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Why Do We Wear Engagement Rings?

The diamond ring has become symbolic of an engagement and impending nuptials, but where has that ideology come from?

The history of the engagement ring

A diamond engagement ring has become a fairly recent tradition, before the 20th century different items were gifted to a future husband or wife in order to symbolise an engagement. In the UK, a piece of gold or silver was split in two and each person would keep half, it was not until the late 1870’s when miners discovered diamonds in South Africa that they become prevalent in the jewellery industry.

The origin of the word diamond comes from the ancient Greek αδ?μας (adámas) which translates to the word ‘unbreakable’, the perfect adjective when it comes to describing love. At the time, diamonds were thought to be the strongest material on earth which meant giving your other half a diamond as a symbol of your love and devotion was the ultimate romantic gesture. 

 

Legends surrounding engagement rings

Some people believe that the tradition of an engagement ring derived from Ancient Egypt 4,800 years ago. Engagement rings and wedding bands were made from reeds, sedges and papyrus. They were twisted and braided into rings for women to wear. The circle shape was a symbol of eternity but as the materials didn’t last very long they were often replaced with engagement rings made from ivory, leather or bone. The expense and rarity of the material of the engagement ring would signify the wealth of the giver. 

Another myth of the engagement ring dates back to 2nd Century Rome. An engagement ring was given to a soon-to-be bride in lieu of money or a valuable object. The gift was not a grand gesture of love, instead the ring was a symbol of ownership, she would be gifted a gold ring to wear during the engagement ceremony and at formal events but while she was at home she would wear an iron ring that symbolised the legal agreement of ownership.

The first recorded gift of a diamond engagement ring was recorded in 144. Archduke Maximilian or Austria proposed to Mary of Burgundy with a diamond engagement ring comprised of thing, flat pieces of diamonds in the shape of an M. 

Why is there an ‘engagement finger’?

The ring finger on the left hand is sometimes known as the ‘love finger’ as many people believe it holds the ‘vena amoris’ or ‘vein of love’,  this myth has various roots in history. Some people believe it dates back to the Ancient Egyptians, where they believed that an engagement ring worn on the ring finger would ignite eternal love.  However, the earliest documentation of the ‘vena amoris’ was by Latin philosopher Macrobius Ambrosius Theodosius in 395 – 423 AD. He believed the vein of love had magical properties. Henry Swinburne is also a well known reference for the ‘vena amoris’ as he referenced this in “A Treatise of Spousal or Matrimonial Contracts” in 1686. Whilst the vein of love has been disproven it is still a popular choice to wear a wedding ring on the ring finger of the left hand.

In Western countries such as the UK, America and some parts of Asia it is custom to wear their engagement ring on the ring finger of the left hand. However, traditional Indian practice dictates that the ring should be worn on the right hand as the left hand is considered unclean. This is also custom for Denmark, Norway, Russia, Poland, Spain and Greece. 

 

 

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