History of the Diamond Engagement Ring

If you think diamonds are expensive today, this was especially true prior to the late 19th century, before they discovered large diamond deposits in Africa. Coincidentally, this large diamond discovery happened during the industrial revolution. This combination of increased personal wealth for the bourgeoisie and an increase in supply prompted the rise in the use of diamonds as engagement rings that we see today. In the United States, 80% of engagement rings are set with a diamond.

Throughout much of history engagement rings were simple bands made out of the best material the couple could afford. During the pioneer days when puritans were settling the country, this was a thimble, warn until the wedding day, after which the top was cut to create a ring. With the rise of the middle class a gold band became the standard choice, leading way to the modern gold band with a diamond setting. With the rise in higher quality materials and bigger price tags came an increase in laws to protect the buyers.

Different areas of the world, and states in the US have different laws regarding the giving of an engagement ring. In the UK the wedding ring is considered a gift, and if the engagement is broken of the woman is in no way legally bound to give the ring back. In some states and countries the engagement ring becomes her property only after the marriage occurs, so she is legally bound to give the ring back if the marriage is broken off.

In some areas, the person who breaks off the marriage can make a difference in how the law is applied. For example if the woman calls it off she is legally bound to give it back.

There have been various cases brought to court over an engagement ring given that didn’t end up in marriage. Here you can’t help but think that if you can’t settle that matter out of court, it’s a good thing they didn’t get married!

Here is a case from New South Wales as taken from Wiki:


One case in New South Wales, Australia ended in the man suing his former fiancée because she threw the ring in the trash after he told her she could keep it, despite the marriage proposal failing. The Supreme Court of New South Wales held that despite what the man said, the ring remained a conditional gift (partly because his saying that she could keep it was partly due to his desire to salvage the relationship) and she was ordered to pay him its AUD$15,250 cost.

At $15, 250, that’s probably worth fighting for!

A diamond engagement ring is a relatively recent tradition. It’s nice to be able to afford one, but you shouldn’t bend over backwards and go into insane debt because of it. Early in the 20th century the largest diamond company, DeBeers, marketed the 2-3 months salary idea as the “proper” amount you should spend. How long will it take you to save that amount? How much is that? Say you make 30,000, that’s 5,000-7,500 for a ring. That amount will get you a very big diamond, way more than most people have. In fact, as of 2007, the average spent on an engagement ring was $2100, far more reasonable. Spending just that $2100 gets you a very nice ring.

Remember this is a token of your love, not some way to out do your neighbors. Yet somehow that DeBeers benchmark has stuck, making most of the grooms feel guilty for staying with their means. For something really special buy a diamond within your savings (say 1 months earnings) and use a local bench jeweler for a quality custom setting. Practicality and prudence are valuable too, and I’m sure she’ll appreciate that as well.

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