For as long as I can remember, a marriage proposal has been directly linked to a stunning diamond engagement ring. That being said, have you ever wondered who gave the first known diamond engagement ring? If you ask anyone, you’ll probably get the typical “it’s a tradition” reply, because they have no idea how it originated. After you read this article, you’ll know how to answer the question.
Who Gave the First Known Diamond Engagement Ring?
It all started in 1477. Archduke Maximillian of Austria is the first person on record to commission a diamond engagement ring. The lucky lady was his betrothed, Mary of Burgandy who is depicted above. The gesture soon became a trend among the European nobility and aristocracy. Little did they know that over 500 years later, diamond engagement rings are still a tradition.
However, the use of a ring as a symbol of love dates back to Ancient Egypt. The first engagement rings were made of reed and braided papyrus. The Egyptians used them as a symbol of eternity and to denote that it was the right time to start a family. The Romans also had their own traditions regarding rings. Women were given an engagement ring before the wedding ceremony. The rings were simple iron bands. Instead of a precious stone, however, the Romans included a piece of iron in the shape of a small key to represent the wife-to-be’s dependency on her husband.
Oldest Engagement Rings in Existence
- Dresden Ring. Circa 1800, Georgian era. This ring features a 1.00 carat, J color, and VS2 clarity rose cut diamond as the centerpiece. Surrounding the stone is a floral motif halo set with rose-cut diamonds. The shank is 18k yellow gold hand-engraved.
- Brunswick Ring. This silver in yellow-gold mounting features three in-line rose-cut diamonds, weighing approximately 0.30 carats. The shank presents a hand-engraving typical of the era. This unique piece was handcrafted circa 1810.
- Cenon Ring. Circa 1840, the unique Navette ring with a turquoise border has three pearls in the center. Each shoulder presents a fleur-de-lis design.
- Addison Ring. This ring from the Victorian circa 1880 era features a cushion cut center diamond. K color, it weighs 1.52 carats and has VS2 clarity. Old European cut diamonds surround the center stone weighing approximately 2.40 carats. A second cluster with a diamond halo gives the piece a stunning floral design.
Other Notable Early Engagement Rings
- Bennet Ring. The estimated crafted date is around 1820-1840. This ring centers on a 2-carat cushion-cut citrine gemstone with a halo of pearls. Each shoulder presents three additional pearls.
- Harrisburg Ring. This ring is from the Georgian era, circa 1815. It is a Navette ring clustered with seed pearls. The mounting is handcrafted 18K gold.
- Welwyn Ring. Circa 1840, this ring from the Georgian era features a portrait-cut pink topaz circled by seed pearls set in prongs. The mounting is 18K yellow gold with black enamel around the pearls on each shoulder.
Diamond Engagement Ring History Over the Past 200 Years
Engagement rings have changed significantly over the last 200 years. Firstly, due to different fashion trends. Secondly, technological advances have enabled jewelers to handle new metals and precious stones. Below you will find a brief history of diamond engagement rings over the past 200 years.
1800s Georgian and Victorian Era
Diamond rings handcrafted during the early 1800s often have a closed foiled back. This method was used to achieve maximum brilliance. During this period, the prevalent metals were silver and gold. At this stage, technology hadn’t evolved enough to melt platinum.
Most engagement rings featured rose-cut and table-cut diamonds. These diamonds were flat at the base and rose like a dome.
During the Victorian Era (1837-1899), engagement rings featured enamel in various colors. This was the method used to embed the gem in the metal.
In the 1840s, engagement rings arrived in America.
1900s Edwardian Era
The main characteristic of engagement rings in the Edwardian era was the elaborate details on the mounting. Another characteristic was the number of diamonds. Jewelers crafted a large diamond as the centerpiece and then added small stones into the setting. The old European cut diamond became popular in 1910.
1920 Art Deco Style
During this period, engagement rings featured a combination of diamonds with other colored gemstones. The center stone was surrounded by angled lines. The Asscher cut diamond became popular as it made the stone appear more dazzling and brilliant. By 1925, it was common to find engagement rings with colorful centered gemstones. This included sapphires, emeralds, or rubies.
1930 The Great Depression
Due to the dire social and economic problems, the extravagance of the engagement ring became a thing of the past. Styles became simpler and the stones were much smaller.
1940 Doing More With Less
To compensate for the small stones, jewelers put great effort into the design of the mounting by handcrafting rings with unique designs, like bows, hearts, and leaves. By 1945, solitaire engagement rings with cut cushion diamonds in the center were popular with those who could afford them.
1948 “A Diamond Is Forever”
The De Beers launched an advertising campaign to make the public believe that diamonds were the symbol of marriage. The campaign proved to be a huge success and sales skyrocketed.
1950 Jackie Kennedy’s Engagement ring
The magnificent piece the First Lady wore on her finger was designed by Van Cleef & Arpels. Centered by both an emerald-cut diamond and emerald stone, it is complemented by a leaf-shaped set of diamonds. The ring put the emerald cut at the top of the list as the most popular.
1955 Marilyn Monroe Engagement Ring
The engagement ring Joe DiMaggio gave to Marilyn Monroe features 36 baguette cut diamonds. Being one of the first celebrity couples, it became a trend in no time.
1957 Elizabeth Taylor’s Engagement Ring
The emerald cut regained popularity due to the stunning 29.4 Cartier engagement ring that Mike Todd gave to Elizabeth Taylor.
Several trends appeared during this decade. Firstly, pear-shaped diamonds gained popularity when Frank Sinatra picked them for Mia Farrow’s engagement ring. Then Elizabeth Taylor got married for the fifth time; the proposal ring was a colossal 39.19-carat Asscher-cut diamond. All of which meant oversized rings were the latest fad.
1970s Square Diamonds
Solitaire square diamonds became popular by the late 1960s and remained popular during the 1970s. At the time, jewelers designed the whole wedding set; the engagement ring, and wedding bands for the bride and groom.
1980s Princess Diana’s Engagement Ring
Yellow gold mounting came back into style along with sapphires, thanks to Princess Diana’s engagement ring. The 1980s were a complicated time for engagement rings, as everything was about excess.
Platinum and white gold mounting made a stunning comeback during this decade. As for diamonds, the marquise cut became popular thanks to Victoria Beckham’s engagement ring.
The new millennium brought several new trends, including halo rings, colored diamonds, and pave bands. By 2015, the reality of diamond mining encouraged people to search for conflict-free stones.
2020 Hailey Bieber’s Engagement Ring
Oval-Shape diamonds in solitaire rings are one of the latest trends due to the engagement ring Justin Bieber chose for his bride-to-be Hailey Baldwin
First Known Wedding Proposals
The first recorded marriage proposal dates back to the 5th century. Written in Mesopotamia, historians have discovered evidence on Aramaic papyrus of the earliest mention of a marriage proposal in history.
Talk to a Jewelry Expert
If you’re looking for an antique or vintage engagement ring or want to know the latest trends, don’t hesitate to contact an expert. A professional jeweler will provide you with the best stone quality and design advice.