Wedding Band and Engagement Ring Buying Advice


Putting on the Jewels for a Party

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Engagement and Wedding Rings: A Buying Guide from The Jewelry Hut

History of Wedding and Engagement Rings

Customs related to wedding and engagement rings

Traditions of engagement and marriage were established throughout the Middle Ages.

Diamonds have been the gem of choice for engagement rings since at least the 15th century. They were considered the ultimate symbol due to their rarity, unique qualities, and resistance to destruction.

One of the earliest references to diamonds in written history is a 1477 wedding. Archduke Maximilian of Austria wanted to propose to Mary of Burgundy in a way that would delight his future father-in-law, so he took advice from a trustworthy advisor who told him, “At the betrothal, your grace must have a ring set with a diamond and also a gold ring.”

Maximilian wed his longtime love, Mary, within a day of their engagement ceremony. This custom has been carried on for centuries. During the reign of Mary and Maximilian, “hogback” diamonds—thin, flat chunks of diamond that had been “cleaved” (split) from a natural diamond crystal—were commonly utilized by goldsmiths. A skilled jeweler may use hogbacks to create stunning designs, like the elegant “M” on Mary’s ring. Natural diamond crystals were also put to use. Part of this is because it is the hardest natural substance known, and people do not have the tools or the know-how to work with it. Perhaps, though, that wasn’t the whole story. Diamond crystals resemble a pair of pyramids united at their bases. The pyramid has been a symbol of power and mystery since the time of the Pharaohs. Therefore it is possible that the “pyramidal” shape of the diamond crystal itself contributed to the appeal, mystery, and power associated with the diamond. Perhaps the shape of the diamond itself enhanced the allure of using a genuine diamond crystal to represent the strength of love and marriage.

Perhaps you think using an uncut diamond in these ancient rings takes away from their elegance. But alas, such was not the situation. Goldsmiths in the Middle Ages used their creativity and expertise to fashion stunning settings for the diamond. The unpolished state of the diamonds they housed was somewhat compensated for by the ornate and sophisticated environments marked by rich enamel decoration.

Concurrently, the “posy” ring’s rise to prominence emphasized the importance of the ring’s inside. These rings were famous for the poems and love notes etched inside the ring’s hoop, a practice that continues today, albeit with shorter inscriptions.

By the end of the 15th century, a cutter had made the first “facet” cut on a natural diamond crystal, marking a significant advancement in the field. The large, flat facet of these earliest cut diamonds was so named because it resembled the surface of a table. It was the first step toward bringing out the diamond’s inner fire, brightness, and beauty through cutting and polishing.

In the sixteenth century, artisans achieve unprecedented success.

Goldsmiths in the 16th century faced a significant problem in trying to showcase the table-cut diamond to its maximum potential. As they perfected their craft, they received the full backing of the royal court. The end products are works of art that mix pointed or table-cut stones with intricate designs and excellent enamel. Duke Albrecht V of Bavaria’s wedding ring is a stunning example: a rosette set with sixteen little diamonds.

Jewish Wedding Bands from the Renaissance

Jewish wedding rings were some of the most elaborate and stunning jewelry ever made during the Renaissance. Despite their symbolic significance, these Jewish wedding rings were only worn once during the ceremony. The bezel of several of these ornate rings resembled a synagogue, Solomon’s Temple, or a gable-end house. Extensive enamel work and Hebrew lettering added to their beauty.

What is the Gimmel Ring?

Gimmel, from the Latin gemelli, meaning twins, was a new type of wedding band developed by the increasingly sophisticated techniques of Renaissance goldsmiths. The gimmel, also known as a twin ring, features two or three concentric circles that open like a fan from a pivot at the bottom. When opened, they often revealed elaborate sculptures depicting life and death to symbolize eternity. When closed, only a single ring was visible where the hoops had met. Therefore, the gimmel ring represented two people whose lives were becoming one. The usage of three circles represented God’s presence in the union. The hoop’s inscription, taken from the wedding ritual, read, “Whom God Has Joined Together Let No Man Put Asunder.” A gimmel ring with a personal note was exchanged at Martin Luther and Catherine Bora’s wedding.

The gimmel began including the emblem of two clasped hands, another love motif, about the year 1600. When the ring is closed, the hands at the ends of the gimmel hoops hold together to form a fede (Italian for faith). During this time, the heart was also added to the vocabulary of symbols, and examples of this may be seen in some of the more ornate fede rings, which feature delicate enameled hands encircling a lavish diamond heart.

The heart was a prominent ring symbol throughout the 17th century, not just in the fede round. This organic sign of love and passion was frequently shown “aflame with desire,” typically using rose and table-cut diamonds or colored jewels.

A backlash is also emerging, particularly against more complex uses of rings. The Puritans, in their rebellion against Church ritual, attempted to outlaw wedding rings during a time when such extravagant displays of romance were all the rage. This test demonstrated the significance of the wedding ring custom being too strong to be eradicated.

The “Fourth Finger” custom.

In the 17th century, wearing wedding rings on the thumb was common practice. However, the fourth finger was the standard for the wedding ceremony. The custom of wearing the ring on the fourth finger has various origin stories. One explanation for this practice can be found in the Christian wedding ritual, where the priest touches the first three fingers of the left hand before saying, “In the Name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost.” Romantic myths about the left hand’s fourth digit date back to ancient Egypt, when it was said to follow the “vena amoris” (vein of love) to the heart. The more real justification is that the fourth finger is the most secure; therefore, putting the ring there would minimize the risk of injury.

Diamonds were plentiful in the 18th century.

A dazzling array of engagement and wedding rings was made in the 18th century. Because of the significant increase in supply caused by the finding of diamonds in Brazil, diamond jewelry is now readily available to the general public. At the same time, advancements in candle technology led to an uptick in evening gatherings, when the glimmer of diamonds would be best appreciated. A woman flashing her diamond-encrusted fingers was a sure sign that she was dressed to the nines. The 18th-century jeweler’s primary concern was ensuring enough diamond jewelry.

Polishing methods were refined to satisfy the market for shiny gems, and a precursor to the modern round brilliant cut replaced the rose cut. Silver mountings were developed to highlight the white fire of the diamond, and settings were simplified to show off the stone’s brilliance. Metallic foil, usually in a contrasting color to the stone’s primary hue (red foil for rubies, green foil for emeralds, and so on), was sometimes used to back stones to increase their brilliance and sparkle.

The diamond “keeper ring” first appeared mid the eighteenth century.

By the middle of the 18th century, the elegant rococo aesthetic had entered jewelry creation. The use of colored gems (including colored diamonds) as the focal point of the design, especially when paired with white diamonds, became increasingly common. White and colored diamonds, as well as colored jewels like ruby, were frequently used to create the most eye-catching designs. Such feminine jewelry reflected the period’s love for elegance and refinement.

The betrothal ring mainly had a special place in people’s hearts because of its meaning. It all began in 1761 when King George III of England gave Queen Charlotte a diamond keeper ring as a wedding present. This thin diamond band was worn next to the engagement ring, symbolizing the union. The eternal circle symbolized infinity, and the diamond’s strength rendered it a reliable shield. Diamond wedding or anniversary bands, which typically include a single row of diamonds encircling the finger, are modern analogs of Queen Charlotte’s keeper ring.

Beginnings of contemporary customs in the nineteenth century

The charming, feminine, and sentimental style of early 19th-century jewelry represented the idealized status of women. They were followed from the previous century by symbols of love such as hearts, crowns, and flowers. However, as the 19th century continued, jewelry assumed a more central position and became increasingly significant as a status symbol. More individuals than ever before could enjoy the fruits of economic success because of the Industrial Revolution. It was now possible for men to buy expensive presents for the women they cared about. Gemstone-encrusted jewelry quickly became the standard. Even while demand for diamonds rose steadily during the 20th century, supply remained tight until the last quarter. Then, in 8170, an extensive diamond resource was discovered in Africa, significantly increasing reserves. Diamond, a treasure once out of reach for anyone except the wealthy, is now within reach.

Thus, the diamond’s true splendor was unveiled in the 19th century, thanks to the abundance of newly mined stones. In addition to affecting supply and jewelry style, Africa’s rough diamond supply also encouraged further innovation in cutting and polishing. Soon, diamonds began to shine with brilliance and fire that no other stone could match. Therefore, when worn singly, the magnificent diamond became the height of fashion.

Queen Victoria was the 19th century’s most prominent collector and advocated for jewels from that era. She kept a vast collection and spent thousands of pounds at Garrard, the Court jeweler. In 1850, she joyfully received the East India Company’s gift of the beautiful Koh-i-Noor, weighing 105.602 carats.

Twenty-first century Tiffany style

In the latter half of the nineteenth century, jewelry design radically transformed. More significant, striking, and confident jewelry pieces emerged when the traditional role of women shifted from submissive to dominant. Then, in the wake of such audacity, the romantic, freethinking spirit of Art Nouveau arose. The movement’s influence on design revived a supple elegance that persisted throughout the early 20th century. Since diamonds remained the focal point of engagement and wedding rings well into the 20th century, the timing was ideal for introducing the groundbreaking new “Tiffany mount” near the end of the 19th. For the diamond solitaire (a ring with a single enormous stone at the center), this thrilling setting started a tradition throughout the 20th century and is still the most popular option today.

The renowned New York jeweler Tiffany created the innovative “open” mount. The stone was kept securely in place by six tiny prongs (resembling little fingers) in this unique setting. This setting lets in as much light as possible, allowing the gemstone to shine brightly and brilliantly. The new Tiffany setting style exposed the diamond in all its glory, allowing the wearer to completely appreciate its shape, color, and clarity, unlike older settings that hid most of the stone (and many of its defects).

Modern cutting and polishing procedures have advanced to the point where a diamond’s natural beauty may be seen as the light reflects off of its many facets. Platinum and other modern alloys have allowed designers and set designers more leeway in the 20th century, opening exciting new possibilities. Finding the sweet spot between expressing individuality and highlighting the gemstone has become increasingly important in contemporary design.

Modern jewelry designers continue to astound devotees with inventive ways to showcase the gemstone of their choice while paying homage to the traditions and symbolism associated with it for generations. Upon receiving her engagement and wedding rings, the modern bride will join the ranks of betrothed men and women of all time. She’ll join a family whose love story goes back centuries.

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The Jewelry Hut’s owner and webmaster is Bijan Aziz.

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