What is the History of Diamond Engagement Rings?


by Fred Knox



Diamond engagement rings are sort of a staple in our society. We don’t really pause to think about why we wear them or how they came to be. But if you look at the history, you’ll find a rich tradition that’s been shaped over many centuries.

The Origins of Diamond Engagement Rings

You can trace the origins of engagement rings all the way back to Ancient Roman civilization, when women first started wearing rings. Originally, these rings were made from flint and bone. They quickly evolved and, by the 2nd century A.D., engagement rings were made from materials like copper, silver, and gold. Not only were they a symbol of love and commitment, but they were also visible proof of a business contract.

While engagement rings were popular among certain groups and classes for many years, it wasn’t until several centuries later that they became an official custom. Pope Nicholas I was actually the one who proclaimed rings as the intent of a man to marry. Because of the popularity and availability, he chose gold as the standard material.

Despite the popularity of engagement rings, it took many centuries for diamond engagement rings to gain popularity. The first documented diamond ring was made in 1477, when Archduke Maximillian of Austria commissioned a custom diamond ring in the shape of an “M” when he proposed to Mary of Burgundy. However, it wasn’t until the 1930s that diamonds became popular in the United States. And it was 1947 that De Beers launched its first “diamond is forever” ad campaign that changed the landscape of engagement rings in America.

Over the past six or seven decades, countless diamond engagement trends have evolved, adapted, and emerged. But one thing has remained steady: The popularity of diamonds. No matter the current styles, you’ll find diamonds at the center of it all.

The 4Cs of Diamond Quality

When it comes to the quality of a diamond, there are four factors that gemologists and jewelers consider. These are globally accepted standards that dictate each diamond’s value and appeal. They’re known as the 4Cs of diamond quality:

Diamond Carat Weight. A diamond’s carat weight measures its size. A “carat” is a metric measurement that’s defined as 200 milligrams. Each carat can be further divided into 100 points, which allows for very precise measurements. When all other factors are created equal, the value of a diamond increases with its size. For example, five carat diamond rings are worth more than one or three carat rings.

Diamond Color. Ideally, a diamond is totally colorless and transparent. In fact, the highest quality diamonds are valued based on the absence of color. Lower grade diamonds have a noticeably yellow tint to them. The Gemological Institute of America (GIA) rates rings on a D to Z color grading scale (with D being the highest and Z being the lowest).

Diamond Clarity. A diamond’s clarity refers to the absence of blemishes. The GIA diamond clarity scale looks at six different categories when evaluating a diamond: flawless, internally flawless, very, very slightly included, very slightly included, slightly included, included. Within these categories, there are 11 specific grades a diamond can be given.

Diamond Cut. One of the things that makes diamonds so unique is their ability to transmit and refract light – creating that iconic sparkle that couples have grown to love over the years. But a diamond’s ability to sparkle depends on how it’s cut. When analyzing a diamond’s cut, GIA looks at factors like brightness, fire, and scintillation.

Diamonds Are Forever

The engagement ring has a storied history tracing back centuries into the annals of history. And while styles have changed over the years (and will continue to evolve moving forward) the symbolism never will. The ring represents a commitment to one another – an infinite circle that should never be broken. Likewise, diamonds are one of the hardest materials in the world. This makes them the perfect match for the symbolism of love and commitment.

If you’re in the market for a diamond engagement ring – or you’re thinking about upgrading your current ring to a nicer or newer style – remember the history that you’re participating in. Engagement rings are tradition, symbolism, and commitment all wrapped into one!