Jewelry Trends

The History Of Engagement Rings

Rachel Akmakjian


Rachel Akmakjian

Engagement Ring History: From Ancient Rome to Ad Campaigns

A diamond is forever, but that doesn’t mean an engagement ring is. Engagement rings have changed dramatically throughout history, going from simple to extravagant, plain to gem-encrusted, and everywhere in between.

If you’re shopping for an engagement ring and need some style inspiration, or are just interested in engagement ring trends through time, here’s everything you need to know about the history of the engagement ring.

ancient Roman jewelry

What You Will Learn

The History of Engagement Ring-Giving Starts with the Romans … Kind of

The reason why engagement rings exist dates back to the Romans. But the engagement rings the Romans were swapping wasn’t as romantic (or sparkly) as the diamond engagement ring your fiancé gifted you.

Instead, around 200 BCE, Roman women would wear rings made from various materials to signify their contractual obligations. Rings were used more specifically for betrothals in Pompeii shortly after that. These rings were made from just about anything. While gold rings have been discovered at archaeological sites, other popular ring-making materials include ivory, flint, bone, copper, and silver.

Later on in engagement ring history, a ring’s purpose as a symbol of dedication and impending marriage was cemented when Pope Nicholas I, in 850, encouraged men to give gold rings to their beaus as a literal representation of the sacrifice they would make in taking on a wife.

Quote 1

The First Diamond Engagement Ring Comes on the Scene

While diamond engagement rings haven’t always been the first choice for proposals throughout history, the first diamond engagement ring still dates back to the 15th century. It was then that Archduke Maximillian of Austria gave his betrothed a diamond ring that uniquely showed off their initials in diamonds.

Engagement Ring Styles Take a Turn for the Romantic

While the Romans’ engagement rings were far from romantic (who really wants a “contractual obligation” ring made out of bone?), Archduke Maximillian introduced the world to his overtly romantic diamond ring. However, other couples were still celebrating their engagements with equally romantic jewelry.

Gimmel rings were popular in the Middle Ages. Technically three rings came as one set, and the set would be divided ahead of the wedding ceremony, with the bride and groom both wearing one of the three rings. After the wedding, the rings would come together again, and the bride would wear all three.

Posy rings were also popular and oh-so-romantic. They typically included a line of poetry or similar engraving on the inside of the ring. Sometimes, posy rings were made from yellow gold, but silver was also popular.

Gimmel rings

Engagement Rings History in the Modern Era

As we make our way to the 20th century, engagement rings became more common (though still less common than they are today). They saw a diamond as an engagement ring’s center stone became more likely. The bright and shiny diamonds complemented frilly and intricate rings.

In the 1920s, as the Art Deco movement swept through the United States, even engagement ring styles were impacted, with extravagant engagement rings often featuring an Asscher or emerald cut diamonds.

In the Great Depression, less extravagant engagement rings became the norm. Over the next decade or so, rings would change along with the economy and the war effort. For example, in the 1940s, platinum went to fulfill wartime needs, so a plain gold ring became a more popular option for many couples.

Diamond engagement ring sales took off in 1948 when De Beers introduced its “Diamond is Forever” ad campaign, which convinced the entire nation that diamond rings were the way to go for all things engagements — and the diamond jewelry market hadn’t been the same since.

Quote 2

Engagement Ring History Today

As the lives of royals and celebrities become household knowledge, we’ve gained keen insight into their jewelry choices. We now know which actresses and princesses sport emerald cut rings ahead of their nuptials, who has a diamond eternity band, and which couple purchased an extravagant engagement ring that costs more than some of us make in a year.

As you could expect, because we now have all of this info, engagement ring trends often follow what the celebrities and royals are up to — and this isn’t a 21st-century phenomenon. As early as the 1950s, when Jacquelyn Kennedy wore an emerald cut engagement ring, thousands of women likewise wanted to follow suit, and the emerald cut engagement ring gained new popularity like it hadn’t seen in decades.

Similarly, Mia Farrow’s pear-shaped diamond given to her by Frank Sinatra sparked a new interest in pear-shaped diamonds. Jackie Kennedy’s engagement ring from Aristotle Onassis caught as much attention as her first engagement ring, putting geometric diamonds at the forefront of fashion. Princess Diana’s engagement sparked interest in colored stones, while Jennifer Lopez’s (first) engagement with Ben Affleck drove interest in colored diamonds. Even in recent years, Jennifer Lopez’s engagement rings have caused chatter, as have those of Kate Middleton, the Kardashians, and Meghan Markle.

What’s Next? (And What Should You Buy?)

Engagement ring trends come and go, so it’s not necessarily a brilliant idea to base your engagement ring shopping on what you think will be popular later this year or next. Instead, if you’re currently shopping for an engagement ring, purchase the one you know will make your recipient happiest.

Not sure what they’d love? Finding out is easier than you likely think. Consider…

  • Asking them what they think about a loved one’s or celebrity’s engagement ring
  • Asking their friends or family members what type of jewelry they prefer
  • Paying attention to the jewelry they regularly wear can clue you into what metals, stones, and styles they like most
  • And, if you’re still not sure, broaching the topic of engagement ring shopping and go on a no-strings-attached browsing trip to your local jewelry store

Whatever Engagement Ring You Opt for, Keep it Protected!

No matter how engagement ring trends change, one thing that will always be in style — keeping your jewelry protected through the right insurance. If you’re hoping homeowners or renters insurance will keep you covered if an engagement ring is lost, stolen, or damaged, think again. Most homeowners or renters insurance will only cover a portion of the value of your engagement ring, and maybe not even that.

For the best protection and the greatest peace of mind, consider opting for specialized jewelry insurance like BriteCo’s. With insurance for your engagement ring, heirloom jewelry, luxury watches, and everything in between, we have an affordable plan that will fit your needs.

Get your quote today!

Also Check:

How Much Is Engagement Ring Insurance?


The Engagement Ring Calculator You’ve Been Searching For and it’s FREE!



UP NEXT: Types of Chains

Rachel's expertise is further enhanced by her distinction as a Graduate Gemologist from the prestigious Gemological Institute of America (GIA), equipping her with exceptional knowledge in gem identification and grading. Her education and experiences have given her an in-depth understanding of the demands and expectations facing jewelers and customers in today’s evolving retail marketplace.