Symbol Pleasures – The History of Rings
WEDDING RINGS AND BANDS HAVE COME FULL CIRCLE.
Wedding jewelry has changed immensely since Neanderthals painted cave glyphs, but the idea of an unbroken circle has continued to resonate with couples throughout the eras. As Amanda Gizzi, spokesperson for Jewelers of America, notes: “Traditions have evolved so much over time. But when you boil down what goes into a ceremony, a ring remains the ultimate symbol of union and never-ending love.” But boy, has that simple symbol changed over time! Ancient texts indicate that a caveman supposedly tied braided pieces of grass or reeds to his wife’s ankles, wrist or waist, possibly to keep her spirit from escaping her body. Over the past 5,000 years, here’s what has happened to show how men and women remain “tied together” for all time.
2 8 0 0 B . C . E . : The Egyptians are the first to sport rings, which are made of hemp or reeds like their Neanderthal predecessors’. Over time, they move to iron, and then to gold or silver wire. These rings are worn on the third finger of the left hand, which is erroneously thought to contain the vena amoris: a “vein of love” that runs directly to the heart.
ANCIENT ROME: Wives are presented with two wedding rings: an iron piece meant to be worn at home while performing housework, and a gold version to show off wealth when visiting town. The rings are either attached to small keys or feature a key engraved into the band, meant to symbolize that the husband owns his wife.
1477: The inventive Archduke Maximillian of Austria commissions one of the first recorded diamond engagement rings for Mary of Burgundy, sparking a trend among European royals.
1700S : Sentimental Europeans are partial to “poesy” or “posy” rings, which are engraved with romantic rhyming verses to be presented to a lover. Meanwhile, in colonial New England, the demure Puritans opt for a humble betrothal thimble rather than a lavish piece of jewelry—but many women cut off the tops of the thimbles and wear them as rings anyway.
1800S : The Victorian era brings the “dearest” ring, a stonestudded band with gems that “spell” out the endearment: Diamond, Emerald, Amethyst, Ruby, Emerald, Sapphire and Topaz.
18 8 8 : Cecil John Rhodes and his investors form De Beers Consolidated Mines, Ltd., which moves quickly to try to control the world’s growing diamond supply.
19 4 7 : De Beers launches the now-iconic “A Diamond is Forever” campaign, dreamed up by advertising agency N. W. Ayer. (It was recently reinstated.)
19 6 5 : A whopping 80 percent of American engaged couples now choose a diamond ring to mark their betrothal.
2 0 1 5 : In recent years, ring trends have become more varied, says Gizzi, noting that more couples discuss the engagement ring before the betrothal, with women often choosing their own style, or shopping as a couple. Colorful stones like rubies and aquamarines are gaining in popularity, with or without diamonds.