An engagement ring is a ring indicating that the person wearing it is engaged to be married, especially in Western cultures. In the United Kingdom, Ireland and North America, engagement rings are traditionally worn only by women, and rings can feature diamonds or other gemstones. In other cultures men and women wear matching rings. In some cultures, engagement rings are also used as wedding rings.
Conventionally, the woman's ring is presented as a betrothal gift by a man to his prospective spouse while he proposes marriage or directly after she accepts his marriage proposal. It represents a formal agreement to future marriage.
In North America, Ireland and the United Kingdom, it is customarily worn on the left hand ring finger, though customs vary across the world.
Before agreeing to marry, a couple may choose to buy and wear pre-engagement rings, also called promise rings. After marrying, the couple may wear both engagement rings and wedding rings, or if they prefer, only the wedding rings. Some brides have their engagement and wedding rings permanently soldered together after marriage.
Engagement bands began in Ancient Egypt as the circle was used to symbolize a never ending cycle and the space in it as a gateway. Betrothal rings were used during Roman times, but were not generally revived in the Western world until the 13th century. Roman men gave engagement rings that included a small key. Romantics believe that the carved key was a symbolic key to protect and cherish the husband's heart. However, the key most likely stood for the unlocking of wealth.
Rings are placed on the fourth finger on the left hand, because Ancient Greeks believed that it contained a vein that led to the heart (vena amoris). Romans believed the ring to be a symbol for ownership rather than love. It meant that the husband would claim his wife. In second century B.C.E., the Roman bride was given two rings, a gold one which she wore in public, and one made of iron, which she could wear at home while doing house chores.
Greeks may have been the first to create engagement rings, but to them they were known as betrothal rings. The rings however were not required to be given before marriage, unlike traditional engagement rings of today.
During the age of Colonialism in America, a thimble was given as a sign of eternal companionship. Women would remove the tops of the thimble in order to create a ring. The first well-documented use of a diamond ring to signify engagement was by the Archduke Maximilian of Austria in imperial court of Vienna in 1477, upon his betrothal to Mary of Burgundy. This then influenced those of higher social class and of significant wealth to give diamond rings to their loved ones. Diamond mines in Africa were discovered in 1870, which then increased supply. As production increased, those of lesser means were able to join in on this movement. However, diamond engagement rings were for a long time seen as the domain of the nobility and aristocracy, and tradition often favoured simpler engagement bands. The idea of a diamond engagement ring being a fitting choice for everybody was created in the United States as recently as in the 1930s, and has been aggressively promoted since through the entertainment industry.
Historically, the uses of rings were for "betrothal" reasons such as for the Romans, as it did not always signify marriage. In fact, rings were a sign of affection or friendship. The history of engagement rings first originated in 1215, when Pope Innocent III established a waiting period between the promise of marriage, and the actual marriage ceremony. The rings were then signified the couple's devotion to one another, in that period of time. During that period of time engagement rings often represented one's social rank as only the rich were allowed to own or wear rings with jewels.
Before the 20th century, other types of betrothal gifts were common. Near the end of the 19th century, it was typical for the bride-to-be to receive a sewing thimble rather than an engagement ring. This practice was particularly common among religious groups that shunned jewelry (plain people). Engagement rings did not become standard in the West until the end of the 19th century, and diamond rings did not become common until in the 1930s in the United States, as a result of an extensive nationwide marketing campaign by the diamond industry. The phenomenon arose even later in other countries. Now, 80% of American women are offered a diamond ring to signify engagement.
In the 21st century, especially within Western civilization, it has become a common expectation for the bride-to-be to permanently wear her ring as a means to maintain their commitment.
In the 20th century, if he could afford it, the typical Western groom privately selected and purchased an engagement ring, which he then presented to his desired bride when he proposed marriage. More recently, couples frequently select an engagement ring together. In countries where both partners wear engagement rings, matching rings may be selected and purchased together. In the United States and Canada, where only women commonly wear engagement rings, women occasionally present their partners with an engagement ring.
Like all jewelry, the price for an engagement ring varies considerably depending on the materials used: the design of the ring, whether it includes a gemstone, the value of any gemstone, and the seller. The price of the gemstones, if any, in the ring depends on the type and quality of the gem. Diamonds have a standardized description that values them according to their carat weight, color, clarity and cut. Other gemstones, such as sapphires, rubies, emeralds, have different systems. These may be chosen to honor a family tradition, to use family heirlooms, to be unique, to be socially responsible (they are not associated with blood diamonds or the pollution caused by gold mining and cyanide process), to fit the individual's stylistic preferences, or to manage cost. Synthetic stones and diamond substitutes such as cubic zirconias and moissanites are also popular choices that are socially responsible and reduce cost while maintaining the desired appearance.
The idea that a man should spend a significant fraction of his annual income for an engagement ring originated de novo from De Beers marketing materials in the early 20th century, in an effort to increase the sale of diamonds. In the 1930s, they suggested that a man should spend the equivalent of one month's income in the engagement ring; later they suggested that he should spend two months' income on it. In 2007, the average cost of an engagement ring in USA as reported by the industry was US$2,100.
One reason for the increased popularity of expensive engagement rings is its relationship to human sexuality and the woman's marriage prospects. Until the Great Depression, a man who broke off a marriage engagement could be sued for breach of promise. Monetary damages included actual expenses incurred in preparing for the wedding, plus damages for emotional distress and loss of other marriage prospects. Damages were greatly increased if the woman had engaged in sexual intercourse with her fiancé. Beginning in 1935, these laws were repealed or limited. However, the social and financial cost of a broken engagement was no less: marriage was the only financially sound option for most women, and if she was no longer a virgin, her prospects for a suitable future marriage were greatly decreased. The diamond engagement ring thus became a source of financial security for the woman.
Tradition generally holds that if the betrothal fails because the man himself breaks off the engagement, the woman is not obliged to return the ring. This reflects the ring's role as a form of compensation for the woman's damaged reputation. Legally, this condition can be subject to either a modified or a strict fault rule. Under the former, the fiancé can demand the return of the ring unless he breaks the engagement. Under the latter, the fiancé is entitled to the return unless his actions caused the breakup of the relationship, the same as the traditional approach. However, a no-fault rule is being advanced in some jurisdictions, under which the fiancé is always entitled to the return of the ring. The ring only becomes the property of the woman when marriage occurs. An unconditional gift approach is another possibility, wherein the ring is always treated as a gift, to be kept by the fiancée whether or not the relationship progresses to marriage. Recent court rulings have determined that the date in which the ring was offered can determine the condition of the gift. E.g. Valentine's Day and Christmas are nationally recognized as gift giving holidays. A ring offered in the form of a Christmas present will likely remain the personal property of the recipient in the event of a breakup.
In most states of the United States, engagement rings are considered "conditional gifts" under the legal rules of property. This is an exception to the general rule that gifts cannot be revoked once properly given. See, for example, the case of Meyer v. Mitnick, 625 N.W.2d 136 (Michigan, 2001), whose ruling found the following reasoning persuasive: "the so-called 'modern trend' holds that because an engagement ring is an inherently conditional gift, once the engagement has been broken, the ring should be returned to the donor. Thus, the question of who broke the engagement and why, or who was 'at fault,' is irrelevant. This is the no-fault line of cases."
One case in New South Wales, Australia ended in the man suing his former fiancée because she threw the ring away, after he told her she could keep it even though the marriage plans had fallen through. The Supreme Court of New South Wales held that, despite what the man said, the ring remained a conditional gift (partly because his saying that she could keep it reflected his desire to salvage the relationship) and she was ordered to pay him its A$15,250 cost.
In England and Wales, the gift of an engagement ring is presumed to be an absolute gift to the fiancée. This presumption may be rebutted however by proving that the ring was given on condition (express or implied) that it must be returned if the marriage did not take place, for whatever reason. This was decided in the case Jacobs v Davis  2 KB 532.
Engagement rings, like any other kind of jewelry, come in many different styles.
Gold and platinum are preferred for engagement rings, but common metal types such as titanium, silver, and stainless steel are also used for engagement rings. This allows for the bride-to-be to exert her own individual style into the ring in a simplistic manner.
In the United States, where engagement rings have been traditionally worn only by women, diamonds have been widely featured in engagement rings since the middle of the 20th century. Solitaire rings have one single diamond. Archetype of this modern form is the solitaire Tiffany Setting which was introduced by Tiffany & Co. in 1886 and featured the first mount which holds the gemstone with six claws (so called Tiffany mount). The modern favorite cut for an engagement ring is the brilliant cut, which provides the maximum amount of sparkle to the gemstone. The traditional engagement rings may have different prong settings and bands. Another major category is engagement rings with side stones. Rings with a larger diamond set in the middle and smaller diamonds on the side fit under this category. Three-stone diamond engagement rings, sometimes called trinity rings or trilogy rings, are rings with three matching diamonds set horizontally in a row with the bigger stone placed in the center. The three diamonds on the ring are typically said to represent the couple's past, present, and future, but other people give religious significance to the arrangement.
A wedding set, or bridal set, includes an engagement ring and a wedding band that matches and can be bought as a set. In some cases, the wedding ring looks "incomplete"; it is only when the two halves, engagement and wedding, are assembled that the ring looks whole. In other cases, a wedding set consists of two rings that match stylistically and are worn stacked, although either piece would look appropriate as a separate ring. Although the wedding band is not to be worn until the wedding day, the two rings are usually sold together as a wedding set. After the wedding, the bride may choose to have the two pieces welded together, to increase convenience and reduce the likelihood of losing one of the rings. A trio ring set includes a ladies engagement ring, ladies wedding band and a men's wedding band. These sets often have matching rings and are lower in price.
In Nordic countries, engagement rings are worn by both men and women. Traditionally they are plain gold bands, although more ornate designs and other materials are gaining popularity. The engagement rings resemble the wedding bands sold in the United States, whereas women's wedding rings may resemble US engagement rings.
In North America and the United Kingdom, it is customarily worn on the left hand ring finger. Similar traditions purportedly date to classical times, dating back from an early usage reportedly referring to the fourth finger of the left hand as containing the vena amoris or "vein of love". This custom may have its origins in an ancient Egyptian myth that the finger contained a vein leading directly to the heart, or it may simply be because the heart lies slightly to the left side of the body. In Germany the ring is worn on the left hand while engaged, but moved to the right hand when married. In Poland, the engagement ring and wedding band are traditionally worn on the right hand but modern practice varies considerably.
In some countries it is common for both men and women wear engagement rings. In many Lutheran sects often the man wears an engagement ring. The rings are often in the form of a plain band of a precious metal. Sometimes, the engagement ring eventually serves as the wedding ring for the man. In Brazil, for example, the groom and bride-to-be usually wear a plain wedding band on the right hand during the course of their engagement. After the wedding, the band is moved to the left hand. In Argentina, it is also known for the groom and bride-to-be to wear a plain silver band on the left hand while engaged. Then, after the wedding a silver band is either replaced with the wedding ring or moved to the right hand.
Traditionally, women in the British Isles may propose marriage to men during a leap year. Women proposing has become more common in recent years,[when?] to the point that some jewelry companies have started manufacturing men's engagement rings. They resemble typical men's rings, often with a diamond centrepiece. In the countries where both sexes have traditionally worn engagement rings, the rings tend to be plainer bands, and there is no real difference between "men's" and "women's" engagement ring designs.
- Claddagh ring, a traditional Irish ring, often given or worn as a wedding ring
- Dearest ring, a ring with stones creating the acronym D E A R E S T
- Regards ring, a ring with stones creating the acronym R E G A R D S
- Gimmal ring, a multi-part engagement ring fashionable in Europe during the 16th and 17th centuries
- Pre-engagement ring
- Puzzle ring, sometimes called a "Turkish wedding ring"
- Tension ring, a modern mount
- Tiffany mount, a way of setting gems
- Wedding ring
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