One of the first recorded accounts of an engagement ring was in 1477 when Archduke Maximilian of Austria presented Mary of Burgundy with a diamond ring. Maximilian wed Mary within 24 hours, thus beginning a tradition that has spanned centuries.
Although diamonds were reserved for royalty and the wealthy for the next 400 years, it wasn't until 1870, with the discovery of the diamond mines in South Africa, that these gems became more accessible and affordable to the public.
Since that first engagement, the betrothal ring has a rich history of change.
- The tradition of placing both the engagement ring and wedding band on the fourth finger of the left hand stems from a Greek belief that a certain vein in that finger, the vena amoris, runs directly to the heart.
- Posy rings, which were inscribed with love poems and messages, were popular betrothal rings from the Middle Ages until Victorian times.
- The smallest engagement ring on record was given to two-year-old Princess Mary, daughter of Henry VIII, on the event of her betrothal to the infant Dauphin of France, son of King Francis I, in 1518. Mary's tiny gold ring was set with a diamond.
- Hearts were favorite motifs for engagement and wedding rings during the 17th and 18th centuries. These rings often used rubies (signifying love) and diamonds (signifying eternity).
- Colored stones were the gem of choice for engagement rings in the 18th and 19th centuries.
- The Tiffany, or solitaire, setting was introduced in the late 19th century.
- The princess ring, sporting three to five large diamonds in a row across the top, was fashionable in the United States in the early 20th century. The three-stone style is extremely popular today.
- In the early part of the 20th century, platinum was the metal of choice for engagement rings because of its strength and durability in holding a diamond. However, platinum was declared a strategic metal during World War II, and its usage was restricted to military purposes. This led to the rise of both yellow and white gold in bridal jewelry. During the past 10 years, platinum has made a dramatic comeback.