EDUCATION: History of Diamond Engagement Rings
DIAMOND ENGAGEMENT RINGS HISTORY
The tradition of a diamond engagement ring is actually quite modern!
In 1947, De Beers launched a ad campaign that equated a diamond with love. This started the modern diamond engagement ring phenomenon.
Here's how the diamond engagement ring came to be and the trend of the era.
The tradition of exchanging wedding rings goes back 4,800 years to ancient Egypt. But back then, the rings were made of materials like braided papyrus and reeds. The endless circle was a symbol of eternity and the hole was a symbol of a doorway to the future. This simple exchange was a symbol of true love. In Ancient Rome, women were given rings made of ivory, flint, bone, copper, or iron "to signify a business contract or to affirm mutual love and obedience," according to the Gemological Institute of America (GIA).
It's been believed that the left hand's 4th finger had a vein that led straight to the heart. It's the main reason why our 4th fingers are known as the "ring finger."
THE FIRST DIAMOND ENGAGEMENT RING 1477
It wasn't until 1477 that the very first diamond ring was commissioned by the Archduke Maximilian of Austria for his bride, Mary of Burgundy. A letter written to Maximilian before he proposed read, “At the betrothal, your Grace must have a ring set with a diamond and also a gold ring.” The diamonds were in the shape of an "M" and were very thin and delicate. The Archduke traveled from Austria to Belgium to ask for her hand.
VICTORIAN ERA 1835~1900
Engagement rings arrived in America in the 1840s but were still relatively uncommon. In the Victorian Era, engagement rings vary widely in designs and materials. However, Victorian rings were generally yellow or rose gold and often included diamonds. Rows, halos, and clusters of diamonds became popular during this era. So, in some ways, a yellow gold double-halo ring could be an example of a Victorian-inspired vintage engagement ring.
Since blue was the eponymous Queen Victoria's favorite color, turquoise and blue enamel appeared often in jewelry from this period. Pearls were also featured frequently. Since perliculture hadn't been perfected yet, pearls in jewelry from this era were natural, and small seed pearls were more common than larger ones. Other white gemstones like moonstone and opal were also popular.
Although large diamonds were uncommon at this time, consumers began to wear diamond solitaires. However, most diamonds were old mine cuts, old European cuts, step cuts, or rose cuts, since modern diamond cuts like the round brilliant hadn't been invented yet.
EDWARDIAN ERA 1901~1915
In the Edwardian era, designs were marked by their dainty and elaborate details. Most rings centered around a large diamond and the goal of the jeweler was to get as many diamonds on the piece as possible. They would do so by encrusting small diamonds into settings made of filigree and ornate detailing sometimes resembling lace.
Although diamonds and pearls continued to be popular, colored gemstones appeared in jewelry more frequently. Old mine cuts, old European cuts, and rose cuts continued to be the most common cuts for diamonds.
The most popular stone for engagement rings during this period was the old European cut diamond. The hand cut round stone remained popular from the turn of the century until the 1930s.
ART DECO ERA 1920s~1930s
The 1920s brought with it a wave of modern fashion, art, and, of course the engagement ring styles. When art deco style emerged, it replaced the frilly and intricate rings of the Edwardian era with a combination of diamonds and colored gemstones and angled lines centered around one large stone.
In contrast to the lacy lightness of Edwardian styles, Art Deco was all about bold geometry and repeating patterns. Instead of curvy, flowing filigree, Art Deco rings often included metalwork with repeating, sharp angles and tiny beads called milgrain. This style has enjoyed a resurgence in popularity in recent years.
Asscher cut diamonds were one of the most popular styles in the 1920s. Invented in 1902 by the Asscher family, the patented cut is similar to an emerald cut, but is wider set and features larger step facets to make the diamond appear more brilliant.
Due to art deco jewelry featuring a mix of diamonds with colored gemstones, it became common for an engagement ring's center stone to be fitted with a sapphire, emerald, or ruby instead of a diamond.
RETRO ERA: THE HOLLYWOOD GOLDEN AGE 1930s~1950s
Retro jewelry, sometimes called “cocktail jewelry,” refers to the style of jewelry that became popular beginning in the mid-1930s and continuing through the end of the 1940s. With the twin crises of economic depression and war, it might be expected that Retro jewelry would be minimalist and restrained. In fact, jewelry from the era was bigger, bolder, and more exciting than ever. In the midst of hard times, women sought jewelry that was eye-catching and extraordinary.
This was also Hollywood’s golden age, and women wanted jewelry that reflected the glitz and glamour they saw on the big screen.
The golden age of Hollywood, beginning in the 1930’s, created lots of desire for diamond jewelry, including engagement rings. The war effort in the 1940’s limited the production of platinum jewelry, so white gold alloys became popular -- and engagement rings became popular for the first time.
During the Great Depression, many couples opted for less extravagant engagement rings. As a result, styles became simpler and stones became smaller. They opted for more affordable alternatives instead, including amethyst, citrine, garnet, and glass.
Platinum was widely the metal of choice for engagement rings, until World War II hit, as the material was needed for the war effort.
Fashion in the '40s was all about doing more with less—and engagement rings were no exception. Jewelers added intricate designs, like leaves, flowers, bows, or hearts, to settings to make up for smaller stones.
As platinum was still scarce in the '40s, white and yellow gold emerged on the forefront for ring settings and bands.
For those who could afford it, glamorous cushion cut and solitaire center stones were all the rage by the mid-1940s.
DE BEERS 1947
De Beers launched their "A diamond is forever" marketing campaign in 1947 written by copywriter Frances Gerety, in an effort to convince the public that diamonds were symbols of an everlasting marriage.
Business boomed as young brides to be across America and then around the world were engaged to be married with a diamond. Soon, almost 80% of American brides were wearing engagement rings.
Here's the BTS story of this slogan:
In 1947, Gerety was assigned to come up with a snappy slogan for De Beers, an assignment she quickly forgot about. Supposedly, she remembered she was supposed to have something ready the night before it was due, and scribbled "A Diamond is Forever" on a piece of paper before going to sleep.
Nobody at the meeting thought it was a particularly impressive line, but, for lack of other ideas, they decided to go with it. Within a year it was De Beers’ official slogan and Gerety was hired to write all of the company’s ads for the next 25 years.
MODERN ERA 1950s ~ 1990s
The 1950’s continued many styles in white gold, and bridal sets with matching settings for the engagement ring and wedding band became best sellers.
The 1960’s style icons Jackie Kennedy, Mia Farrow, and Elizabeth Taylor all wore fancy shape diamonds. These styles created lots of desire for pear shapes, emerald cuts, and marquis diamonds for the high-fashion brides.
The squarish princess cut diamond, created in the 1980’s, was the first really new cut of diamond in ages and became wildly popular. Yellow gold rings with channel or bar set diamonds were also popular.
The 1990’s brought back the demand for platinum and white gold wedding jewelry. Three stone rings featuring round brilliant or fancy shapes dominated bridal requests.
De Beers's marketing campaign proved successful, and by the 1950s, diamond engagement ring sales skyrocketed and the custom of proposing with a diamond ring became the norm. The most common style at this time was a solitaire stone with diamond baguettes on the sides.
The public took an interest in Jacqueline Kennedy long before she was the First Lady of the United States. In fact, her engagement ring from John F. Kennedy had a huge influence on engagement ring trends. The elaborate Van Cleef & Arpels ring was fitted with both an emerald cut diamond and emerald stone, set in a toi et moi design, nestled together with a leaf-shaped set of diamonds.
After a simple courthouse ceremony, Joe DiMaggio sealed his nuptials to Marilyn Monroe with a diamond eternity band. The engagement ring, set in platinum and fitted with 36 baguette cut diamonds, was a huge trendsetter.
Elizabeth Taylor's third husband, Mike Todd, set himself apart from the actress's former husbands with a 29.4 carat emerald cut engagement ring from Cartier. The piece cemented an ongoing obsession with emerald cut rings, which would continue into the '60s.
The '60s were all about showcasing bright and shiny diamonds, and as a result, simple silhouettes became more popular for their modern look. Aretha Franklin's engagement ring from Ted White shows off the chic simplicity of this trend.
When Frank Sinatra proposed to Mia Farrow, the singer was prepared with a 9 carat solitaire pear-shaped diamond set in tapered baguettes. Although the couple's marriage only lasted two years, the resurgence of pear-shaped diamonds took off throughout the next decade.
How does someone propose to a woman who's been married four times? With a 39.19 carat Asscher cut diamond. Elizabeth Taylor's ring, which is known as the Krupp diamond, sparked a trend of grandiose, over-the-top engagement rings.
Angular and geometric cut rings took off in popularity during the '70s, making the uniqueness of a ring more important than its size. Jackie Kennedy Onassis's marquise-shaped ring, given to her by her second husband, Aristotle Onassis, quickly became a trendsetting piece.
Although the princess cut diamond first began circulating in the '60s, it was in the '70s that the style really took off. The look of the square diamond was either worn as a solitaire or with tapered baguettes to the side.
As people began taking a more personalized approach to their rings, it became common for the bride and groom to design matching wedding sets. Jewelers could sell you a matching wedding band to your engagement ring, as well as a band for your husband.
Yellow gold had its shining moment in the 1980s. The metal became the go-to setting for bands during the decade.
Princess Diana picked her sapphire and diamond cluster ring out of a Garrard catalog. Little did she know she'd be sparking an industry-wide trend. Not long after the royal-to-be debuted her sparkler on the lawn of Buckingham Palace, colored stone engagement rings started to make a huge comeback.
The '80s were all about excess. From unique finishing touches and tapers to side stones and baguettes, engagement rings were far from simple during this time.
By 1990, the minimalist trend was back. Settings made in yellow and 24-carat gold were out and cooler metals, like platinum and white gold, were in.
Since simplicity was so popular during the '90s, it's no surprise that the round solitaire diamond was a very common design.
The marquise cut (a.k.a. the football-shaped cut) had a major moment in the late '90s, when Victoria Beckham revealed her engagement ring from David Beckham.
2000 New Millennium
The biggest trend to emerge in the new millennium was halo rings. This style features radiant or cushion cut stones surrounded by a "halo" of pavé diamonds for an extra dose of sparkle.
Ben Affleck cased a frenzy in 2002 when he proposed to J.Lo with a 6.10 carat pink Harry Winston diamond. Sadly, the trend for colored diamonds, like J.Lo's or Paris Hilton's canary diamond, outlasted both star's engagements.
The simple solitaire engagement ring got a makeover when pavé bands were in style in 2005. Sometimes, the band was accompanied by a pavé halo, because, well, more bling.
It didn't matter if it was an 18 carat stunner like Beyoncé's emerald cut ring or a modest solitaire diamond, double bands added a little something extra in the mid-2000s.
Radiant cuts became popular in the late 2000s. Similar styles, like the cushion cut, were also common during this time.
Almost 30 years after it was gifted to Princess Diana, Prince William proposed to Kate Middleton with his late mother's engagement ring. The same sapphire and diamond cluster ring that sparked a phenomena in the 1980s caused a resurgence of engagement rings featuring colored gems.
It only became common to match your engagement ring and wedding band in the past few decades. Recently brides have started mixing metals again, as a nod to retro looks, like Queen Elizabeth's gold wedding band and platinum engagement ring.
With the reality of diamond mining at the forefront of people's minds, the task of seeking ethically sourced and conflict-free stones has never been more relevant. In recent years, many brides have opted for antique engagement ring for this reason, which has resulted in a resurgence of vintage styles.
Prince Harry chose a Botswana diamond flanked by two smaller diamonds from Princess Diana's private collection when he proposed to Meghan Markle in 2017. The three-stone ring created a new interest in the style, which hasn't been popular since the '80s.
From Lady Gaga's pink sapphire cluster ring to Katy Perry's ruby flower design, it's clear that celebrities love the colored stone trend.
Stackable rings have become popular in recent years, which was evident after Meghan Markle revealed a third band at the 2019 Trooping the Colour.
Today, brides often want thin banded engagement rings with small diamond accents in halos either around or below the center stone. Oval and cushion cuts have risen in popularity as Instagram drives styles, and many brides are choosing thinner wedding bands so that they can add an eternity band later, representing future life milestones, like the birth of a child or an anniversary.
*Article excerpts from: (1) Elle.com/fashion The Evolution Of Engagement Rings Through The Years. (2) theadventurine.com/bridal (3) brides.com/engagement (4) GIA: gia.com History Engagement Ring (5) IGS: gemsociety.org (6) www.racked.com The Surprisingly recent History of the Diamond Engagement Ring