So, I hope you enjoy this 2,000 year walk down memory lane about the history of engagement rings!
The first wedding rings were made more than 2,000 years ago during the reign of the Roman Empire. During the following millennia, the ceremonial wedding ring tradition spread throughout the world. Today a diamond ring is recognized as a traditional part of marriage in many cultures. Let’s take a look at wedding rings that span as far back as the 1st Century.
The clasped hands are a common symbol found in early Roman wedding rings. When a man married a woman in the first century, he would give her an identical gold ring as a symbol of her equal status as his wife. These rings were always worn on the third finger of the left hand because it was believed there was a "vein of love" or vena amoris in Latin, which ran directly from this finger to the heart. Source.
2nd - 4th Century
This silver Roman wedding ring with its golden inset is believed to have been made sometime between the 2nd and 4th century and it was sold for 700 Euros at a recent auction. The ring features a couple with the female stretching her hand towards the man. Source.
This gold wedding ring was found in the Beaurains area of France where the Roman Empire once existed. The Beaurains Treasure was a large horde of Roman gold that was unearthed in 1922. The hoard was found inside of a pottery vessel by a pair of workers who were digging in the ground. This ring is set with an aquamarine stone and inscribed with the names Valerianus and Paterna. It is believed to be from the 3rd century. Source.
4th - 5th Century
This gold ring was made between the 4th and 5th centuries during the time of the Byzantine Empire (a continuation of the East Roman Empire). The flat hoop wedding ring inscription reads “OMONOIA” which translates to “Harmony” in greek. This ring was sold at a Christie’s auction for approx 9,700 USD (6k GBP), more than twice the auction estimate. Source.
4th - 6th Century
The Etruscan civilization was a powerful, wealthy civilization established in ancient Italy. This particular Etruscan wedding ring dates back to between the 4th and 6th centuries. The ornate detail of a bird and a wreath that resembles a bird’s nest exemplifies the power and wealth of this ancient civilization. Credits.
This early Roman/Byzantine gold marriage ring was made from gold circa 500 AD. This is a style of wedding ring that was popular around the fourth to the seventh centuries. The inscription reads “VIVATIS” spelled backwards. This allowed the ring to be used as a seal that was unique and extremely hard to duplicate. Credit.
The Byzantine marriage ring shown below would have been made during the 6th or 7th century. It features a male and female figure that represent man and his wife. The engraving “OMONOIA” is visible here just as it is with many other wedding rings from the Roman and Byzantine eras. This ring is currently in New York’s Metropolitan Museum in the Griffin Collection. Credit.
6th - 7th Century
This round-shaped Eastern Mediterranean wedding ring, also of early Byzantine, was sold at auction by Macdougall’s Fine Art Auctions in 2010. It is a wonderful specimen that allows an observer to see the roughness of the engraving techniques that were used at the time. Credits.
9th - 11th Century
This ring was unearthed in York, England where a number of viking items have been uncovered in recent years. In the year 866 a Norse army invaded the City of York and many subsequent invasions of England followed. It wasn’t until the Battle of Stamford Bridge took place in 1066 that the Vikings were successfully repelled. The ring can reliably be traced back to those years between 866 and 1067A.D. Credits.
This simple ring is a great example of an Eastern European wedding ring from the 12th or 13th century. The gold stirrup ring may have been used as a wedding ring in this time period. Source.
The custom of giving a wedding ring in Jewish culture has been around since as early as the 7th or 8th century. While most Jewish wedding rings bear an inscription with good luck wishes “Mazal Tov” in Hebrew, this rare gothic Jewish wedding ring of the 15th century was crafted with a house. Sometimes called a “house ring,” the house represents the marital home of the married couple and can also represent Solomon’s Temple in Jerusalem. Credits.
14th Century (pre-1349)
This ring was uncovered in the Erfurt Treasure in 1998. The Erfurt treasure hoard consisted of items that were hidden by a Jewish man (believed to be Kalman von Wiehe). This was during the time of the “black death” and the jewish community was being blamed for part of this epidemic, forcing many jews into hiding. Credit.
15th Century (circa 1470)
Posy rings rose to popularity during the Renaissance period. Their name comes from the inscription or “prose/poem” that could be found on either side of the ring. From short words of love and fondness to religion and nature, posy rings gave bearers a chance to possess something unique. Credit.
16th - 17th Century
Gimmal rings became popular around the same time as the posy ring. However, the gimmal ring was a puzzle ring that consisted of two or three pieces that bind together to form a wearable ring. The ring below features two clasped hands when the puzzle is put together and this style is known as a “fede” ring. The ring’s origins have been traced back to Holland circa 1575-1650. Credits.
Posy rings were not just used for marriage. They were also given to significant others as a sign of love. This posy ring’s inscription reads “Ung Temps Viandra” (a time will come), “Mon Desir Me Vaille” (my longing keeps me awake) and was likely given to a woman that a man eventually wanted to marry. This ring is believed to have been made between the years 1500-1530. Credits.
16th - 17th Century
This golden posy ring is believed to have been made in England between the years 1500-1600. The engraving on the inside of the ring reads "I AM YOURS KS" and It is currently being stored by the V&A Museum in Britain. Credit.
This ornate puzzle wedding ring is another fede ring (clasped hands) that consists of two separate parts. It is believed to have been made in Germany in the 17th century. The gold ring features three foiled diamonds, and brown, green and white enamel. Source.
Below you can see a beautifully engraved posy ring that was made in the 1700s by a goldsmith named Joseph Collier in Plymouth, England. The outside of the band is covered in ornate flowers and foliage, while the inside reads "I love and like my choice". The same inscription can be found on another ring within the same museum collection, so it is believed that this ring was likely a wedding ring and not just a gift from one lover to another. Source.
The earliest references to rings used in Jewish wedding ceremonies are found in the 14th century and many of these examples are similar to the house rings shown above. Below you can see a wedding ring that has been attributed to the 18th century in Central or Eastern Europe. It features 6 filigree bosses on the outside of the ring, and on one side an engraving reads "Mazel Tov" in Hebrew. Source.
In the Victorian era, engagement or betrothal rings were decorated with a wider variety of gemstones. Colorful precious or semiprecious stones were more widely used during this time. Diamonds were less common to come across such as this particular Victorian era diamond ring made in St. Petersburg in 1851. It is a rare Russian engagement ring styled with cobalt blue enamel and two cushion cut diamonds that compliment its larger diamond centerpiece. Credit.
Early 20th Century
This exquisite 20th century wedding ring was made between 1904-1908 in St. Petersburg. It is a Russian wedding band made of gold and diamonds designed specifically for men. The engraving of this ring makes it particularly unique and shows the crafter’s meticulous attention to detail. Source.
Late 20th Century
This stunning Ceylon Sapphire engagement ring once belonged to Princess Diana and it was presented to Kate Middleton as an engagement ring by Prince William in 2010. The oval sapphire ring consists of a beautiful 12 carat Ceylon Sapphire that is surrounded by 14 solitaire diamonds. It was created by Garrard & Co. in London and chosen by Princess Diana for her engagement ring in 1981. Credit.