Throughout history, no piece of jewelry has rivaled the significance of the ring.
Kings and Popes have worn rings as a symbol of their power and authority. Member of fraternities proudly wear a ring signifying their affiliation. And in the 19th Century, couples separated by war exchanged simple gold bands as a symbol of their loyalty to each other. But of all the rings ever worn by man (or woman) there is one that stands above all for its beauty and importance. It is the engagement ring.
While the origin of the engagement ring is credited to Pope Innocent III in 1215, it was not until the late 1700’s that the wearing of the ring on the fourth finger of the left hand was established. This tradition, that we still practice today, was based on the belief that there is a vain in the “ring finger that runs directly to the heart.
Many of the earliest early engagement rings were highly symbolic, incorporating groups of precious stones with special meaning to the couple. One popular style was composed of a cluster of birthstones representing the bride, the groom and each of their parents.
Engagement rings form the Victorian period 1850 to 1900 are often found with terms of endearment spelled out by the first initial of the name of the stone used. One of the common was a combination of a Lapis Lazuli, an Opal, a Vermarine and an Emerald to represent LOVE. Also highly collectible from this era are the rings with secret compartments designed to hold a lock of the betrothed’s hair. Cameos individually mounted or surrounded by diamonds were also used as engagement rings in the later part of the 19th Century.
As we entered the 20th Century, the Art Nouveau styling of the day influenced the appearance of the engagement ring. Most popular were cast or hand-worked designs in the form of leaves or flowers. The central stones in rings from this era were opals, garnets and moonstones.