Traditions laid bare

WHAT DO ENGAGEMENT RINGS SYMBOLISE?

What do engagement rings symbolise to you? What do they symbolise to your partner? Before you find yourself down Hatton Garden spending 3 months salary on a rock you’ve wrongly been made to believe is rare and precious, I’d like to challenge you to find out…

The fundamental meaning of an engagement ring has remained the same for centuries. It symbolises a promise made between 2 people of the intention to marriage. The deeper meaning however has changed over time…

Over the past century since women have fought for their equal rights in the western world, a ring no longer symbolises that they have become a possession of their husband and that they are then owned through marriage. It is also no longer seen as a form of dowry or insurance for the bride incase the husband-to-be was to call off the wedding, as in todays world a woman has just as much right to call off a marriage herself and may even earn more than her fiancé does.

SO WHAT DO ENGAGEMENT RINGS SYMBOLISE IN TODAYS WORLD?

When the giving of an engagement ring is present across almost all religions and cultures, there is no right or wrong answer as to what it symbolises. As there is no legal rule even stating that one has to be given before a marriage, every individual can decide for themselves what a ring means to them.

So ask yourself – what does an engagement ring mean to you? Is it a status or a wealth symbol? A way for your fiancé to show everyone how much you value your love at? Or is it a personal reminder symbolising that you have both chosen to commit eternally to one another?

The following timeline shows how the meaning of engagement rings has changed throughout history, take a read to find out how and why our ancestors gave rings to help you discover what they mean to you.

EGYPTIANS
5000 BC – 30 BC

RINGS WERE GIVEN DURING MARRIAGE TO SHOW WEALTH

The Egyptians wore rings for decorative purposes made from natural substances such as hemp, leather, bone and later, metal. It became gradually more popular for a husband to give a ring to his wife once married to indicate their wealth to her family. Their bodies were found buried wearing such rings on the 4th finger on their left hand as they believed it contained a vein connecting to the heart.

ROMANS
27 BC – 476

RINGS REPRESENTED A HUSBANDS OWNERSHIP

In the early Roman years verbal consent was used between the husband-to-be and father of the bride to legally declare an engagement. It was then said that the woman would receive 2 rings after marriage, perhaps as a gift, one made of gold to wear out in public and the other made of Iron which she wore to do household chores. Both signified that the husband owned her.

ANGLO SAXONS
410 – 1066

ENGAGEMENT RINGS WERE A CONDITIONAL GIFT

 The concept of engagement, known then as ‘betrothal’, came from the Anglo-Saxon word ‘Troweth’ which means truth. The act signified the ‘truth’ that you have pledged your love to someone and was indicated through the wearing of rings for all to see.

MIDDLE AGES
1200s

ENGAGEMENT RINGS WERE A SIGN OF A PLEDGE TO MARRY

As marriages weren’t yet required to have official ceremonials or registrations, it was actually quite easy to have one! To therefore prevent people being from marrying more than one person, or marrying close family members, new laws were enforced. The ‘Banns of Marriage’ were created  to make sure there was a period of time after a couple announced they were to wed for anyone to object to the marriage for legal reasons. This duration of time became the ‘engagement’ and rings were used to indicate the promise of marriage while it was being approved. Rings were an obvious way to show that a woman was off the market.

TUDORS
1485 – 1603

FIRST RECORD OF DIAMOND ENGAGEMENT RINGS

It was the engagement ring given by Archduke Maximillian of Austria to Mary of Burgundy in 1477 that began the diamond ring hype known in todays world . The ring he gave her when he proposed featured raw diamonds set in the shape of an M on a gold band which was swooned over by all!

THE RENAISSANCE
1300 -1600

ENGAGEMENT RINGS USED TO SYMBOLISE LOVE

The Renaissance happened during the rule of the Tudors. Urbanisation and growth in trade links meant that the population grew and also did the middle class. People no longer had to marry as a way of forging alliances between families, they could make their own money as opposed to just inheriting it. Playwrights such as Shakespeare began documenting love and romance and it became more common for people to fall in love and marry as opposed to marrying and hoping love would one day follow.

VICTORIANS
1837 – 1901

ORNATE, ROMANTIC RINGS GIVEN AT PROPOSALS

The period known as the romantic era set the trend of giving ornate rings. They were often personalised with engravings of love poems, and decorated with heart and flower details. With the powerful example of love between Queen Victoria and Prince Albert at the centre of this period, it was clear that love was now present in many marriages even within the royal family.

20TH CENTURY
1900 – 2000

THE BIGGER THE DIAMOND THE GREATER THE LOVE?…

After a large discovery of diamonds in the 1800’s they became more accessible to the middle class. Numerous marketing campaigns By De Beers made people believe diamonds were the only way to show your love and encouraged people to buy them as ‘diamonds are forever’. Up until the current day most rings classified as ‘engagement rings’ feature diamonds of some form and people believe they should spend 3 months salary on them.