Engagement Rings (and a winner!)

Happy Tuesday, everyone!  Our first order of the day–a winner.  Christina Hollis, you are the winner of the guidebook to Kedleston Hall, the inspiration for our Castonbury Park series.  Please send us your mailing info at Riskies AT yahoo.com…

The second order of the day–weddings!  Again!  This weekend I attended the wedding of my oldest friend (we’ve known each other since we were freshmen in high school), and I had a fabulous time.  It seems to be weddings all the time around here right now.  I have now chosen a dress (the style is a secret for now though, since you never know who might look at his blog…) and a place for the wedding (Santa Fe in December).  Now all I have to do is find a moment between working towards TWO deadlines and wasting time watching the Olympics all the time (seriously–I was watching archery at 2 in the morning last night) to figure out everything else.

All this wedding business made me wonder about the history of the engagement ring.  Here are a few tidbits I found while doing some research:

1) The ancient Egyptians and Romans had some form of wedding/betrothal rings.  The Egyptians were a single twisted wire of silver or gold, and they were the first to believe the ring should be worn on the 4th finger of the left hand because supposedly a vein led from there to the heart.  (Many mummies have been found wearing these rings).  The Romans often had a small carved key on their wedding rings–a modern-day romantic might think it is meant to be “the key to the heart” but in reality it probably signified unlocking wealth, or ownership.  Wealthy Roman wives might have two rings, a gold one for special/going out days and an iron one for everyday.

2) The first known diamond engagement ring was exchanged between Archduke Maximilian of Austria and Mary of Burgundy in 1477. (for the rest of us they took a few hundred years to catch on).  One of the smallest diamond engagement rings on record was exchanged in 1518 between the Dauphin of France and Princess Mary of England.  The bride was 2 years old.  It didn’t work out.

3) In the Renaissance, “Posie” (promise) rings were popular, gold or silver bands engraved with verses exhorting the beloved to “remember me”.  (I have a copy of such a ring that was found in the excavation of the Rose Theater.  I always imagine the girl who lost it must have been very upset.  Or maybe they had a fight and she threw it away).  I read a legend that says in Puritan communities the brides were given a thimble (since rings would be vanity), but they ended up cutting off the tops and wearing the bands as rings anyway.

4) Rubies were very popular in the 18th century.  The Victorians, with their love of all things sentimental, loved DEAREST rings (bands set with a diamond, emerald, amethyst, etc).  Serpents were also considered good luck; Queen Victoria had a ring with this motif.

5) In 1867, diamond mines were discovered in South Africa.  In 1886, Tiffany introduced the “Tiffany setting,” a 6-pring ring that showed off the stone by raising it up off the band.  Diamonds really started to take off for engagement rings in the 1920s and ’30s, when places like Sears started carrying them.

6) In 1946, men’s wedding bands became trendy when Humphrey Bogart wore one after his marriage to Lauren Bacall.

In modern times, of course, the choice is endless!

What kind of ring do you like best?  Which historical wedding would you like to jump in the time machine and attend??  Whose ring would you steal?

About Amanda McCabe/Laurel McKee

Writer (as Amanda McCabe, Laurel McKee, Amanda Carmack), history geek, yoga enthusiast, pet owner!
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