Engagement bands began in Ancient Egypt. For centuries, the circle had symbolized a never-ending cycle and in Egyptian mythology the space within the circle was seen as a gateway. Ancient Egyptians placed rings on the fourth finger (or ring finger) because they believed that a vein led from that finger directly to the heart.
In Roman times, rings were used to declare ‘betrothal’ and did not necessarily signify marriage. In fact, rings were more often just a sign of affection or friendship. The engagement ring as we know it, truly came into being in 1215, when Pope Innocent III established a waiting period between the promise of marriage, and the actual marriage ceremony. The ring was given to signify the couple’s devotion to one another during that waiting period.
In Colonial America, where many religious groups shunned jewelry, a thimble was often given as a sign of eternal companionship. Women would then remove the tops of the thimble in order to create a ring that could be worn.
The first well-documented use of a diamond ring to signify engagement was by Austrian royalty in 1477. This dramatic gesture of devotion to your loved one quickly became the gift of choice for members of the upper class and those of significant wealth. When diamond mines were later discovered in Africa in 1870, the increased supply allowed those less affluent to join in on this tradition.
Engagement rings didn’t become standard in the West until the end of the 19th century, and diamond rings didn’t become common until the 1930s. Today, 80% of American women are given a diamond ring to signify engagement. Wedding rings amongst men became more in vogue during World War II, as soldiers going to war longed for an ever-present reminder of their wives and families back home. In the 21st century, especially within Western civilization, it has become a common expectation for the bride-to-be to permanently wear her ring as a sign of her love and commitment.