The tradition of the diamond engagement ring dates all the way back to the… early 1900s. OK, so it’s not that ancient of a tradition. Diamond rings did exist before then, but they weren’t so much a tradition as a thing only the very rich had. Still, the diamond ring has been around long enough to have gone through at least a few changes in style. Since we at Diamond Lighthouse are paid to study diamond rings all day (jealous?), we thought we’d take some time to detail a brief(-ish) history of the diamond ring.
“Hey, you said the diamond ring tradition hasn’t been around that long? What gives?” You might be saying. While the tradition didn’t start until much later, historians say this was when the very first diamond engagement ring was given. Archduke Maximillian of Austria proposed to Mary of Burgundy with a gold ring featuring the letter “M” written in small diamonds. Pretty fancy gift for the middle ages, right? This made diamond jewelry very popular with royalty. Unfortunately for the rest of us, diamonds were still way too expensive to be used by anyone else. Until…
Towards the end of the Victorian era, diamonds began to be incorporated into a lot more jewelry. That’s because a large deposit of diamonds was discovered in South Africa around this time, which made diamonds much more affordable. These diamonds were what’s now referred to as an “old mine cut.” Without the modern cutting tools and techniques that we have today, the ideal angles and proportions for diamonds hadn’t been discovered yet. That means that diamonds from this era didn’t sparkle as brightly as new stones do today, but if you come across some vintage Victorian-era jewelry today, you’d see that these diamonds have a unique beauty all their own.
The Victorian era was a particularly romantic time for jewelry. Gemstones were arranged in patterns depicting romantic symbols like hearts, bows, flowers and snakes. (Snakes symbolized eternity back then. We don’t get it either.) This is also the era when Tiffany & Co. introduced the famous “Tiffany Setting,” a six-pronged setting that raises the diamond up so it catches and reflects more light. It remains a popular setting to this day.
Thanks to the industrial revolution, diamond engagement rings became increasingly common. A growing middle class and increased wealth meant more people than ever before could afford to propose with sparkling gemstone ring. While diamonds were used in engagement and wedding rings, they weren’t considered a necessary part of the ring the way they are today. Rings were made to be worn stacked so each finger displayed a pattern of diamonds and colored gemstones.
Platinum was a popular setting in this era, with diamonds, pearls and other gemstones arranged in intricate and delicate patterns. These lacy patterns complimented the white silk and lace that was very popular with women during this period. Rings featured elongated designs with diamonds prominently displayed in open settings. Diamonds themselves also became more intricate and delicate-looking during this time to match the handmade look of platinum settings. To achieve this look, cutters developed the marquis, emerald and baguette cuts.
The Art Deco period brought jewelry design into the modern era (of the 1920s). There were fewer of the delicate or traditionally “feminine” patterns that dominated the Edwardian era. Jewelry of this period took on more geometric patterns. Color was prominently featured in jewelry during this period, with gems like rubies and sapphires complimenting diamonds set in platinum or white gold.
This was also when De Beers began really pushing the idea of a diamond engagement ring. Before this, diamonds weren’t synonymous with engagement rings the way they are today. De Beers, fearing the rapidly lowering prices of diamonds, brought about by even more diamond deposit discoveries in Africa, launched one of the most successful ad campaigns of all time. They convinced us all that diamond engagement rings were a tradition and an important part of any proposal.
Size mattered in this decade. Jewelry got much bigger during the 1940s with curved designs and elongated shapes. The romantic shapes from the Victorian era made a reappearance during this time, with jewelry featuring bows, ribbons and flowers. Platinum was not so common in this era as most of it was being used for military purposes in World War II. The war also caused a tightening of belts around the world. Though diamonds were still desired, many jewelry buyers opted for synthetic colored gemstones.
Stackable engagement rings became popular in this decade, mostly thanks to the beautiful wedding bands Mel Ferrer gave to Audrey Hepburn. The two small rings, one in rose gold and one in yellow, could be worn with her engagement ring and switched out to match her outfit. It looked so good, it’s not surprising other women at the time decided they wanted some too. This is the decade where diamonds really became an essential part of jewelry, thanks in part to De Beers’ “A Diamond is Forever” ad campaign, and in part to the movie “Gentlemen Prefer Blondes,” in which Marilyn Monroe sang “Diamonds Are a Girl’s Best Friend.” Both glamorized diamonds and made the stone a must-have for women everywhere.
Thanks to the hippie movement, a lot of popular jewelry from around this time was either homemade, or had a natural “earthy” look to it. Feather and flower shapes were popular with young people at this time, as were peace signs to convey an anti-war stance. That doesn’t mean diamonds weren’t popular in the ‘60s though. This was the decade when people became fascinated by celebrity jewelry. Elizabeth Taylor’s 33-carat asscher-cut diamond captured the public’s imagination, and Jackie Kennedy’s emerald and diamond engagement ring made emeralds a must-have stone for brides everywhere.
People of this decade loved anything that was new or different. This era saw the debut of both the princess cut and radiant cut. These unique square shapes became so popular in engagement rings, they unseated the round brilliant from the throne it had enjoyed since the turn of the century. Cluster settings also became popular in this decade, with multiple gemstones set in one ring.
The ‘80s were a decade of big. Big hair, big shoulder pads and big diamonds. Cluster settings remained popular for diamond rings, but what was really important was that the ring had a big center stone. You just had to show up all your friends with a massive rock. Adding to that, Princess Diana’s massive oval sapphire engagement ring put sapphires back in the public spotlight.
The popularity of cluster settings began to wane, and diamond solitaire rings were back in style. They remain popular to this day. It turns out as diamond ring trends go in and out of style, nothing beats the classic look of a round brilliant in a raised, solitaire setting.
Since the advent of the internet, it’s been difficult to nail down a persistent style in engagement rings. Sure, the round brilliant solitaire remains as popular as ever, but the three-stone settings and cluster settings of the past are catching up. With more information about diamonds and different styles of jewelry, people are finding their own unique style that fits their tastes perfectly. That’s great news if you’re in the market for a diamond ring. No matter what style you’re after, chances are you’ll not only find it easily, but there will be enough options for you to shop around and get a better price. It really is a great time for diamonds.
Now the only question is, which era is for you? Which style of jewelry do you want in your collection? If any of these styles have you craving a more vintage look, Diamond Lighthouse can help you upgrade your current diamond to something more your style. When you sell your diamond jewelry with diamond lighthouse, we reach out to a network of elite diamond buyers in the industry. These jewelers and dealers are experts who understand the value of a diamond and are willing to pay more for diamonds like yours. So even if the ring you have your heart set on is a pricey antique, Diamond Lighthouse can help ensure the upgrade doesn’t break the bank.