Part of wedding traditions since the ancient Egyptians, the modern engagement ring -- in all its diamond dazzling glory -- is rooted in the culture of European royalty.
Rare accounts of diamond and gold engagement rings pop up among noble betrothals, most notably in 1477 when Archduke Maximilian of Austria presented one to Mary of Burgundy, and again in 1518 when two-year-old Princess Mary, daughter of Henry VIII, received one as a promise for an arranged marriage with the infant son of King Francis I of France.
Yet, most people could not afford such an expensive pledge of fidelity. Instead, plain poesy rings with inscribed messages were popular betrothal rings in Eastern Europe from the 15th through 17th centuries. The short sentiments of love were commonly borrowed from contemporary poems and stories.
Interlocking gimmel rings, which are worn by both the bride and groom, have continued to be an important part of Irish wedding traditions since the Renaissance.
Among the wealthy, engagement rings were made from colored gemstones, until South African diamond mines made the precious gemstone more accessible in the late 19th century. The romantic Victorians favored a heart-cut solitaire diamond accented with love rubies, eternity sapphires and arousing emeralds.
American Tastes Change Tradition
As dowries became a tradition of the past and laws were repealed that allowed women to sue their fiances for breaking engagements, proposal rings made of rubies, opals, emeralds and turquoise became a source of financial security.
The modern notion of the engagement ring as a single solitaire was introduced in the U.S. by the already esteemed Tiffany & Co in 1886. A drastic departure from the embedded bezel mount, the raised six-claw Tiffany mount showcased the jewel's natural shine. Instantly catching the attention of American brides, the signature design remains the most requested engagement ring setting in the U.S. today.
Capitalizing upon the newfound wealth of post-war America, DeBeers forever changed the industry with its extensive 1947 marketing campaign, "A Diamond is Forever." Since then, the diamond engagement ring has become embedded in mainstream society, with an estimated 80 percent of modern brides wearing one before the marriage ceremony.
Traditional Cuts Shapes Trends
Despite having dozens of shapes and cuts to choose from, the classic round diamond is preferred by more than half of brides-to-be. The cut's 58 facets are designed to maximize sparkle. Nearly one-third of engaged women opt for extra bling by choosing a princess cut. The square design, which became trendy in the early 20th century among celebrities, features 76 facts to amplify the brilliance.
The vintage cushion cut, which is a variation on the elegant rectangular emerald cut, is undergoing a revival as brides look to past favorites for inspiration. Similar designs include the Asscher and radiant, with each containing a slightly different profile and number of facets to increase the brilliance. Oval, pear and marquis shaped diamonds are also commonly found on jewelers' shelves.
When it comes to design, besides the simplistic Tiffany mount, brides are drawn to the trinity ring. The larger center diamond, which averages 1 carat, is accented with two smaller diamonds. Depending on the couple's beliefs, the three stones can represent the past, present and future coming together or their covenant relationship with God.