All things engagement rings
An engagement ring is so much more than just another piece of jewellery. This sparkly symbol of commitment is so exceptional that we were inspired to put together a complete list of everything there is to know about them.
Have you ever wondered where the tradition for engagement rings originates or what the proper etiquette is? Maybe you’re just looking for some inspiration for choosing a ring yourself. Wherever your interest lies, we’ve delved deep and provided you with a definitive guide.
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History of engagement rings
- The concept of an engagement ring is generally thought to have originated in Ancient Egypt, where the shape of the ring was considered a symbol of eternity.
- Do you know why the engagement ring is typically placed on the third finger? For a long time, people believed that there was a vein that directly connected that finger to the heart – the ‘Vena Amoris’, or the vein of love.
- Roman women were often given two engagement rings – an iron one to wear every day and a gold one to wear outside the home to impress people.
- In the 9th century AD, Pope Nicholas I announced that engagements would only be considered legitimate if the bride-to-be was presented with a gold engagement ring to signify the financial commitment of her future husband.
- In England in 1217, marriage with a ‘rush-ring’ was declared to be legally binding by the bishop of Salisbury. While this sounds a bit odd, it was designed to combat a widespread practice at the time of tricking women into mock marriages by proposing with a ring made of rushes.
- The first diamond engagement ring on record was presented in 1477 by Maximilian I of Austria to his betrothed, Mary of Burgundy. The ring was set with diamonds in the shape of an “M”.
- Popular in the Middle Ages, a gimmel ring was formed of two interlocking hoops (gimmel is taken from the Latin gemellus, which means twin). According to the British Museum: ‘traditionally the betrothed couple would each receive one of these hoops, which would then be reunited at the wedding ceremony.’
- Shakespeare makes many references to engagement and wedding rings in his plays – around that time couples in Europe often exchanged ‘posy rings’, which were silver or gold bands with a love message engraved on the inside.
- According to the British Museum, most of the engravings were ‘taken from popular literature of the time… or from collections on the language of courtship. A few customers would supply their own composition for the goldsmith to engrave.’
- The Puritans considered engagement rings to be too extravagant, so they gave their betrothed thimbles instead – often the tops would be sliced off, so that they could be worn as a ring.
- A particularly famous engagement ring from the Early Modern period was the ring that Napoleon gave to the future Empress Josephine. A ‘toi et moi’ ring (meaning ‘you and me’ in French), it featured two pear shaped stones next to each other – a diamond and a sapphire.
- Several new engagement ring trends emerged in the Victorian era. It was common to choose ‘acrostic’ rings that featured a word spelled out by the first letters of the chosen stones. For example, many rings would spell out ‘regards’ using a ruby, followed by an emerald, then a garnet and so on.
- Victorian engagement rings were ornate and often featured romantic motifs like hearts, bows, flowers and even snakes. According to the V&A Museum, snakes ‘symbolised regeneration, healing and rebirth and therefore were used as a symbol of eternity… Queen Victoria’s engagement ring was a snake with emerald eyes.’
- In 1947, after the Great Depression affected diamond sales, De Beers launched its now classic slogan, “A Diamond is Forever”. It ended up being one of the greatest ad campaigns ever, and diamond solitaire engagement rings remain the most popular engagement ring choice to this day.
- The rise of the internet and e-commerce allowing for the added privacy and convenience of purchasing online has meant that more and more people have turned to their computers or smartphones to do their shopping. However, when it comes to engagement ring shopping most people still prefer to visit a bricks and mortar store for their once-in-a-lifetime purchase.
- Why is this? One of our ROX diamond specialists shared her opinion: ‘The special significance of an engagement ring means many shoppers prefer a face-to-face experience with a trusted expert. With this comes the opportunity to view a selection of diamond rings side-by-side in person, see them in different light sources, under loupes, try them on, ask questions and truly be aware of exactly what you are purchasing and who you are purchasing from – and of course, you can walk away with the ring that very day!’
Diamond engagement rings
- Every natural diamond is incredibly old, formed long before man, or even dinosaurs roamed the earth. Natural diamonds have existed for at least 900 million years, with some being up to 3.2 billion years old.
- The Kimberley Process was created to stop the trade of conflict diamonds by setting out certain rules that members must follow. It has made it much easier to check that your engagement ring contains ‘ethical diamonds’, as ‘Kimberley Process members account for approximately 99.8% of the global production of rough diamonds’.
- The name diamond derives from the Ancient Greek word adamas, which roughly means unbreakable or indestructible.
- Speaking of the Ancient Greeks – did you know that they believed that diamonds were the tears of the gods?
- It turns out that diamonds have long been associated with love – the Romans believed that the tips of Cupid’s arrows were made from the precious stones.
- Diamonds worn in ancient times would usually be in their natural state – the stones were believed to have protective powers that cutting the diamond would damage.
- When you refer to the ‘cut’ of a diamond, you’re referring to the angles and proportions that transform a rough diamond into a polished one. Based on scientific formulas, a well-cut diamond will reflect light internally and through the top of the stone - this is what causes the diamond’s sparkle!
- The most popular diamond shape for an engagement ring is the round brilliant cut, which was created by Marcel Tolkowsky in 1919.
- The ‘colour’ of a diamond is graded on a scale that judges how colourless the stone is, with white diamonds being the most sought after and valuable.
- The term ‘fancy diamond’ doesn’t refer to a diamond being sophisticated or expensive – instead, it is used to describe diamonds when their colour falls outside the normal colour range e.g. pink, blue, green and yellow.
- The ‘clarity’ of a diamond refers to the number and type of inclusions found within the stone that will have appeared whilst the diamond was forming. Think of them as nature’s birthmarks!
- Wondering what it means when someone says they have a flawless diamond? A truly flawless diamond has no inclusions at all, they’re extremely rare and very valuable.
- Usually the first thing that comes to mind when you talk about judging a diamond – the ‘carat’ refers to the weight and size of the diamond. Don’t get too set on this characteristic though – bigger doesn’t always mean better when it comes to diamonds.
- The carat grading system is so called because originally, carob seeds were used as counterweights for a balance scale – now a metric carat is universally considered to be 200 milligrams.
- Along with your diamond, you’ll want the diamond ‘certification’ as well. This is basically a blueprint of the diamond that details all the important characteristics of your new bling.
Alternative engagement rings
- Diamonds are by far the most popular choice for an engagement ring however, you can also opt for alternative engagement rings that feature various coloured gemstones.
- Every precious gem has a different hardness factor that tells us how resistant that stone is to being scratched. This factor is ranked on a scale of 1 to 10 known as the Mohs Scale, with 10 being the hardest.
- One of the reasons the term “diamonds are forever” exists is because diamonds are considerably more durable than any other gemstone and rank 10 on the Mohs Scale.
- Looking for durable stones to use in an engagement ring instead of a diamond? Most jewellers recommend sapphires and rubies as the best option as they rank at a 9 on the Mohs Scale.
- While you can technically choose to present any ring as an engagement ring, it’s worth remembering that jewellers often recommend not using opals, pearls and a number of other gems as they’re too soft to be durable enough for wearing every day.
- You probably know someone with an emerald engagement ring and wonder why it’s not recommended alongside rubies and sapphires. Emeralds rank at a 7.5 on the Mohs Scale, but they are known for being rather brittle and fragile. If you really can’t resist the green gem, the right cut and setting can make a big difference!
- According to Edinburgh Assay Office Chief Executive, Scott Walter: ‘A hallmark is placed by an independent Assay Office and tells the story of who made or imported the item, the fineness of the metal and which Assay Office tested the item. Without a hallmark, you can’t be sure exactly what you’re buying, or if it’s worth the price tag.’
Caring for your engagement ring
- While you can’t do anything about the sentimental value, if you have your ring properly appraised and insured for its full replacement value, you’ll at least be covered financially if it’s ever lost, stolen or damaged.
- According to one of our engagement ring specialists: ‘Engagement rings (especially platinum ones) are super tough and made to endure a lifetime of wear, but of course no piece of jewellery can be completely infallible. To ensure your ring is kept in good condition, yearly check-ups with your jeweller are recommended.’
- ‘Ring claws can be caught on clothing and hair; and carrying heavy bags can cause shanks to become misshapen. A buildup of dirt and oil underneath claws can also cause them to move and your diamond to become loose – keep that ring clean!’
- You probably never want to take it off, but there are times when you really shouldn’t keep your engagement ring on – the National Association of Jewellers recommends taking off your jewellery if you’re ‘involved in sports, swimming or gardening or any activity which could knock or damage it.’
- If possible damage to your new bling doesn’t sway you, here’s another point from our expert jeweller at ROX as to why they advise removing engagement rings when you are working out at the gym or doing any kind of manual labour or heavy lifting: ‘not only could you damage your ring, but you risk injuring yourself if your ring gets caught in something heavy!’
- Do you wear your sparkler to bed? While it is completely down to personal choice, catching your ring in the sheets when you’re tossing and turning can do some damage to the stone or the setting, so take care!
- Chemicals can do a lot of damage to precious metals and gems, so take your engagement ring off when you’re spring cleaning, and put any perfumes or body lotions on before you slip it back on, not after.
- Have one safe place to store your ring when you’re not wearing it, that way if it’s not on your finger there’s only one place it could be. Keep it in a fabric-lined jewellery box, or something with compartments to prevent pieces from scratching each other.
- Want to get your ring back to looking like the day it was purchased? The metal can easily be polished or replated by a jeweller – problem solved!
- You should get your engagement ring checked by a jeweller at least every 12 months, so that it can be cleaned and the jeweller can spot any potential future problems like loose stones or bent settings.
- Wondering why you should go to the effort of heading to a jewellers? They will use professional grade cleaning solutions, high pressure steam, ultrasonic and buffing machines to clean any dirt or oil clouding your diamond.
- Looking for a DIY option for the time in between your yearly visit? Our specialists suggest that in between professional cleaning you can restore your diamond ring’s brilliance by using a solution of warm water and dishwashing soap. Leave your ring soaking in the solution for around 20 minutes before removing, gently brushing with a soft toothbrush and rinsing.
- Here’s another top tip for you from one of our ROX diamond specialists: ‘after cleaning your diamond, dry it with a hairdryer and polish with a lens cloth (the one you get with spectacles). This will ensure a super glossy, streak free finish to your beautiful ring!’
Engagement ring etiquette
- Times have changed and it is becoming more common for couples to venture out ring shopping together. At ROX, we know that this is a special experience for a couple to have together: ‘Our whole retail concept is based on presenting a truly memorable tailor-made customer journey. With many couples openly discussing marriage before a proposal they will often take their time to savour the experience of researching, shopping around and trying on rings together.’
- Although many couples do visit our stores together, and sometimes even purchase together, our ROX engagement specialists shared that the ring will often go into hiding until a surprise date that only the proposer knows. ‘Confident that their partner is going to love the ring, the proposer can focus on nailing that oh-so-romantic dreamy proposal. Romance is not dead!’
- In the UK, the most common finger to wear your engagement and wedding rings on is the third finger of your left hand. This is linked to that historic belief that a vein to your heart ran from this finger – so the ring (and your future spouse) are held as close to your heart as possible.
- Not sure where you’re supposed to wear your engagement ring during your wedding ceremony? The most popular method is to switch your engagement ring over to your right hand for the walk down the aisle.
- What about after the wedding? There are no hard and fast rules, some choose to keep their engagement ring on their right hand, some wear just the wedding band, but the traditional option is to wear the wedding ring first, closest to your heart and then the engagement ring next to it.
- More and more couples are announcing their engagement on social media. According to a recent Wedding Wire survey, 64% of couples are uploading their happy news for friends and family to see online.
- Wondering what to do if you’re over the moon with the engagement but not so much with the ring? According to The Knot – ‘if you seriously can’t stand it, gently and tactfully ask if your partner would mind if you looked at rings together – but don’t forget to reiterate that you’re thrilled to be engaged to him or her’.
- The other option is to modify the ring that you’ve been given – perhaps a different setting or swapping the band would make it more you? This may be a better option if your fiancé has put a great deal of effort into picking out your ring, you’re worried you might cause hurt feelings by swapping it, or you don’t want to lose the sentimentality of wearing the ring that was offered as part of your magical proposal.
- While it’s easy to get caught up in the look of the ring, Liz Clark from The Wedding Guide believes it’s important to remember what it symbolises. She says: ‘I have worn mine every single day since [my husband] and I got married in 1975. The dress is tucked away in a box in the back of a cupboard as are the photos, but my rings are the constant reminder of our promises to each other.’
- Sometimes things aren’t meant to be and engagements are called off. Ever wondered what happens to the ring? According to UK law, unless you made a provision for the ring being returned if the marriage doesn’t happen (e.g. in the case of a family heirloom), the ring is considered to be an absolute gift and therefore the property of the recipient.
- However, it is acknowledged etiquette that if the recipient is the one to call off the engagement, they should return the engagement ring. If a couple can’t come to a decision together as to who should keep the engagement ring, it is possible to ask the court to adjudicate.
Engagement rings present & future
- According to our diamond specialists at ROX: ‘A beautiful four-claw round brilliant solitaire remains the most popular style of engagement ring. For those planning surprise proposals, we would recommend this style – timeless and elegant, you can’t go wrong with a classic!’
- Halo and cluster settings have also become very popular in recent years, and Bridebook suggests a possible reason: ‘Setting a smaller diamond in a cluster setting is much more affordable and will make the central diamond look larger and sparkle more’.
- If fancy halo style settings aren’t your thing, we have another suggestion for you: ‘A marquise cut solitaire will look more impressive than any other shape of the same carat weight due to its long proportions and excellent ‘spread’.’
- According to our engagement ring specialists at ROX: ‘Platinum is currently the most popular metal for engagement rings. Its hardness, rarity and naturally white lustre make it the ideal metal for setting diamonds and precious stones. Heavy, strong and naturally hypoallergenic it is the ultimate choice for a ring that will be worn for a lifetime.’
- Platinum is particularly expensive due to its rarity. According to the National Association of Jewellers: ‘if all the platinum ever mined was poured into an Olympic-sized swimming pool, it would barely cover your ankles!’
- Looking for the perfect wedding band for your groom to match your platinum engagement ring? Consider opting for the more affordable palladium! According to the NAJ, palladium is a member of the platinum family and, like platinum, it is both hypoallergenic and tarnish resistant.
- Engraved messages on rings have been popular since the Elizabethan era but these days there are less limits when it comes to expressing your affection. According to The Knot, the Gemological Institute of America can laser-inscribe a microscopic message that is invisible to the naked eye and can only be seen with a magnifying glass – so your love note can remain a romantic secret between the two of you.
- Buying a socially conscious ring using ethically sourced gemstones is definitely more important to buyers now than in decades’ past, and we have a feeling that this is a trend that will never become unfashionable!
- For those who want the proposal to be a complete surprise but also want to ensure the ring is perfect, it’s becoming more common for a ‘token ring’ to be presented in the moment, with the couple shopping together afterwards.
- Recently at ROX, we are seeing lots of shoppers looking for that extra bit of sparkle – something a little ‘fancier’ than a diamond on a simple band. ‘Rivalling the classic diamond solitaire, rings with diamond shoulders are becoming increasingly popular – adding more diamonds is never a bad idea!’
- Round brilliant cut diamonds are still at the top of the list for a lot of people, but it’s becoming less surprising when someone decides to opt for something less traditional. From Anna Paquin’s moonstone ring to Cameron Diaz’s diamond studded thick gold band, the trend for the future seems to be simply to opt for whatever style of ring you love the most. We approve!
- With the increasing demand for something a little bit different, we are predicting an exciting trend towards engagement rings that showcase innovative new types of diamond cut: ‘These exclusive speciality cuts bring something totally new to the engagement ring market and are sure to be an exciting prospect for shoppers looking for something truly unique and special. Watch this space!’
Celebrity engagement rings
- As a woman who married a total of eight times in her life, Elizabeth Taylor was used to receiving stunning engagement rings. When Richard Burton originally proposed, it was with a necklace, but after a while he upgraded, making sure that the diamond was bigger than any that his new wife had received before. The Krupp/Elizabeth Taylor Diamond is a 33.19 carat Asscher cut that cost $305,000 at the time, but recently sold for an incredible $8.8million.
- Famous as the actress that became a real-life princess, Grace Kelly’s fabulous emerald-cut diamond ring was actually a replacement – her husband Prince Rainier of Monaco made the swap after seeing that the engagement rings of other Hollywood stars at the time had more ‘sparkle’.
- It might not be as big as some of the royal engagement rings that followed it, but it’s still pretty impressive – the ring that Prince Philip gave the Queen was made using diamonds from his mother’s tiara.
- Speaking of royal engagements – one of the most recognisable engagement rings of all time has had two very high profile owners. Originally purchased for Princess Diana by Prince Charles, the stunning sapphire and diamond ring was later presented to Kate Middleton by Prince William who said that this was his way of making sure his late mother didn’t miss out.
- Jackie Kennedy is often recognised for her elegance and sense of style and her unique emerald and diamond engagement ring from President John F. Kennedy is fittingly memorable.
- It isn’t as iconic as some of the other rings mentioned in this section, but Rebecca Romijn’s beautiful ring is unusual enough that we had to include it – the 6-carat yellow diamond is set so that it dangles from the band.
- The marriage might have been short lived, but the ring given to Marilyn Monroe by baseball star Joe DiMaggio remains a classic – a simple platinum band set all the way around with 35 baguette-cut diamonds.
- One of the most expensive engagement rings of all time, the ring that Jay Z gave to Beyoncé is valued at $5 million and features an 18-carat flawless diamond on a split shank setting.
- Thinking that you might want to be fully involved in the engagement ring process? Nicole Richie famously had a say in every aspect of the design of her vintage-inspired bauble, from the cut right down to the setting.
- What could be better than one gorgeous engagement ring? According to Victoria Beckham – as many gorgeous engagement rings as possible! Her collection of bling includes diamonds, rubies, emeralds and sapphires with a combined estimated value of $6.5 million.
- According to Scottish Wedding Directory, the halo engagement ring is here to stay with Pippa Middleton being the latest celeb to show off her gorgeous £250,000 art deco–inspired sparkler. The beauty lies in its vintage style teamed with modern setting and metals; appealing to brides who want the best of both worlds.
Engagement rings around the world
- You’re probably used to seeing engagement rings displayed on the left hand, but this isn’t the case worldwide. In many Northern and Eastern European countries (amongst others) the engagement ring is worn on the right hand instead.
- There are two rings to be picked out by people in Chile, where it’s traditional for both men and women to wear engagement rings. They’re worn on the right hand and then switched over to the left once the couple are married.
- Ever come across a Claddagh ring before? They’re traditional Irish rings that feature a heart, hands and crown motif symbolising love, friendship and loyalty. If you’re offered one as an engagement ring you should wear it on your left hand with the point of the heart facing your fingertips, then turn it around once you’re married.
- While Western-style diamond engagement rings are becoming more popular, the traditional Hindu engagement jewel is the ‘bichiya’ which is a toe ring.
- In Argentina, both partners swap rings to solidify their engagement. These engagement rings then double up as wedding rings, as no rings are exchanged during the ceremony.
- Engagement rings aren’t a traditional practice in China, though they are becoming more and more commonplace. Instead, there was a custom for the groom’s family to send betrothal gifts to the bride’s family – accepting them solidified the engagement.
Engagement rings myths
- You’re probably thinking that the engagement ring is all you have to focus on to start off with, right? Not so, according to our ROX engagement ring experts: ‘It’s always a good idea to look at wedding bands when you are purchasing an engagement ring. Making sure you love a ring both by itself and alongside a wedding band is important – especially if the style of engagement ring requires a bespoke, shaped wedding band. For this reason, we would recommend buying from the same store – the quality of metal, setting and diamonds will be the same too!’
- Ever heard the ‘rule’ that an engagement ring should cost the equivalent of two or three months’ salary? Really there are no hard and fast rules on how much to splash out on a ring – the most important thing is that you pick one that both you and your future spouse fall head over heels for.
- You might assume that Valentine’s Day would be the most popular choice of date for popping the question (it is the day of love after all), but actually December is the most popular time for people to get down on one knee.
- Convinced that men purchasing an engagement ring on their own is the only way forward? According to a Bridebook survey, that’s no longer the case. While 48% of purchases do follow that pattern, 44% of engagement rings are sold to couples browsing together and 7% to women purchasing alone.
- Under the impression that the size of the rock is the most important part of the engagement ring? According to a Wedding Wire survey, a huge 86.2% of brides said that the overall design of the ring was the most important feature to them.
- According to that same survey, less than half of the brides surveyed said that the size of the diamond was a key consideration. Essentially, if you don’t pay attention to the cut and the clarity as well, the carat will be just another number.
- Not a fan of the more traditional style rings? Remember, there’s no rule that says that an engagement ring has to look a certain way. Alternative rings are becoming more and more popular – we’d suggest subtly swinging the conversation towards your partner’s opinion on what they prefer before making the decision.
Take a look at our stunning range of engagement rings. We handpick each diamond for its superior cut, presence and above all beauty so you can pop the question with panache.
From the moment you say I do a wedding ring tells your unique love story. Take a look at our huge, varied range of wedding rings that will represent your beautiful story for a lifetime.