History of Engagement Rings

The history of the engagement ring is fascinating and at the same time contentious. It is widely accepted that the ancient Egyptians came up with the initial concept of the engagement ring around 2800 BC.

History of Engagement RingsEgyptians were often buried wearing rings made of a single silver or gold wire on the third finger of their left hands, believed to be connected directly to the heart by the vena amoris (although the circulatory system was unknown at the time).

The first documented use of an engagement ring goes back to Pope Nicolas I in 866 AD. Pope Nicolas had a very conservative stance on the sanctity of marriage and he wrote that when a man becomes engaged to a woman, he gives her a "ring of faith".  Over the following centuries rings made out of all sorts of materials emerged, in the early days rushes and grasses were used being the best materials to hand.

According to Pliny the Elder, in the 1st century AD, the groom gave the bride first a gold ring to wear during the ceremony and at special events, then an iron ring to wear at home.  During the 19th century, the bride-to-be sometimes received a sewing thimble.  After the wedding, the man would cut off the cup of the thimble thus symbolizing that the young woman's sewing was over and any dowry was complete.  The rim was then worn as a ring.

What most jewellers and contemporary historians agree on is that the first engagement ring, as we know it, was given by Archduke Maximilian of Austria when he proposed to Mary of Burgundy in 1477. The ring was a simple yellow gold band set with thin flat slices of diamond in the shape of an "M".  Since then, the design, value and nature of these rings have evolved but other aspects, such as how they are worn, have remained constant.

Moving on to the present day we have a ring that is close to our hearts, our Queen's engagement ring.

The Queen's engagement ring was made by the jewellers Philip Antrobus of 6 Old Bond Street (whom Prince Philip's uncle had recommended) using diamonds from a tiara belonging to Philip's mother, Princess Alice of Battenberg.  He designed it himself using a 3 carat diamond solitaire as a centrepiece flanked by five smaller diamonds on each side, all set in platinum.  Her wedding band was made from a nugget of Welsh gold which came from the Clogau St David's mine, near Dolgellau.  Reportedly, the future prince popped the question while the couple enjoyed a quiet walk around the grounds of Balmoral. '

George Pragnell LTD owns Philip Antrobus Ltd.

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