A Brief History of Diamond Engagement Rings

diamond wedding ring

A diamond has long been regarded as the ultimate symbol of love between couples. However, it didn’t always start out that way. So, how exactly did the diamond become such a sought-after gem, and when did the practice of proposing with diamond engagement rings begin?

The beauty and brilliance of a well-cut diamond is absolutely mesmerizing, and this is why today’s society simply cannot resist it. But before all that we shall venture into the story of the diamond steeped in myth, antiquity, and of course, romance.

Let us look back at the history of the diamond.

Diamond Origins

Although it is unclear as to who actually first discovered the diamond, its history can be traced back to the early civilizations. Diamonds were thought to have their origins in India thousands of years ago. The early peoples attached a mystical significance to these stones, believing that diamonds could ward off evil. Warriors would carry them as talismans in battle. People went as far as attributing magical properties to the stone. It wasn’t until the Middle Ages when the mystical beliefs waned and were replaced by a fascination with the actual aesthetic beauty of the gems.

Ancient Proposals

Similar to the origin of the diamond, the exact beginnings of using engagement rings is not clearly known. Some people speculate that the practice of proposing itself has been in existence for centuries, although the rite of marriage did not get established till awhile later. One theory suggests that our pre-historic ancestors already observed an early version of the proposal. That is, declaring intent by literally tying up their chosen partner. This is not actually proven, though, so best take it with a grain of salt!

Wedding ringAnother “origin” story tells us that diamond engagement rings began with the ancient Romans, who reportedly believed that a special vein in fourth finger of the left hand led directly to the heart, called the vena amoris , or the “vein of love”. According to the story, this vein of love is the reason why rings worn on this particular finger are understood to be romantic symbols — a declaration of love, so to speak. However, variations of the same story have been attributed to the ancient Greeks and Egyptians, too. Sometimes the favored finger or hand changes depending on the supposed source of the tale. In some places, the belief has been carried on even to this day. (Because we really just can’t resist romance, can we?)

As romantic as it sounds, the existence of such a vein in the hand has since been debunked by science. The truth is that both our hands have the same vein structure in ALL fingers. But it does make for a really good, heartwarming tale of romance, doesn’t it?

A Royal Engagement

Now, let’s turn to a more believable story, and one that is rooted in actual history. It is said that the first recorded account of “proposing” with an engagement ring occurred in 1477, when Archduke Maximilian of Austria presented Mary of Burgundy with a diamond ring as his betrothal gift. They were reportedly married in 24 hours. (That’s not to say this was because of the diamond, though!) Back then it was customary for a noble to gift his bride-to-be with jewelry. It technically does not have to be a ring, but it just so happened that Maximilian chose a diamond ring for Mary.

Then again, in those days, society was always eagerly tuning in to the actions of nobility, let alone royalty. Anything that any member of royalty did turned into a trend in that moment. What the king ate this morning, what the queen wore at last night’s ball, or even what the prince gave to his betrothed! It is possible that Archduke Maximilian might have set a trend for diamond engagement rings among the nobility and the wealthy society of the period.

However, the rarity of diamonds back then made them very precious and expensive gems, and thus unobtainable by the common folk.

New Discoveries

The supply of diamonds from India eventually dwindled, so other sources were actively sought out. Diamond deposits were discovered in Brazil sometime in the 18th century, extending the availability of the gems to the public. By this time, there was a rising demand for diamond wedding rings and engagement rings.

Newly discovered deposits in South Africa during the 19th century yielded a sizable diamond supply, ushering in what would be known as the first diamond rush. At the center of this significant moment in history are two particular diamonds. The first, a pebble-sized stone discovered by a young teen named Erasmus Jacobs, which turned out to be a 21.25 carat yellow diamond that was later named Eureka. The second is an incredible 83.5 carat treasure that we now know as the famous Star of South Africa. A farmer by the name of Schalk van Niekerk traded everything he owned with the shepherd who found the stone, and it is this legendary deal that made waves in the industry, triggering the South African diamond rush.

Then came Cecil Rhodes, an enterprising young man who went on to build one of the most well-known mining companies ever: DeBeers. This is the company that made the slogan “A diamond is forever” so famous and popular that it became a timeless adage.

Decades later, in the late 1970s, rich diamond deposits were found near Lake Argyle in Australia. The Argyle mines became one of the largest diamond suppliers in the world.

Today’s Diamonds

Wedding DiamondAfter the discovery of diamond deposits and with the help of advanced technology, diamonds have become way more affordable today compared to those early decades. Diamond jewelry is now more accessible to the public. The diamond has become the most popular gemstone in many engagement rings. Practically anywhere in the world, diamond wedding rings are the obvious choice of couples who are planning to tie the knot.

Colorless diamonds have been the long-running favorites when it comes to traditional diamond jewelry, but these are not the only options available. Colored diamonds are also available on the market. In fact, colored diamond wedding rings are considered trendy pieces. For example, black diamonds would be perfect for the non-traditional types out there. Pink diamonds would also look great on a blushing bride.

The diamond has definitely come a long way from its mythical beginnings. With so many choices available when it comes to cost, cut, shape, color, metal, and overall design, there’s sure to be a diamond ring that fits anyone’s personality and budget.