Isadoras antique jewelry

The Traditional Ring

Different Traditions for Different Eras

The ring goes back to ancient Egypt or of if legend holds true, our oldest ancestors, cavemen. It is said a caveman would wrap a string around the finger of the woman he desired for his mate. Perhaps it is a legend less romantic than a man on one knee but it is perhaps not untrue.

The ancient Egyptians, Romans and Chinese all considered the ring a symbol of eternity, although each culture gave this symbolism its own nuance. The Egyptians saw the circle as something without end. And therefore love and life as symbolized by the ring had no end. The Romans saw eternity in a ring and also the circle of life. And the Chinese thought of the ring as an endless cycle of unbroken continuity.

antique wedding band Example of Vintage Maker’s Mark

The look of the engagement ring has had many permutations over the centuries-- to the caveman it was a piece of string, to the Romans a band of iron. During the Medieval era gemstones were introduced. The wealthy chose symbolic tokens to layer with the rings essential meaning. A man might give a ruby ring to symbolize love or a sapphire ring to symbolize the heavens. And in 1477 Maximilian of Austria gave a diamond ring to Mary of Burgundy on the announcement of their engagement. This is the first recorded history of a diamond ring used as an engagement ring although certainly not the last.

It is said for a time the Puritans tried to vanquish the engagement ring in their quest for a more austere world but they were unsuccessful. I think couples, not all couples, but most, need a symbol something to announce to the world that they have made a public commitment to each other and that they have chosen the most beautiful thing they can to symbolize it. And while the 50’s reached the height of engagement ring conformity, today more and more couples are looking back at history and forward at their future. They are picking rings that speak to them specifically rather than a ring that fulfills some prescribed notion of the perfect engagement ring. Because for each couple, it is their decision what expresses their lasting commitment, whether it be a diamond, sapphire or engraved band.