagement rings have symbolism similar things since their invention, with slight variations. In ancient times, the ring was simply a physical part of the bride price that women wore to signal they were to be married. In the Middle Ages, the ring symbolized a pledge to marry.
However, it wasn’t until 850 that engagement rings took on an official meaning. Pope Nicholas I, declared that engagement rings represented a man’s intent to marry, with gold rings becoming the norm as they were the most popular material for betrothal rings at the time.
It’s impossible to talk about engagement rings without mentioning diamonds. The diamond ring has become synonymous with proposals and weddings. Even though diamond engagement rings can be found throughout history, they famously didn’t become popular until the 1940’s when De Beers, a British company that mined diamonds in South Africa, launched their advertising campaign. With the help of Hollywood and the slogan, “A diamond is forever,” diamond engagement rings quickly became the norm.
Today, engagement rings still symbolize the same thing- an intention and promise to get married. For many years, diamond rings were the only acceptable engagement rings in the West. These days, that mentality is changing.
Many modern couples getting married are moving away from classic diamond engagement rings. Some couples opt for ethical, lab-grown diamonds, or diamond-look alike stones like cubic zirconia or moissanite. Other couples are ditching the colorless stone altogether and embracing colorful gemstones like emeralds, pearls, or sapphires. Prince Willian proposed to Kate Middleton with a stunning blue sapphire ring, Blake Lively received a light pink diamond, and Katy Perry was given a unique, ruby floral halo design.
These days, it’s not even just women that are getting engagement rings. Now many men wear engagement rings, sometimes known as “Mangagement rings”, to signal they’re engaged. In same-sex couples, both partners wear engagement rings as well.
Even how an engagement ring is selected has now changed. In the past, the groom would privately select and purchase a ring. These days, brides are now a part of the process, either selecting the ring together or sending images so they have some choice in the ring they wear every day.
Whatever ring you wear, our wedding photographers and videographers would love to capture it. Contact AGI Studio today if you’re looking for experienced, talented, award-winning photographers to shoot your special day.