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Betrothal, commitment, engagement, poesy, promise…rings of this nature have an interesting and long history. Please note, there are several versions of the history of such rings – so serious historians please don’t pick the eyes out of the following ‘facts’.
It is thought that the practice of placing a ring on the finger of ones ‘wife’ evolved from the (cave man) days whereby the ‘groom’ would bind his intended’s hands and feet to keep her with him. As he became sure she would not run away, the bonds were gradually freed until the man who placed it there placed a simple ring on the finger to remind its wearer of ‘ownership’. Another version of this binding practice, is that it was a pagan tradition intended to contain the bride’s ‘spirit’.
In Anglo Saxon times rings made from hemp were given to the bride to signify a union. These ‘beweddings’ were not a formalised event. Usually an agreement was reached between the groom and the bride’s father and the union was signalled to the community by means of a feast or celebration of some kind. Around 4800, the Ancient Egyptians were credited with the genesis of wedding band exchanges. They fashioned these out of reeds. The Romans made their rings from iron.
The first rings made of precious metals were given to represent part of the ‘bride price’ – the sum of money or equivalent paid by the groom to the bride’s father for her ‘hand’. The Greeks gave a key, to signify the property the wife would share in.
The concept of an ‘engagement ring’ is said to date back to the 13th century when Pope Innocent III instituted a waiting period between betrothal and marriage.
Early engagement rings did not usually feature a diamond. The first recorded diamond engagement ring was given by Archduke Maximillian of Hamburg to Mary of Burgundy in 1477. Indeed, it is said, the practise of setting a stone into a betrothal ring came about because of the crude fashioning of early metal rings. The stones were set in to make the ring look more attractive.
It is interesting to note, that the ‘tradition’ of a ‘diamond engagement ring’ is a 20th century phenomenon. Popularising diamond engagement rings came about from an advertising campaign launched to boost De Beers flagging sales in 1939.
I read somewhere that 70% of engaged women have a diamond ring. I haven’t sourced this reference, as it is impossible to prove the accuracy of that statistic. Whether 15, 50, 70 or even 83.5% of engaged women do in fact have a diamond ring, there is clearly a percentage that do not. What are the reasons for this? Some women do not like diamonds; some can’t afford them or choose not to invest such an amount of money on a ring. Some prefer to use a commitment ring to mark the occasion – something just between the partner’s, not for bragging rights – just to make a statement.
A marriage proposal is an incredibly romantic and personal moment between two people who want to spend the rest of their lives together. It is also the last private time together for that aspect of their love. After that the frenzy of wedding preparation begins.
Of course a marriage ceremony does not have to be traditional. It does not have to involve a huge amount of fuss. However, if bridal magazines, websites and other literature are to be believed, girls (and boys) still want the big deal. They are still prepared to spend a fortune in time and money to have that perfect day. And if you are going for the ‘full bit’, the time when you ask for your partner’s hand (if the commitment is leading to marriage) is the last private moment between ‘I will’ and ‘I do’. After that, no matter how much you want to do it all yourselves – marriage usually happens by committee.
So what is the bottom line here? A ring to mark such a moment can basically be anything that you want it to be – the blingiest of bling or out of a xmas cracker – it should never be a statement of what you earn, rather a statement of what you feel.
Melinda Nugent FGAA