The engagement ring is a symbol of serious intention and a promise worn as an indication of acceptance and represents a formal agreement between both parties to marry. Traditionally, it is given by a man to a woman who at some future date, he intends to make his wife and the mother of his children. It is also a signal to other suitors that she is taken and therefore no longer available.
he ancient Romans called the engagement ring the ‘truth ring’ and placed it on the third finger of the left hand, because it was thought that the vein from that finger leads to the heart, a notion which has survived to this day. However, it is worth noting that in some Eastern European countries such as Poland and the Ukraine, it is commonly worn on the third right finger of the right hand.
But where did the idea first originate, I hear you ask. The first engagement ring is believed to have been given by the Archduke Maximillian of Hamburg to Mary Burgundy in 1477 as a symbol of their betrothal, an idea which over the centuries has grown and is now a well established part of western culture.
Many different precious gem stones are used in the design of engagement rings including emeralds, sapphires and rubies. However, the most commonly used stone is the diamond, favoured mainly for its beauty, strength and durability.
The diamond was not in common use until the 19th century when the diamond mines were discovered in South Africa and supplies increased, bringing prices down making it more affordable, so that ordinary people could also afford to have diamonds in their engagement rings.
Before diamonds became an affordable commodity, humbler folk gave their sweethearts what was known as ‘faith rings’, akin to the Claddagh ring which is a traditional Irish ring given as a love token and sometimes also worn as a wedding ring.
The idea of the engagement ring has moved on in some parts of western society such as the USA and Canada where it is becoming increasingly common for the female half of the partnership to also give an engagement ring to her intended. When given by the female it is either simply called a male-engagement ring or sometimes a man-agement ring also it is not uncommon for them to have a matching set.
Traditionally the ring was always purchased in private by the man who then presented it to his bride-to-be, usually on one knee as he made his proposal. However; increasingly couples are choosing the ring or rings together with much less knee bending these days.
In some parts of the world the engagement ring is considered to be a ‘conditional gift’, which in effect means that the ring is given on condition that the marriage goes ahead, therefore if the engagement is broken off then the ring should be returned. Some traditions hold that should it be the man who breaks off the engagement then his fiance is not obliged to return the ring. This however, has in the past been a matter of legal debate.
Boys beware. If the engagement takes place on St.Valentines day or on Christmas day and the engagement is subsequently broken off, the ring is likely to legitimately remain the property of the recipient, because of the simple fact that these two days are when gifts are traditionally given, therefore it can also be regarded simply as a Christmas or Valentines day gift.
Precious metals are normally used in the design and production of engagement rings; however it is not uncommon today, to see other materials such as stainless steel and Titanium emerging as bona fide metals used in its design.
The concept of engagement and the giving of a ring is an important part of the marriage ritual, long embedded in western culture and society, which shows no signs of abating, a tradition that is well and truly here to stay