Valentine’s day is not far off and here in the Northern hemisphere we’re preparing for ice – of the diamond engagement ring variety! Unsurprisingly, Valentine’s day is one of the most popular times of year to get engaged.
But have you ever wondered why we give a ring as a sign of engagement? Or why we wear it on the fourth finger of the left hand? Or, indeed, why diamond has become the traditional engagement ring gemstone? Read on to learn about the traditions behind your diamond engagement ring…
The circle of a ring is loaded with meaning, symbolising eternity and completeness. On more down-to-earth note, rings were also a very practical way of carrying–and showing off—your wealth and status!
Rings as symbols of partnership date at least as far back as the ancient Egyptians, who exchanged rings of humble braided reed as part of the marriage ceremony. However, it was the Romans who brought us the tradition of placing the ring on the fourth finger of the left hand. They believed that this finger contained a vein that ran directly to the heart – the ‘vena amoris’, or ‘vein of love.’
It wasn’t until several hundred years later that the diamond engagement ring started to appear on the scene. The first we have evidence for is the betrothal ring of an Italian couple whose 1475 marriage poem tells of “two wills, two hearts, two passions…bonded in one marriage by a diamond.” Three years later Archduke Maximillian of Austria gave Mary of Burgundy a diamond engagement ring, studded with sparklers in the shape of an ‘M’ and soon afterwards, a diamond ring became the must-have symbol of love and marriage among the aristocracy of Europe.
But, if you’ve heard that you should spend the equivalent of one, two or three months’ salary on the perfect diamond engagement ring for your intended, you’ve got diamond company DeBeers and their clever advertising gurus to thank (or blame!) for that. You may already know that they came up with the famous slogan, ‘A Diamond is Forever,’ but in depression-era America, cash-strapped DeBeers also needed to find a way to persuade your average man to spend a significant amount of his precious wages on their diamonds. DeBeers’ recommended spend was one month’s salary in the 1930s, but this grew to two months’ worth of wages in the 1980s. This canny campaign managed to hit us right where it hurts – our sense of pride!
Of course, my advice is to listen to both your heart and head. Don’t be persuaded to spend more than you can afford, and always, always make sure that you know exactly what you’re buying!
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Photo credit: With thanks to Hayley Smith for use of her photos