When Mr. Big proposes to Carrie Bradshaw to get engaged in their patio closet at the end of the movie Sex and the City, he slips a blue shoe on her foot in the absence of a ring. "You see, it's like a diamond," he says, on his knees. "You have to do something to mark the moment". People showed stones on their fingers as a symbol of their promise to marry long before the selfies on engagement rings were used as "proof". But while the origin of the engagement ring tradition dates back to antiquity, it has evolved quite dramatically over the centuries.
The Egyptians were the first to use engagement rings as an official agreement between the bride and groom. These rings were usually made from braided reeds and, as they are today, were worn on the fourth finger of the left hand. The circular shape of the ring, which has neither beginning nor end, represented eternal love.
Centuries later, the Romans continued to offer engagement rings. However, the tradition took on a somewhat less romantic meaning, symbolizing a binding legal agreement. The ring was usually made of iron and was offered to the bride at the engagement ceremony, an official event at which both families committed to marry. For the Romans, the ring served primarily as a security deposit for the bride-to-be - a comforting gesture, since a woman's reputation could be severely damaged if her fiancé broke off the engagement. According to the American Gem Society, however, some of these rings were attached to small keys, representing the property of the bride's groom.
But it wasn't until 1477 that the tradition of diamond engagement rings began, and it was Archduke Maximillian of Austria who created the tradition. He gave his love, Mary of Burgundy, a delicate gold ring with diamonds that formed the first initial of her name, "M." Romantic AF. Needless to say, his gesture totally worked, and she said "yes". And he also set a new precedent for engagement rings - before long, diamonds became the standard for expressing a lifelong commitment, primarily among the nobility and aristocracy. Also, diamonds were no longer available for several centuries after that.
During the second half of the Middle Ages, lovers exchanged "fancy rings", which had the same meaning as engagement rings, or simply to symbolize a commitment. What distinguishes these rings is that they were engraved with personal messages, which could be of a purely romantic nature or have a religious connotation. Initially, the inscriptions were usually on the outside of the ring, but over time it became more common to include them on the inside - where they were closer to the wearer's skin. If the ring had an inscription on the inside, the outside was often decorated with stones or jewellery, or even engraved imagery. Some examples of messages found on real rings are: "You have never known such a true heart," "As gold is pure, love is sure," "In love abides until death," and "My heart is yours.
During the Victorian era, "rings" became increasingly popular. These rings had a row of five stones that defined the word respect with their first letter (ruby, emerald, garnet, amethyst, ruby and diamond). Rubies are thought to represent passion, emerald represents love, garnet symbolizes truth, amethyst illustrates honesty and, of course, diamonds are considered a symbol of love.
But all that changed at the end of the 19th century, when massive diamond mines were discovered in South Africa. Cecil Rhodes co-founded the DeBeers Mining Company in 1888, and shortly afterwards the company controlled the vast majority of the world's diamond production. Then, just at the end of the Great Depression, DeBeers collaborated with the N.W. Ayer & Son agency on a famous advertising campaign that would completely change the game. The slogan? "A diamond is forever." And quite simply, diamonds became the ultimate symbol of love and eternal commitment. Diamond sales increased by 50% over the next three years, and by the 1940s, engagement rings were the top-selling item in many department stores in the United States.
Today open-minded couples embrace a wide range of other gemstones on engagement rings, even though diamonds remain synonymous with romance and eternal love. According to a Brides survey, the average amount spent on engagement rings was 7829 euros in 2018, a significant increase from 5023 euros a year earlier. Not only that, but the study revealed that couples tend to spend much more on engagement rings than wedding rings, proving that this tradition has taken on serious significance today.
Nowadays, couples are embracing this tradition and making it their own. Some are getting tattoos on their fingers instead of wearing rings for a more permanent expression of their love. Others opt for rings with unusual stones, or opt for a necklace or other jewellery.
An engagement ring can certainly be a feast for the eyes, but it is much more than that. For centuries, it has represented an intention to commit to your life partner, and as such, it should reflect your own romantic sensibilities, your unique relationship and your personal style. But if you choose to wear an engagement ring, remember: there is a reason why it should be worn on the fourth finger. The ancient Egyptians believed that there was a vein in that finger that connected directly to the heart.
I bought myself an engagement ring to serve as an important reminder
My mother calls gifts she buys for herself "My Gifts to Me." Since childhood, she taught me that buying something for yourself can mean getting exactly what you want, without any conditions. I guess I was channeling her energy last spring when I bought myself an "engagement ring". After a long solo hike through the Garden of the Gods in Colorado Springs, CO, I marked my lifelong commitment to love myself with special jewelry.
I had no intention of hiking solo in Colorado Springs. In fact, I had no intention of being in Colorado Springs at all. It was one afternoon in April and I had been working overtime at a bar where I was working. I realized that I had saved up some money and decided to visit some friends in Denver, Colorado. They planned a week-long hike through the Colorado National Monument, an endless expanse of plateaus and canyons decorated with incredible red rock formations. I have to admit I was excited: I love spending time in nature, especially surrounded by the people I care about.
Although I really enjoy exploring new places, my generalized anxiety often prevents me from venturing to the fullest. In my everyday life, it can be difficult for me to get up and go out. So, when travel comes into play, it's safe to say that my version of Eat, Pray, Love can be more like Forget to Eat, Hyperventilate, Imagine Every Thing That Could Go Wrong.
Luckily, my friends in Denver are certified "people of nature," so I felt confident to let them plan our trip. They studied our itinerary, mapped out our campsites and even collected food and supplies. All I had to do was get to Denver. It was fine, until a tornado caused my plane to Denver to make an emergency landing in Colorado Springs.
After sitting in a parked plane for almost four hours, my flight was transferred to a nearby hotel and we were told that we could take a bus to Denver the next day. Even though I was under a lot of stress, I tried to take deep breaths and focus on the positives: I was alive, I was healthy and, thanks to the super mom sitting next to me on the plane, I was full of granola bars and dried fruit snacks.
While watching a boring TV channel in my room, I looked online to see what attractions were around me. While the prospect of exploring this city on my own seemed terrifying, I wanted to get out of my comfort zone and make the most of my impromptu trip. It wasn't long before I stumbled upon the Garden of the Gods, a breathtaking national monument where an abundance of red cliffs seemed to penetrate a seemingly endless blue sky.
Although I felt nervous about exploring such a large space all by myself (how was I going to get there? What was I going to do there?). The red rocks reminded me of my favorite national park, Arches, in Moab Utah. I felt my shoulders relax and my heart rate stabilize. I could do it!
I had hiked in the Arches a few years ago on a cross-country skiing trip with my best friend from university. It was my favourite part of our trip, and I distinctly remember laughing and jumping through breathtaking scenery. I still remember how exciting it was to cross America that summer, how liberating it was to storm new cities. I thought about all the people I met and the stories I lived along the way.
My nerves started to calm down and I thought about how brave I am. My body is so powerful - it allows me to have incredible adventures. And, finally, I get to see the world in all its natural (and urban!) beauty.
As a result, I felt stronger than ever.
After taking a lot of deep breaths and listening to a few Cardi B songs, I began to feel excited about taking a hike through this park on my own. I put on my boots, packed my bag and ordered an Uber at the beginning of the trail. A few minutes later, the driver shared that Manitou Springs, a small hippie, cowboy town full of small shops, public sculptures, music and good food, was just outside the park. A lover of kitsch and everything that Willie Nelson stands for. I was convinced.
As I got out of the car, I thanked the driver for the recommendation and followed the signs to the park. When I got in, I knew I'd made the right choice. I was able to cross rock formations and beautiful cliffs for hours.
I met families hiking, record-breaking climbers and people of all ages admiring the beauty of nature. Because this is a free, public park, everyone was welcome, and visitors could hike, climb, walk or just enjoy the view at any pace. Every time I reached a big cliff, I would take off my bag and climb like a little child. I felt so strong, so inspired by the terrain and so proud of myself for turning off the Real Housewives and embarking on this journey.
When I reached the end of the trail, I walked along the road for a while, hoping to reach Manitou. First I saw the buildings, all different colours and shapes, with great roofs and windows. I could feel it deep inside my body: I was going to remember this city for years to come. As I walked from the shop to the living room, stopping only to fill my water bottle at the mineral water fountain, I saw a catchy ring in the window of a tiny jewelry store and stopped immediately.
There it was, in the centre of the window: a sterling silver ring with small zirconia stones and a beautiful amethyst (my all-time favourite stone).
Instantly, I knew. It was a ring I was to have forever. It was a special object that would remind me how brave, powerful and lucky I could be. I still have so many adventures ahead of me, even when I feel too anxious to get out of bed.
It was a "for me, from me" ring, and it was absolutely perfect.
That morning, I got "married" in the Garden of the Gods. My amethyst ring reminds me that no matter where my life takes me, I can take care of myself. And even if one day I find myself in a long-term love relationship, nothing can take that away from me. Just as I will never be defined by my anxiety, I refuse to be defined by my romantic status. And that is a vow that I will gladly say "yes" to.
15 things to offer other than a ring that are just as special.
You have therefore made the decision to commit to your partner. Congratulations! It's wonderfully exciting. As the iconic quote from When Harry met Sally says, "When you realize you want to spend the rest of your life with someone, you want the rest of your life to begin as soon as possible." Traditionally, that means getting down on one knee with a diamond ring in your hand to mark your commitment. But many items other than rings will work for a proposal, and they can mark the extent of your love in a unique and authentic way.
There are many reasons why someone may choose not to propose with a traditional engagement ring. First of all, diamonds are expensive. Brides magazine's 2018 wedding survey revealed that the average cost of an engagement ring was €7,829, a figure that has been rising year after year. Not to mention that some couples simply don't like jewellery or don't respect agreed cultural norms. You can always make your proposal incredibly personal and special. Choose something that represents your relationship in some way, whether it evokes a memory or sets the stage for your shared future.
Here are some ideas that might work for your proposal.
A bracelet with a Charm
Choose a few charms that represent specific moments in your relationship. Then you can add to the bracelet over the years to come as you have more memories together.
A memory of your relationship
Do you always have the first note you slipped on the class table? Or the sweater your partner lent you on your very first date? Give it back to your partner while you describe how your love grew.
A ring on a necklace
If you still want to give a ring to your partner, but want to present it in a non-traditional way, put it on a necklace that he can wear around his neck.
A family heirloom
Ask your family if anyone has an old item, such as a piece of jewellery or a keepsake that you can give to your partner. Since they will be joining your family now, this inheritance will have special meaning.
You can never go wrong with a bouquet of your partner's favorite flowers.
Birthstones are often cheaper than diamonds, but they are also very personal. Choose a necklace or earrings with your partner's specific stone. You can even find a place on any jewel you buy to engrave the date of your request.
Do you dream of taking a great vacation together? Avoid the cost of a ring and go crazy on plane tickets for the two of you.
A Charitable Donation
If your partner truly cherishes a certain cause, your request is the perfect opportunity to give everything you can on his or her behalf.
A work of art
If you are an artist, or if you know someone who is, consider making a personalized painting, sculpture or photograph to celebrate your love. You can hang it in your home and bring it with you when you move into future homes throughout your life together.
A photo album
Be clever by collecting pictures of the time you and your partner have spent together during your relationship. You can write sweet captions next to each one about the memories you made that day. Don't forget to leave a section of the album open so you can use it for wedding photos.
If you start planning this proposal several months in advance, start writing letters to your partner every time you have a special time together.
A ring tattoo
If you and your partner have thought about getting matching tattoos, consider putting one on your ring finger instead of wedding and engagement rings. To apply, bring a note inviting your partner to a tattoo appointment you've already made.
A deposit or rent
Investing in your future shows how serious you are about building a life together. A new house or apartment can mark your commitment - either a down payment on a house or the first month's rent and a deposit on a new apartment. If you have already chosen a place, take your partner there to surprise her. If you want to choose your house together, write a note about your planned gift and an invitation to go house hunting together.
Clearly, you should not surprise your partner with a pet unless you have talked and are both prepared to welcome one, as taking a pet is a serious commitment. But if you do, it could be a gentle way to mark the beginning of this new phase of life together.
A jewelry box
Maybe you're thinking about getting a ring someday, but now's not a good time. In this case, a ring box represents the jewellery you will buy when you are ready, once you can devote more time and resources to this investment. Inside the box, you can put a more affordable ring, a paper ring or a string ring for a sweet surprise.
Whichever way you choose to mark your commitment, the most important thing is that you both want to spend your lives together. Money (or flashy rings) can't buy happiness or true love. What you already have is worth more than gold.