The custom of giving a diamond ring as a promise of marriage is said to have started in 1477, when Archduke Maximillian of Austria presented Mary of Burgundy with a diamond ring. This sparked a craze for diamond engagement rings amongst the wealthy and, in particular, royalty, which continues to this day.
The smallest diamond engagement ring on record was given to Princess Mary, daughter of Henry VIII, when she was two years old and betrothed to the infant Dauphin of France, son of King Francis I, in 1518.
A pointed oval diamond cluster ring known as a ‘navette ring’ became a popular engagement ring during the time of Louis XVI (1754-1793) and continued in popularity for decades afterwards.
In 1796, Napoleon Bonaparte presented Joséphine with a diamond and sapphire engagement ring as a symbol of their love. The simple gold band is set with two pear-shaped stones, a diamond and a blue sapphire of one carat each, that sit side by side in opposite directions.
The diamond promise ring was only embraced by the general public after 1870 with the discovery of diamond mines in South Africa.
The Tiffany, or solitaire, setting was introduced in the late nineteenth century.
The ‘princess ring,’ a type of English engagement ring designed with three to five diamonds in a row became popular in the United States in the early twentieth century.
A THREE-STONE DIAMOND RING AND WEDDING BAND
Comprising: a diamond ring set with three cushion-shaped diamonds of graduated size, size J, stamped ’18’, British hallmarks and date inscription to inner band, estimated total diamond weight approximately 0.90ct; and a wedding band of engraved design, size K, stamped ’18’, British hallmarks and maker’s mark (2) Undated. SOURCE: Bonhams
In the early part of the twentieth century, platinum was used for diamond engagement rings because of its strength and durability. However, it was declared a strategic metal during World War II, and its usage was restricted to military purposes. This led to the rise of both yellow and white gold diamond engagement rings.
A DIAMOND AND PLATINUM WEDDING SET
center old European cut diamond approximately: 0.80ct; size: 6 3/4
Undated. Source: Bonhams
The Great Depression and World War II caused the demand for diamonds to plummet. In 1948, the De Beers diamond mogul Sir Ernest Oppenheimer connected his son, Harry, to the New York advertising agency N.W Ayer. The result was a campaign — famous for its slogan ‘A Diamond is Forever’ — which helped turn the United States into the biggest market for the world’s supply of gem standard diamonds. The campaign established many of today’s standards for diamond engagement rings, including the ‘two months’ salary’ guideline which says that a prospective groom should plan to spend two months’ salary on an engagement ring for his bride-to-be. The De Beer’s campaign has to this day solidified the diamond’s status as the engagement ring stone of choice in America and, subsequently, much of the rest of the world.
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