Where Does The Tradition Of Engagement Rings Come From?
Did you know that “engagement season” is actually a thing now? Yup, in 2016, engagement season is very much the in-thing. It is so termed because nearly half of all engagements occur during the period between Thanksgiving holiday and St. Valentine’s Day, a stretch of time that is now officially known as engagement season.
Basically, so many of us are inspired to get down on one knee and propose to our boo during the most emotional times of the year (Christmas, mistletoe, families getting together with chestnuts roasting on an open fire, February 14th and so on).
You’ve no doubt lived through engagement season without even realising it. Perhaps you raised a few eyebrows at all those engagement ring pictures on Facebook during the period between Thanksgiving and Valentine’s Day, but dismissed it as a one-off.
“Must be something in the water,” you said.
But incessant social media pic’s are just one reminder of the existence of the engagement bling.
Just a quick glance on Pinterest fills in the details; here you can see just how important engagement rings are to people.
Indeed, around 80% of all proposals nowadays include not just any other engagement ring, but a diamond encrusted ring.
Aw, isn’t it sweet that you man loves you so much that he’s prepared to symbolise his love with a diamond engagement ring?
But does a diamond engagement ring really showcase his love? Or does it actually suggest that, hey, somebody somewhere is making a lot of money out of engagement season?
If you’re interested to know just where the tradition of engagement rings come from, and why there is such a need and a desire to spend thousands of dollars on such bling, let’s take a look at this star-studded ring’s history.
A Brief History Of The Engagement Ring
The word betrothed might still be widely in use, but it’s a really old word that sounds really old, too. It derives from the Anglo-Saxon noun troweth, which in today’s vocabulary means truth.
Back in the days of medieval England, any couple that was betrothed had pledged a truth to get married. A ring was given to each couple in a sign that a promise had been made between the pair.
Thus, the concept of a term of engagement was in full swing.
But Why Didn’t They Just Get Married Immediately?
In 2016 there is one very obvious reason why couples don’t just skip the engagement period (which can sometimes last for years) and skip right to the wedding: Money.
Sometimes, you want to get married to your partner, but finances restrict you from doing it right now. Because wedding’s can cost thousands of dollars, you have to save up first.
But getting engaged is a signal of intent. You love your partner and really would love to marry them, but you’ve just gotta wait a while to it.
In the meantime, you’re going nowhere and your partner is yours. Back off everyone else, we’ve got engagement rings to prove it.
Back in the Middle Ages, though, weddings didn’t take so much time to arrange, and they certainly didn’t cost as much $$$. So why the need for a period of engagement?
Because Pope Innocent III insisted on it, that’s why.
He actually forced through this period of engagement with an official mandate that read:
“Whence, following in the footsteps of our predecessors, we absolutely forbid clandestine marriages; and we forbid also that a priest presume to witness such. Wherefore, extending to other localities generally the particular custom that prevails in some, we decree that when marriages are to be contracted they must be announced publicly in the churches by the priests during a suitable and fixed time, so that if legitimate impediments exist, they may be made known.”
The Need For New Rings
Wedding rings that had been used up until this point were just simple bands, much like the ones that originated in Ancient Egypt. Some of the more expensive (and rare ones) conned gemstones, but it’s hard to say which ones are engagement rings and which ones are not, due to the lack of an inscription.
What we do know for sure is that diamond rings didn’t come into existence until the 15th century, at a time when techniques for cutting diamonds had been massively improved.
Although it’s unknown whether the first ever diamond ring was intended to symbolise one person’s love for another, the first ever diamond engagement ring was developed in 1477. The Archduke Maximilian of Austria got his hands on the band of gold and gave it to his betrothed, Mary of Burgundy who accepted it with grace.
Critics suggested that the Archduke was only interested in Mary because she was a wealthy woman, but reports claim that the pair were happy married until she died aged just 25 after falling from her horse.
Of course, not everyone could afford an expensive diamond ring. Thanks to the rise of capitalism and mass produced goods, beautiful engagement rings eventually became less expensive and the ones we know today were popular around the turn of the 20th century. Studded with a pearl, these rings signalled a man and woman’s intent to marry at some point in the future.
The diamond ring that many of us known and love in the 21st century didn’t become a standard bearer until De Beers had created and fostered upon us an aggressive marketing campaign that came with the catchy tagline “A diamond is forever.”
Women swooned at the idea, while men had to take up second and even third jobs.
De Beers had their motives. Certainly, they were not motivated by a desire to spread love around the world, but they were concerned by the fact that diamonds were flooding the market and few people were buying them.
So what better thing to do than get couples to buy them?!
Indeed, De Beers went on to build a multi-dollar industry from that campaign, despite the fact that engagement rings plummet in value as soon as you put it on the finger of your partner.
All in all, it really shouldn’t matter what type of engagement ring you buy your loved one. It’s merely a symbol that, though you aren’t married just yet, you’ve got each other.