Engagement rings have come a long way since Neanderthals began to use natural materials such as grass or rushes to adorn a woman’s wrists and ankles in a symbolic gesture of friendship and loyalty between a couple. Ancient Romans, for example, exchanged gold rings for wearing in public to let the others know a woman was taken, and iron ones for wearing around the house when working. They were the first to use the term “engagement ring” to differentiate between rings exchanged at the time of betrothal and at the wedding ceremony. Engagement ring traditions evolved from that point forward.
Austria’s Archduke Maximilian is credited with starting the diamond engagement ring trend at his 1477 betrothal to Mary of Burgundy. However, diamonds were rare and very expensive, and only the wealthy could follow in his footsteps. England’s Queen Victoria and Prince Albert were among the first to popularize ornate engagement rings for more common people, and the trend soon began to sweep the globe.
Today, there are many different ways to celebrate betrothal. Here, we take a look at some unique engagement ring traditions from around the world.
Traditional English engagement rings are very much like those seen in America, Canada, and other western nations. Many feature diamonds, but colored gemstone engagement rings have been popular in England for quite some time. Princess Diana’s famous engagement ring is one well-known example; now worn by Kate Middleton, it features a brilliant blue sapphire with a halo of diamonds. Whatever the ring’s style, it’s traditional for English men to formally request woman’s parents for her hand in marriage before presenting her with a ring.
Traditional Indian engagement rings are called bichiya, and are worn on the toes rather than the fingers. These days, many women in India opt to wear engagement rings on their fingers along with those worn on their toes. In some parts of India, women receive ornate bangle bracelets instead of engagement rings. Whether rings are exchanged or not, traditional Indian engagements typically involve lots of gifts. Sweets, gold coins, jewelry, and clothing are a few traditional choices. Depending on the region and the couple’s religious tradition, both the bride- and groom-to-be might receive a shower of gifts from their future in-laws. In many instances, both partners receive engagement rings.
Swedish Engagement ring tradition involves the exchange of simple gold bands for both the groom- and bride-to-be. At the wedding ceremony, the bride might receive a diamond ring, or perhaps a second gold ring. The Danish engagement ring tradition is just as simple, but many couples in both countries are opting to go their own way. Today in most Nordic cultures, engagement ring traditions are merging with those seen in America and other countries where ornate jewelry is the norm. These days, Swedish engagements are often celebrated with a diamond engagement ring for women and a gold engagement rings for men. Many couples are opting for custom-made engagement rings that reflect their personalities instead of following the simple, more traditional style from decades past.
Today’s Mexican engagement ring traditions mingle past customs with modern, American-style jewelry trends. Promise rings are quite common in Mexico due to the tradition of long engagements; they’re usually presented about a year before the formal engagement takes place. Just like the engagement ring, the promise ring is used to signify the bond the couple shares, and to vow that each partner will treat the other with the same love and respect they’ll share once the marriage has taken place.
We’ve covered some fascinating facts about engagement ring customs from around the world. Here are even more fun trivia tidbits:
Which hand do you wear your engagement ring on? In many cases, it depends on where you’re from! Austria, Colombia, Poland, Germany, Norway, Russia, Greece, and India are some of the places where engagement rings are worn on the right hand. France, Canada, England, and the United States are among the places where engagement rings are traditionally worn on the left hand.
Are we abandoning the diamond tradition? While they’re still the stone of choice for many international engagement rings, women in France often choose semi-precious stones instead. Gemstone engagement rings are becoming more popular in other places too; for example, the trend is growing in the United States.
If you’re planning to propose, you may use international engagement ring customs from your own culture, or you might want to take a modern approach and blend or mingle different customs to express your love in a unique way. While traditions remain important, we’re seeing the lines blur – and people feel free to customize as a result. Today, couples all over the world are following their hearts and doing whatever feels right. The bottom line? Embrace the traditions that appeal to you! However you express your love, it’s always best to do it from the heart.
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