Silvio’s recent completion of new wedding bands seems like a good opportunity to further explore beliefs associated with the jewelry we wear as a symbol of commitment, and its history. We discussed the history of wedding bands in a previous article. Let us explore the engagement ring in the few paragraphs that follow.
It is interesting to note that in France and England, throughout the 15th, 16th and 17th centuries, women were offered what was then called a “Posie ring,” as a symbol of their engagement to a lover. These rings did not bear a gemstone. Instead, they were bands with an inscription on the outer surface, later moved to the hidden, inside surface. The inscription consisted in a sentiment or poem symbolizing a token of love and affection. Inscriptions were almost exclusively in Old French or Latin. The word “Posie” may be a variation of “Poésie,” the French word for Poetry.
As with the wedding band, the engagement band used by Ancient Egyptians symbolized a never-ending cycle as well as a gateway. However, it might not surprise you to learn that in ancient times the engagement or promise ring symbolized ownership as much as love, if not more. In other words, a man claimed his wife.
The first well-documented use of an engagement ring bearing a diamond is attributed to the Archduke Maximilian of Austria, 1477, upon his betrothal to Mary of Burgundy. There is little doubt that this influenced the wealthy social classes of that time and the diamond engagement ring may owe much of its popularity to this historical moment.
Supply increased considerably by 1870, when diamond mines were discovered in Africa. With increasing supply come increasing production and demand. Another side effect of this trend is wider availability. By then, individuals of lesser means could acquire diamonds and diamond rings. The rest, as we say, is history.
Like the wedding band, as discussed previously also, the engagement ring is worn on the fourth finger of the left hand. This, again, is characteristic of western cultures and it is based on an ancient belief attributed to the Egyptians whereby this finger contained a vein that lead directly to the heart. Interestingly, they called it “vena amoris”. A translation is surely unnecessary.
Meanwhile, at the workbench, the Topaz and Diamond earrings are ready!
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