History behind engagement rings

When did the act of proposing with an engagement ring start?

The act of gifting an engagement ring comes from the Egyptians - with their age old culture and all. Gold engagement rings were found dating back to as early as 2600 BC. For Ancient Egyptians, an engagement ring had a circular shape to symbolise the eternal cycle and was worn on the fourth finger of the left hand because of the vein that was believed to lead straight to the heart. This became a custom that continues in many cultures even today.

Initially engagement rings were either made of gold or they were made of metals such as iron for the people who could not afford gold.

The tradition of setting a diamond in an engagement ring obviously came in much later. The first trace of which we have in history, dates back to 1477 when Archduke Maximilian of Austria proposed to Mary of Burgundy with a diamond engagement ring that was custom made for her.

How did this habit evolve over the decades to become what it is today?

The diamond engagement ring proposal as we know it today though, is fairly recent and is the direct result of the diamond discoveries that were made in South Africa in 1866. These mines, that initially belonged to individual miners, were cleverly developed and managed over the 1870s by a young Cecil Rhodes who later founded the De Beers Mining Company in 1880.

This company is the ancestor of the diamond giant we know today, that created the most iconic slogan in the industry ever: “ Diamonds are forever”. It was launched in 1947 and proclaimed best slogan of the twentieth century in 1999 by magazine Advertising Age.

This is probably the most clever marketing campaign that was ever launched and that really changed people’s mentalities. In fact it became common knowledge very quickly that a person could not propose to their partner without a diamond engagement ring. Furthermore, initially it was added that they were expected to spend two months' salary on the ring, but that has changed considerably today.