Once upon a time, in Ancient Rome (at least according to the American Gem Society, anyway), wives walked about the city wearing the very first key rings on their fingers. Why? To show that they belonged to, and were the property of their husbands. Fast forward hundreds of years to 1477 when Archduke Maximillian of Austria decided it was time to do something more akin to commemoration and celebration of the act and wonder that is engagement. Thus he commissioned the very first diamond engagement ring to be crafted for his bride to be, Mary of Burgundy, and with his ‘putting a ring on it,’ sparked an overwhelming desire by European aristocrats and nobility to also have fashioned such opulent rings to seal the engagement pact. Thus, the diamond engagement ring was born.
What we now know and visually understand to be the classic diamond engagement ring, of course, was created through American advertising in the 1940s. Archduke Maximillian’s design of his fiance’s engagement ring was quite different. As were all those European clones that followed. Rather than what we know as the band, setting, and stone of today’s more modern engagement rings, the Archduke set a trend for mixing diamonds with other gems, stones, and enamel, giving birth to something that we now know to be ‘estate jewellery.’
Some engagement rings are manufactured to be paired with a particular wedding ring. Quite a lot of estate jewellery pieces are, in fact, made for the engagement ring to fit inside the outside ring setting, which is the wedding band, forming a single and unified piece of jewellery once the bride and groom exchange vows. Some wedding bands are exactly that: nothing more than an elegant band sans gems or stones of any kind, and selected for its coordination with the more stylized or bejewelled engagement ring. Some engagement rings barely have any setting at all, and instead have the stones inlaid into the band itself. This has become the style of most wedding rings today, but more and more people, either for function or cost, are choosing to be more reserved in their style of engagement ring.
But the engagement ring is ever-changing. Today, as you read this, there is a trend beginning to grow wherein men wear engagement rings of their own, thus signalling not just the woman’s ‘reserved’ status, but also the man’s. Heteronormativitly speaking, of course.
When my nephew announced his engagement via social media with he and his fiance flashing their ring-adorned ring fingers, we all went wide-eyed, mostly because we thought they’d just gone ahead and eloped. Just that one extra ring alone had most of the family’s Insta accounts all abuzz with the idea that with a snap of the fingers, we’d skipped over the engagement and gone straight to the ‘I Do’s.’ Then my nephew had to do some educating, and thus, for me at least, the male (or dual-partner) engagement ring was born.
I think that so long as each individual couple keeps evolving, changing, growing, and learning from everyone else, there will always be an evolution in what it means to be engaged, and what, exactly, necessitates, constitutes, or comprises an engagement ring.