Every girl wants one. But why? It’s a symbol of love, of commitment. At least that’s what the hopeless romantic hidden deep within ourselves tells us. From the time girls are five years old watching a Barbie movie to the day that someone actually slips a ring on their finger, they’ve got the idea of marriage and engagement shoved down their throats. Engagement rings haven’t always been a symbol of devotion and adoration. In fact, their purpose was for almost the exact opposite.
Engagement rings go all the way back to the cavemen, although theirs weren’t made of precious metals and gems. The cavemen tied braided grass around their significant other’s ankles and wrists, to “control her spirit.”
In the second century the groom would give the bride two bands, one of iron and one of gold, which symbolized their legal binding and his ownership of her.
During the first century, Asians used puzzle rings to tag their wives.
Fast forward to 1477, when Archduke Maximilian of Austria proposed to Mary of Burgundy using a ring that had diamonds embedded in it. This was the first ring that had gemstones in it and it became somewhat of a trend.
Circa 1700, Puritans gave their spouse thimbles, which ended up being cut up to serve as rings anyways.
In the 1800s, Victorians (who are rather sentimental) used human hair to make jewelry, and used gemstones to spell out names and words on their rings. Rings still weren’t the happening trend until the late nineteenth century, when a plethora of diamonds were found at Cape Colony, which led to an increase in diamond supply and an increase in engagement ring sales. Since then, diamonds and engagement bands have become very popular. By the 1940s, engagement rings become the top sellers in most jewelry stores.
Up until the 1930s, engagement rings were basically just a form of dowry and a symbol of a legal agreement. If a man broke off their engagement that would pretty much ruin the woman. She would be deemed “unmarriageable” by society, seeing as how her reputation had been tarnished. Their market value would go down.
However, women had what people in the media call a “kill fee,” which entitles the woman to a sum of money because their lover-boy broke off their agreement. A once important law called “Breach of Promise to Marry” allowed women to sue their ex-fiancé for breaking up with her. When that law was struck down, women started to want collateral up front, just in case their relationship didn’t work out, so they’d be left with some financial security. Oftentimes that collateral was an engagement ring. The point of the engagement ring in the early twentieth century was that the woman would keep the ring if in fact the couple ever broke up.
But now, engagement rings are just tradition with a meaning that has been lost in the past. People aren’t aware of their history and think that they’re really romantic, when in reality, they aren’t. Perhaps if more people knew the origin of engagement rings, they’d stop buying them. Then, engagement rings could fall out of fashion and men could find a different, more romantic way to propose to their sweeties.