Why Are Engagement Rings Made with Diamonds?

Why Engagement Rings Have Diamonds| Cape Town Diamond Museum

Diamonds are the Universal Symbol of Love

If you’re married or engaged, chances are you have a sparkling diamond on your finger. But when did diamonds become the universal symbol of love, engagements and marriage? These precious gemstones were not always a symbol of love and commitment. In the early years, diamonds were mostly used for decoration, for talismans to ward off evil spirits, and later used to “cure” disease. Let’s take a look at the brief history of diamonds and how they came to be “the” gemstone to wear in an engagement ring.

Early Engagement Rings

Why Engagement Rings Have Diamonds| Cape Town Diamond Museum

Engagement Rings Date Back to Ancient Egypt

Engagement rings are an age-old tradition that dates back to ancient Egypt, when reed rings were placed on their fingers to symbolise marriage. They believed the ring finger had a vein that was connected directly to the heart, symbolising their love. As this custom spread world-wide, different countries adopted different customs for engagement rings. In England, the couple would break a piece of gold or silver and each keep half, cementing the decision by having a glass of wine. In America, some women were given thimbles and once they got married, they would have the top cut off so they could wear them as rings. In other countries, women were given gold rings by their husbands, and metal ones to wear at home, as a symbol of ownership to show they belonged to their husbands.

History of Diamond Engagement Rings

Why Engagement Rings Have Diamonds| Cape Town Diamond Museum

Archduke Maximilian of Austria Proposed to Mary of Burgundy with a Diamond Ring

The idea of giving a gem-studded ring originates with Archduke Maximilian of Austria, who in 1477 proposed to Mary of Burgundy with a diamond ring, which was set with a point cut diamond and pieces of diamonds in the shape of an “M”. It is likely that this event began the tradition of the diamond engagement ring, which was mostly reserved for the very wealthy and powerful at the time.

When diamonds were discovered in abundance in South Africa during the 1870s, these precious gems became more accessible to the public. In 1947, the diamond company De Beers made it a phenomenon with their advertising campaign slogan “a diamond is forever”, and their popularity began to soar. This changed the way the world thought about diamonds and people began to see a diamond’s aesthetic brilliance and unbreakable chemistry as the perfect gem to symbolise the eternal commitment of marriage and everlasting love.


The first diamond engagement rings were not the beautifully sparkling and dazzling rings you see today. The fascinating history of diamond cutting began in the  14th century with point cuts, where the diamond’s octahedral crystal faces were polished to create even and unblemished facets. In the 15th century, the point cut evolved to the table cut diamond, which was the first widely recognised diamond cut. The beautiful emerald cut diamond evolved from this table cut. From here, many other diamond shapes and cuts evolved to the many cuts you see today, including the heart, pear, emerald, oval, princess, and modern round brilliant.

Diamond Engagement Rings Today

Why Engagement Rings Have Diamonds| Cape Town Diamond Museum

Engagement Rings are Available in a Variety of Designs Today

Today, diamond engagement rings are popular in almost every culture. While in earlier times they symbolised ownership, today they are a symbol of mutual commitment and everlasting love. The styles of diamond engagement rings have also evolved, and now there is an endless array of different diamond shapes, cuts and even colours to choose from. A diamond engagement ring can say a lot about the bride’s personality.  For example, a more traditional bride may love a classic white diamond in a round brilliant cut, while a more modern bride may love something more unique like a pear-shaped natural fancy yellow diamond ring.

Learn More About Diamonds

Why Engagement Rings Have Diamonds| Cape Town Diamond Museum

Learn All About Diamonds at the Cape Town Diamond Museum

Now that you are familiar with why diamonds are the most popular choice in engagement rings, why not book a tour through the Cape Town Diamond Museum where you can learn more about the fascinating history of these precious gems? You will also have the opportunity to see master diamond cutters at work, crafting the perfect diamond engagement ring.

We’re open seven days a week, from 9am to 9pm, at the V&A Waterfront Clock Tower precinct. Book your tour today. Located at the V&A Waterfront Clock Tower precinct. Open 9am to 9pm daily.