So many beautiful rings and happy faces light up our Facebook feeds when that special someone pops the question. But how much do we actually know about the tradition behind this piece of jewellery?
Nowadays, in most western cultures, it’s hard to imagine a proposal without an engagement ring. However, even during prehistoric times, there were similar processes of giving rings related to marriage proposals. For instance, a primitive man would tie his chosen mate’s body parts, including ankles and wrists, with cords as an emphasising gesture of power and control over his partner’s spirit. Many believe that in Ancient Rome, a Roman philosopher known as Pliny the Elder granted his wife a golden ring to be worn on special occasions, and with an iron ring to be used at home.
Despite the aforementioned engagement ring origins, we often question why diamond rings are traditionally used when couples betroth. It’s been argued that the tradition started in the 15th century when the archduke Maximilian of Austria offered his marriage to Mary of Burgundy. The ring featured the first letter of his name in diamonds, possibly to remind Mary of their union. Consequently, the idea began to develop and spread when the Victorians started experimenting with the clear jewel by combining it with various other precious stones and metals. Later on, with the discovery of diamonds in South Africa, the stone witnessed a sharp increase in availability.
Photo above: Mary of Burgundy and Maximilian of Austria
The reason why diamonds are often associated with the engagement process may be the fact that it’s the hardest naturally crystallised stone on the planet. The mineral cannot be scratched, unless scraped by another diamond, which means that diamond rings may be worn on a daily basis without losing their worth. Moreover, in the past, many believed that the highly valued stone somehow secured one person’s love and symbolised fidelity.
Proposal acts at present still vary from one culture to another. For instance, in Thailand, engagement does not involve a proposal via offering a ring, but with a ceremony known as Thong Mun, where the fiancée gives gold to his wife-to-be. As regards Hindu cultures, the bride-to-be is given a set of toe rings called Bichhiya that have a purpose of pressuring specific nerves. This is believed to positively affect the woman’s reproduction. Contrastingly, Japanese couples don’t get engaged until an engagement ceremony called Yunio takes place. During this process, the couple gives several presents that symbolise various future aspirations.
Hence, engagement ring gestures are acts of great interest, particularly when looked from a historical perspective and compared between various cultures. This simple action signifying betrothal is a longstanding tradition, and as with all other traditions, it’s worth being educated about. You never know where your husband-to-be might hail from!