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Engagement Rings Over the Decades

It wasn't until 1867, when diamonds were found in South Africa, that they became more accessible

Article by Blake Simmons + Bailey Rosenthal

Photography by Blake Simmons + Bailey Rosenthal

Originally published in Meridian Lifestyle

Engagement rings are one of the most common symbols of love known today. Their symbolism can be dated all the way back to 1000 B.C., where it is believed that ancient Egyptians were given rings to signify joining the royal family. Later, in 500 B.C., the traditional idea of an engagement ring came to be in ancient Rome, where it is said that a man would gift his wife an iron ring, often with keys attached to it, to symbolize ownership. A Roman would placed this iron ring on the fourth finger of his wife's left hand, because it was believed that the vein in that finger was directly connected to the heart... thus sparking a tradition still used in most Western cultures today.

The diamond engagement ring that we now know and love began in the late 1440’s when Archduke Maximillian of Austria commissioned a ring made of gold and a diamond for his betrothed, Mary of Burgundy. The creation of this ring influenced those of higher social class and significant wealth to give diamond rings to their loved ones. For many centuries only those of high social class had access to diamonds. It wasn't until 1867, when diamonds were found in South Africa, that they became more accessible. The De Beers Mining Company, founded in 1873, made diamonds available to more jewelers, which sparked the many designs and trends we see today.

THE 1900s

Up until the turn of the century, gold was the metal of choice for engagement rings. Platinum was introduced in the early 1900s by Cartier, which caused a surge in production of platinum rings backed with gold. The period from 1901-1910 was known as the Edwardian Era. The styles during this time were influenced by King Edwards VII’s love and respect for fashion and beauty. Engagement ring designs during this time were marked by their dainty details that often mimicked the same patterns as the lace in clothing. Ring designs during this time centered around a large stone, often a diamond for those with wealth, and began to have a real differentiated look from cocktail rings. This Edwardian style engagement ring remained popular until the early 1920s.

THE 1920s

The 1920s brought a new era of fashion and art, known today as art deco.

Around this time diamond mining increased with De Beers' expansion, and made diamonds more readily available to the public. When the art deco style emerged, it brought with it a combination of diamonds and angled lines centered around one large stone. Ascher cut diamonds were one of the most popular styles in the 1920s. Invented in 1902 by the Ascher family, the cut is similar to an emerald cut, but is wider set and features larger step facets to make the diamond appear larger and more brilliant.

THE 1930s

The art deco style remained popular into the late 1920s, until the start of the Great Depression. During the Depression the blingy rings were reserved for the extremely wealthy, while most Americans opted for more cost-effective options. During the 1930s ring styles were simplified, and it became more common to see one small stone and soft designs in platinum bands. Settings also shifted from having multiple stones to a single stone setting with four prongs, called “frame corners,” to help highlight the brilliance of the smaller stones.

THE 1940s

During World War II, platinum was reserved solely for military use, therefore yellow gold reemerged as the popular metal for engagement settings. In 1947 De Beers came out with a new marketing campaign with the now classic slogan “A Diamond is Forever,” causing a spike in diamond sales within the U.S. The round diamond became the front runner for the engagement ring centerpiece, however the soft lace and floral metal designs remained in favor into the late 1940s. Around this time, the cushion cut became a popular option from the mid to late 1940s.

THE 1950s

The 1950s saw the reemergence of platinum engagement rings, as the metal once again became available. The public also began to take interest in Jacqueline Kennedy. Her engagement ring from John F. Kennedy had a huge influence on engagement ring trends, introducing both colored stones and emerald cuts into the industry. The fashion world took a particular interest in emerald cut diamonds and they quickly became all the rage in the mid to late 1950s. In 1956 celebrity Elizabeth Taylor’s third husband, Mike Todd, presented her with a 29.4 carat emerald cut engagement ring, reaffirming the popularity of this newest cut.

THE 1960s

Simpler silhouettes became more popular throughout the 1960s, showcasing larger, brighter center stones. Solitaires with tapered baguettes and smaller side stones became very popular for their chic, modern look. In 1967 Frank Sinatra proposed to Mia Farrow with a 9-carat solitaire pear-shaped diamond, causing a rise in popularity of pear shaped diamonds throughout the late 1960s.

THE 1970s

Yellow gold once again became the metal of choice in the 1970s. During the early 70s the popularity of channel set diamonds, or diamonds set in a specifically cut channel (rather than prongs) became extremely popular. Many of the engagement rings during this time consisted of elaborate channels set around one large center stone. As individuals began taking a more personalized approach to their rings, it also became more common for a bride and groom to design matching wedding sets.

THE 1980s

The 1980s was all about excess as dramatic fashion trends took center stage. In 1982 Princess Diana picked out a sapphire and diamond cluster ring, which caused a huge surge in colored stone engagement rings that still resonates with many today. Yellow gold with large round stones and intricate designs also remained extremely popular during this time.

THE 1990s

Both yellow gold and cooler metals like platinum and white gold were popular during the 1990s. The marquise cut had a major moment in the late 90s, when Victoria Beckham revealed her ring from fiancé David Beckham. The popularity of the marquise cut remained into the early 2000s.

THE 2000s

The new millennium brought a need for extra sparkle making the halo a very popular style in the 2000s. The halo styles of the 2000s often featured a platinum or white gold setting with a radiant or cushion cut diamond surrounded by a “halo” of pavé diamonds, which makes the center stone look larger, while also adding a little extra dose of bling.

THE 2010s

The early 2010s saw a surge in rose gold settings and diamond alternatives such as Morganite and Moissanite. Princess cut center stones with pave bands also became very popular during the 2010s as a classic elegant option. With the increased interest in rose gold settings, the 2010s also saw mismatched metal ring stacks, which remain popular today.

THE 2020s

Today, stackable bands paired with a simple solitaire seem to be all the rage. Mismatched metal rings including white gold, yellow gold, and platinum are paired together for gorgeous unique sets. The most popular shapes seem to be large, elongated oval and emerald cuts on simple solitaire bands. We are also seeing a surge in unique gemstones being added to simpler settings, like Ariana Grande’s oval shaped diamond set at an angle with a pearl placed alongside. These unique pairings are creating an era in which the saying “anything goes” stands true.

To find, or custom create your own perfect symbol to represent your love story visit SimmonsFineJewelry.com

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