Diamonds Are Forever: Engagement Rings Throughout The Years
If you like it, put a ring on it. Few traditions can claim to be such a big part of our culture that they have a Beyoncé song dedicated to them, but engagement rings can. They’re symbols of love so closely associate with marriage that they’re practically synonymous with it. In fact, they’re so prolific that eighty percent of brides-to-be in America, from Miami to Seattle, receive diamond engagement rings. Whether a wedding is taking place on a beach, in a church, or in a barn, beautiful diamond rings are almost sure to be a part of the ceremony. But where did this tradition come from? How did it get to where it is today? And where is it going? Spouses-to-be exchanging rings as a sign of their upcoming nuptials might just be as old a tradition as weddings themselves. In fact, it dates back over 4,000 years to an Ancient Egyptian tradition in which newlyweds gave each other rings made of reeds to symbolize eternal love for one another. These rings were worn on the ring finger of the left hand, supposedly over a vein that ran directly to the heart. Today that vein is called the Vena Amoris, or “the love vein.” In Ancient Rome the rings were slightly more permanent, as hopeful husbands gave their future wives golden rings for special events and the betrothal ceremony, as well as an iron one to wear at home.
It wasn’t until the middle ages that diamonds started appearing in engagement rings, a trend started by Archduke Maximilian of Austria. When he proposed to Mary of Burgundy in 1477, he gave her a ring set with thin, flat pieces of diamond arranged in the shape of an M as a gift. This prompted something of a tradition amongst other European nobles, and precious gems of all sizes began to make their way into engagement rings. Interestingly enough, engraved rings also date back to this period, when “posey rings,” simple bands engraved with sayings or snippets of poetry, became popular as more subdued gestures of affection. It wasn’t until diamonds were discovered in Africa in the 1880s, however, that, their inclusion in engagement rings really took off. By the 1940s, diamond engagement rings dominated in the American jewelry market, becoming the leading sellers in most department stores. Even before they dominated jewelry sales, though, engagement rings were changing with the tastes of the times. As they began their rise to fame in the 1910’s, most engagement rings were simple bands of yellow gold set with a solitaire diamond, a fashionably European style. The 20s, however, saw an explosion of visually stunning Edwardian style engagement rings, with delicate threads of gold, platinum, and other metals laid on rings to give them a lacy look. Art-deco sensibilities made a splash in America during the 30s, when many rings bore the art movement’s hallmarks of intricately repeated and symmetric geometrical designs. However, this trend didn’t last very long, although you can still find gorgeous art-deco engagement rings today. By the time engagement rings dominated jewelry sales in the 1940s, Edwardian styles were all the rage again and the focus was back on solitary stones, although making the rings out of white gold had become a popular update to the classic look. Fewer trends dominating engagement ring styles was the calling card of the 1950s, but even then some styles were more popular than others, specifically the use of braided or engraved details in the setting. We also have the 50s to thank for one of the most enduring trends in engagement rings: large diamonds in the center of a ring flanked by smaller symmetrical diamonds, known as baguettes, on either side. Centerpiece diamonds also grew larger and larger throughout the decade, spilling over into the 1960’s, where a classic look featuring a single stone set in a simple band was widely beloved. However, some fashion icons
like Elizabeth Taylor and Jackie Kennedy were pushing the envelope of what an engagement ring could be. Because of that famous first lady, colored gemstones saw a rise in popularity for engagement rings, and the iconic actress eventually became just as famous for the truly massive diamonds in her engagement rings as she did for her work onscreen. The 1970s brought with them a revolution in which kinds of cuts were popular in engagement rings. Emerald cuts, which had been considered an especially fancy design choice in the 60’s, experienced a boom in popularity alongside princess cuts. These modern shapes were often paired with new styles of settings, and the practice of coordinating engagement rings and wedding bands for a matching set of jewelry became much more common. Modern shapes only continued to grow in popularity into the 1980s, with intricate cuts such as the pear shape garnering attention. These cuts were often paired with yellow gold, which had something of a renaissance during the decade. Finally, no discussion of 80s engagement rings would be complete without mentioning princess Diana’s incredibly famous sapphire set in a diamond halo, which both brought colored gemstones back into prominence and inspired legions of copycats all over the world.
In the more recent past, trends have pushed popular opinion toward larger and larger stones. A few trends also arose alongside this one, such as the popularity of fancier cuts, with Marquise-cut diamonds being all the rage in the 1990s. At the same time, solitaire rings rose in popularity once again, as many couples returned to traditional looks. When it comes to bands, white gold and platinum have slowly reclaimed the spotlight from yellow gold over the past twenty years. Thinner bands, both set with diamonds and not, also rose in popularity, in part because they made the centerpiece diamonds look even larger. In the past five or so years, one of the most popular ring styles has been something Diana would have been proud of, a cushion-style stone set in a halo of smaller diamonds. This shouldn’t be much of a surprise, since Prince William used his mother’s engagement ring to propose to Kate Middleton in 2010. More than any other trend, though, the first two decades of the 2000s have been defined by a vast array of popular styles, as the internet has helped couples from South Beach to Portland find the perfect engagement ring for them. Today, a few trends growing in popularity are shaking up the world of engagement rings. Non-diamond stones are starting to become more and more popular, especially Morganite and Mojssanite, as are rose gold or black rhodium settings, to give rings a unique feeling. Those settings are also being oriented east-west more and more, the main stone parallel to the band rather than perpendicular to it, as has been the usual tradition. Modern-day couples have also been creating their own unique engagement ring flair by indulging in stacking rings, multiple thin bands stacked atop each other to create a unique collection. Finally, three-stone rings are wildly popular these days, with one larger round stone flanked by smaller diamonds on either side. This is partly just the result of their rise in popularity over the past twenty years, but considering the gorgeous three-stone ring Prince Harry used to propose to Megan Markle recently, we shouldn’t expect to see that style going away anytime soon. What we should expect to see, though, is a twenty-first century update to that style in which all three of the stones are the same size. Speaking of style, some elements of the art-deco movement are gaining popularity in today’s engagement ring market. Intricate, geometrical shapes are in vogue right now, and not
just in or around the setting. Thicker, bolder bands set with diamonds a-plenty and featuring striking geometrical patterns while skipping out on having a single dominant stone are finding favor with women looking for a more practical style that can still make a glamorous splash. Probably the biggest trend of all, though, is that modern-day couples are looking for unique rings. In the world dominated by social media and the internet, every couple wants to set themselves apart from their Facebook friends. Whether it’s the way diamonds are set in the band, the cut of the centerpiece, or the shape of the band itself (chevron rings have become more and more popular in recent years), couples are looking for rings that express the special, inimitable bond they share.
In the near future, we can expect to see more and more emphasis on couples wanting engagement rings that set them apart. With this in mind, expect to see lots of asymmetrical styles and custom rings gracing your news feed in the coming engagement seasons. Unique silhouettes are the name of the engagement ring game right now, and plenty of couples are creating these by using open rings, a sophisticated way to let a bride or groom flaunt their special style. Another splash in terms of unique silhouettes is the split shank band, which suspends the main stone in between two parallel bands, which are often set with smaller stones. This gives the whole ring a delicate look, as if the diamond is floating in midair. For couples that want something a bit more flashy, the, criss-cross bands are having a moment of massive popularity when it comes to engagement rings and everyday rings alike. At the same time, many couples will try to stand out by putting subtle twists on traditional designs. Clustered stones, with multiple stones of the same size all sitting together and set in a slender, traditional band are on the rise, and are the premier choice for the women who’ve been favoring the no-fuss look of thicker bands today. The halo styles of the 80s are also making a resurgence, but with a modern twist. Many couples are using non-traditional cuts for this traditional style, pairing the classic halo design with emerald, princess, or other non-oval diamonds. These clusters can be customized to create unique shapes for any couple, letting them express their personality and style. Creative bands are also a beautiful new trend we’re seeing more of from modern
couples. By adding personal touches like braiding, unique flourishes, or engravings, souses-to- be can show off their creative side and make a statement with their engagement rings. One
other new style that’s worth keeping an eye on when it comes to unique bands is mixing different metals or metals and gems of different colors. These bold, colorful rings can make a powerful statement on behalf of the bride wearing them. Color, in fact, is one of the broader trends making its way into engagement rings nowadays. Through stones and bands alike, many couples are adding different hues to their engagement ring as a way to show off their personal flair.
A final trend that’s been gathering steam recently and will likely continue to be relevant for some time is socially conscious rings. Whether it’s by featuring ethically sourced diamonds or using materials that help preserve the ocean, many couples today are looking for rings that have a positive impact on their world. With such a rich history and wide range of designs, there’s obviously plenty of wedding rings to choose from when you’re popping the question to your special someone. But whether you want to give them some throwback glamour or an avant-garde art piece, it’s always best to
get some professional help with choosing the perfect ring. Fortunately, Diamonds by Raymond Lee in Boca Raton is here to help. No matter what style, stone, or material you’re looking for, we can help you find the perfect ring for the person of your dreams. One piece of advice before you start your search, though: don’t propose with a ring made of reeds. Those don’t get as much love as they used to.