The First Rings
Where did the tradition of wearing rings begin? The first evidence of wedding rings comes from the fingers of ancient women who wore rings of hemp or reed to signify their eternal love. These rings were worn on what we now call the "ring finger" because it was believed that the finger next to the pinky on the left hand has a vein that connects directly to the heart. The hole in the ring was also significant as it represented a portal of events to come.
Women wearing engagement rings began when Pope Innocent III initiated a mandatory public announcement and waiting period prior to marriage. It was at this time that rings were incorporated into the wedding ceremony, a practice adopted from the Jewish custom of "Betrothal" which was the formal state of a couple’s engagement. It was a time where the man would prepare to take a wife by building a house and securing his career while the woman would continue to live with her parents and learn how to take care of her husband until the wedding day.
Men did not start wearing rings until the 20th century when World War II began to remind them of their far away spouses. When a ring for both genders was an established custom, the designs became symbolic and personal featuring birthstones of the couple and their parents. Victorian tradition would include stones with initials that spelled out a message of Love such as Lapis, Opal, Vermarine, and Emerald.
Engagement and wedding rings were originally plain bands as only the elite in society could afford set stones. Gradually as diamonds became less rare and more affordable their popularity grew, and after a brilliant advertising campaign requisitioned by DeBeers entitled, “Diamonds are Forever”, the market exploded. Although their tactics and business practices may not have been considered the most ethical by some, DeBeers convinced America and other countries that without a diamond, the marriage may not last. The ad campaign was named the #1 Slogan of the Century and transformed the diamond ring into a symbol of true love and romance for engagement and marriage.
Today, rings are worn for many occasions; for holidays, anniversaries, and birthdays, as well as to celebrate the past, empower the present, and direct the future. The plain commitment band has evolved into bold and colorful statements of freedom that reflect our passions and beliefs. One constant that will forever remain the same is the purpose of a gifted ring, which is to remind the wearer of the person who gave it to them and the love they share.