Engagement Rings Through the Decades
Understand Why Diamond Engagement Rings are so Popular
When a bride says ‘Yes!’, it’s often said that she says ‘yes’ as much to the ring as the man. In fact, of such significance is the engagement ring that a public Facebook group, That’s It, I’m Ring Shaming has even earned the attention of mainstream media when giddy brides-to-be show off a creation that others consider to be more gaudy than gorgeous.
Throughout the ages, since 1477 when the first recorded diamond engagement ring was given to Mary of Burgundy by the Archduke Maximillian of Austria, diamonds have reigned supreme as the unseated king of stones and as the ultimate betrothal ring statement. There have been variations to cuts, settings, the metals in which the stone is encased and strong contenders for the engagement ring throne from other stones such as emeralds in particular. But, as far as engagement rings go, diamonds remain literally a cut above the rest, given their status as the ultimate symbol of luxury; and timeless, enduring elegance.
Why Diamonds are Most Popular
Take a Look at Engagement Rings Throughout the Century
Looking at engagement rings throughout the centuries and decades, why are diamonds still the most popular stone in engagement rings? The answer seems to be manifold. Firstly, diamonds are derived from the Greek word adamas which, roughly translated, referred to the hardiest of substances known to man and became interchangeable with the word ‘diamond’ after a while. It is said that the durability of the stone combined with its rarity and dazzling beauty make it a fitting tribute to the queen of a man’s heart. Formed deep underground millennia ago as they were, a diamond is also the literal embodiment of a moment frozen in time – and becomes that most true of tributes to a moment in your life.
Victorian-style Engagement Rings
A Serpent-Shaped, 18-Carat Ring Adorned with Diamonds, Rubies and Emeralds was Presented to Queen Victoria
Queen Victoria may have been the grande-dame of royal queens, but her influence on popular culture was as clear then as it remains today. She is credited with popularising the white wedding dress as but one example. Small wonder then that an entire era is named after her, as is a predominant proposal ring trend of the time. Queen Victoria was presented with a serpent-shaped, 18-carat ring adorned with diamonds, rubies and emeralds. Many young women desired the same shape (a symbol of everlasting love derived from Ancient Rome) but could not afford diamonds, an elite stone that was still very much the preserve of the aristocracy and super-wealthy at the time.
The desirability of diamonds as a stone was thanks to large quantities – comparatively so to what had been available on the market before – of these precious stones being discovered and mined right here on home soil in South Africa.
Queen Victoria was also a fan of Sapphires, and these were often gifted to her by Prince Albert. The next time the sapphire would make such a comeback was when Prince Charles proposed to Princess Diana with that 12-carat Ceylon sapphire surrounded by 14 solitaire diamonds.
Edwardian-era Engagement Rings – 1900
Lace-Like Patterns, Designs Reminiscent of Flowers, Bow-Like Features and ‘Airy’ Designs
The turn of the century until about 1910 to 1915 saw diamonds cement their place as the engagement ring master stone. This antique art-deco style evokes a sense of romance and elegance – although purists argue that the art-deco style in fact came after the Edwardian era, lasting until about the 1930s.
The ornate settings meant that a high degree of attention to detail was required. Think lace-like patterns, designs reminiscent of flowers, bow-like features as well as ‘airy’, floaty designs. Ornate touches such as milgraining and filigree are probably the two clearest hallmarks of hand jewellery from this period.
Why the new-found intricacy? Advances in metals were made, allowing strong metals such as platinum to be used. It was soon discovered that this enabled detail in jewellery design, without sacrificing the structure of a design.
Art Deco Finger Jewellery – 1920s
Emerald-Cut and Old-Cut European-Cut Diamond Rings Were the Most Popular of The Era
It’s interesting that in what is often referred to as the Great Gatsby era with its new, bold, jazz musical direction and clothing design (shorter hemlines, flapper dresses and even shorter hair in the form of a bob), there was a noticeable return to clean, classic design. While emerald-cut and old-cut European-cut diamond rings were the order of the day, the baguette cut started appealing to consumers for the first time. Emeralds, rubies and sapphires injected some colour but in no way overshadowed the diamond.
Art Deco Decade Reloaded – 1930s
Multi-Stone Settings Became Popular, with Diamonds Being Smaller in Carat Weight
As the second decade of the art deco era coincided with the Great Depression, lavish shows of luxury were not only less possible, but frowned upon as vulgar. As diamonds became out of reach for many, multi-stone settings became popular, with diamonds being smaller in carat weight and not necessarily central to the engagement ring.
Geometric designs were popular and served to detract from the smaller-set diamond stones.
A particularly strong trend was the ribbon band – bands set as bows or ribbons containing smaller diamonds. The rise of the film industry also meant that for the first time, the movies were able to influence popular culture.
The 1940s – Round-cut Diamonds Rule
The Founder of the Round Cut Diamond is Marcel Tolkowsky
With platinum in scarce supply, rose gold and yellow gold become the rage. The exact reasons for the platinum scarcity are in dispute, but it’s safe to say the outbreak of World War 2 played a role.
The main hallmark of this decade is the round-cut diamond. The father of this cut is universally credited as being Marcel Tolkowsky.