History

Discover How Diamond Engagement Rings Became a Tradition

For decades, the diamond engagement ring has been a symbol of love and commitment. Whether a classic solitaire or an antique cut, the giving of this precious gem from the depths of the earth is the most widely accepted symbol of being engaged. But where and when did this custom emerge? And why is it that diamonds are the enduring gemstone of choice for an engagement ring? We delve into the hidden history of the diamond engagement ring, so keep scrolling to unveil the truth.

Back to the Beginning
We have the ancient Egyptians to thank for the earliest known exchanging of wedding rings. Using materials such as hemp or reeds, the ancient Egyptians would fashion an item in the shape of a small circle - an endless ring - to signify eternal love. They believed that the fourth finger contained a vein which ran directly to the heart. The placement of a ring on that finger was therefore understood to solidify the love and the connection between the couple. Studies show that the tradition was later continued by the ancient Romans. Married women would wear rings with small keys attached to them to represent their bond with their husband.


Before there were diamond engagement rings, there were ancient Egyptian wedding rings made of hemp or reeds

The First Diamond Engagement Ring
Having discussed wedding rings, what about the early engagement rings? The first well documented reference of any engagement ring dates back to the 9th century in a letter from Pope Nicholas I to Boris I. However it was in 1477 which saw the earliest known diamond engagement ring when Archduke Maximilian of Austria became engaged to Mary of Burgundy. The piece was set with small diamond pieces arranged in the shape of an ‘M.’ This luxurious ring was more than likely given to Mary as a way to show off to others - more as a sign of ostentatious wealth rather than as a loving gift. Nonetheless the giving of diamond engagement rings as a tradition progressed from there on.


  • The first diamond engagement ring was given to Mary of Burgundy by Archduke Maximilian of Austria in 1477
  • Image source: Hemmahoshilde




Rings Through The Ages
Later, during the Victorian era, engagement rings were made in mixed designs with diamonds, other gemstones and precious metals. At the time, the most popular shapes of engagement rings, called ‘posy rings’, were flowers. Mixing diamonds with other precious ornaments remained a tradition in the Edwardian era as well, while the attention to detail and the precision of craftsmanship was improving immensely.

This Victorian diamond ring sold at our Jewellery auctions in 2018

A Diamond is Forever

But where did the status of the diamond engagement ring as we know it today come from? It was in fact a brilliant marketing campaign in the 1930s. The famous mining company De Beers opened up digs in Africa and uncovered a vast quantity of previously undiscovered diamonds. This sudden surge in availability shattered the elusiveness and exclusivity of the diamond industry. In an effort to reverse their declining sales, De Beers had to do something to change people’s perceptions, once and for all. And so a huge campaign was launched, associating diamonds with eternal love and endless happiness. The diamond engagement ring became the ultimate and the traditional way to demonstrate devotion for your partner. The results of the marketing were undeniable - an increase of 50% in the diamond sales sector in just three years.  

Does the expression 'A diamond is forever' ring a bell? The first time it was publicly introduced was in 1947 during another marketing campaign by De Beers, which boosted their sales even further.

There is nothing that matches the symbolic value of a diamond engagement ring 

While the origins of diamond engagement rings are fascinating, what’s undeniable is their continuing appeal today. Whether it’s because of a diamond’s durability, sparkle or simply its beauty, there will unlikely be anything that matches its symbolic value.

Ready to declare your love to your soulmate? Visit our jewellery auctions where you can find modern and antique diamond rings of all colours, shapes and sizes. Whether you’re looking to buy or sell a diamond ring, you can easily do it on Catawiki. You just need one account - and it’s quick and free to sign up. Create your free account to get started.

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