There Will Be Diamonds: A Short History of Engagement Rings

Queen Victoria & Albert WeddingIf you’ve ever shopped for a diamond engagement ring (or plan to do so), chances are you know all about the 4Cs — cut, color, clarity and carat weight. But have you ever thought about how the tradition of the diamond engagement ring actually got started? Read on…

From earliest times, the diamond has been considered a symbol of romantic love. In fact, legend has it that Cupid used arrows tipped with diamonds to render his victims “love-struck.” The ring is also an ancient symbol of everlasting love, an infinite circle with no beginning or end.

Mary of BurgundyThe “marriage” of these two powerful symbols first took place in the Middle Ages, when noblemen commissioned diamond rings to seal a wedding or betrothal. It is believed that the first recorded diamond engagement ring was given by the Archduke Maximilian of Austria to Mary of Burgundy in 1477.

Throughout the Renaissance, diamond betrothal rings evolved with carvings and touches of colorful enamel. The “gimmel” ring, featuring interlocking rings around a diamond, is a style that has passed from the Renaissance to modern times.

After the 1600s, fashion shifted to the diamonds themselves; for instance, diamond cluster rings were popular in the court of Louis XVI. In the 18th century, when huge deposits of diamonds were discovered in Brazil, the great Age of Diamonds was under way.

Victorian Serpent RingBy the early 19th century, the tradition of the diamond engagement ring was firmly established, championed by a young Queen Victoria, who was said to be obsessed by jewelry, especially sentimental designs. It is interesting to note that while Prince Albert would give his queen many important jewels throughout their marriage, her engagement ring was in the shape of a serpent!

In the Belle Époque, between 1890 and World War I, new diamond deposits were discovered in South Africa and the single-stone engagement ring came into fashion. During this time, the open-prong setting, still so popular today, was designed to bring out the diamond’s fire and brilliance.

Diamond Engagement RingToday, more than ever, the diamond ring stands for enduring love and a universal part of the marriage rite. Elaborate new cuts, creative settings and the rise in popularity of fancy colored diamonds – pinks, yellows, blues and greens – now signal the Modern Age of Diamonds for contemporary brides.

Styles will change, as they always do, but as long as there are couples in love, and promises to keep, there will be diamonds – and diamond engagement rings — the divine symbol of the power of love!

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