A diamond studded yellow gold engagement ring with a white gold wedding ring.
In the British-American tradition, an engagement ring is a ring worn by a woman on her left-hand ring finger indicating her engagement to be married. By modern convention, the ring is usually presented as a betrothal gift by a man to his prospective bride while or directly after she accepts his marriage proposal. It represents a formal agreement to chastity and a future marriage.
Similar traditions seem to date at least to the ancient Greeks and Romans.
In the United States, it is more common today than it used to be for a woman to also buy the man an engagement or promise ring at the time of the engagement.
In Germany, both the man and the woman wear engagement rings.
In some societies, it is traditional for the engagement ring to cost the equivalent of one months pay of the man's wages.
Refusing the gift
Women traditionally refuse offers of marriage by refusing to take the offered engagement ring.
A woman who accepts an engagement ring, and then does not marry the man but keeps the ring, is considered grasping and dishonest in some cases, although an alternative argument is that the ring was a gift to which the woman is entitled; because an engagement is also a period for evaluating one's commitment to the relationship, it is not uncommon for either the man or the woman to break off the engagement.
An engagement ring is often intentionally expensive as a sign of the man's permanency of interest. It is generally held that if the betrothal fails because the man pursues other women or himself breaks off the engagement, the woman is not obliged to return the ring. In the United States, this moral argument usually does not hold up in court. For example, Judith Sheindlin, TV's Judge Judy, holds that an engagement ring is 'a gift given in contemplation of marriage' and must therefore be returned if the contract is broken.
Material and design
Designs of such rings have varied greatly over the years. It traditionally is a precious band, and mounts a diamond or other gem. Current fashions for engagement rings are for a gold or silver band with a single diamond. This trend dates from advertising campaigns in the 1940s by de Beers, the world's near-monopoly diamond producer.
The argument for a diamond is that it is the most enduring, beautiful, and expensive gem. Many women, however, prefer different gems or semiprecious stones to the stark clarity of a diamond. Many women prefer colored stones. Sapphires, star sapphires, emeralds, and rubies are often used in engagement rings. Pearls and opals are rare, because these are soft stones.
Some people prefer to spend less money on an engagement ring, for several reasons. One is that the largely South African industry that controls the distribution of diamonds worldwide was intrisically linked to the system of apartheid. Another is that companies in this industry tend to hold large stores of diamonds and release few into the market to keep prices artificially high.
Thus, people who are socially conscious or financially conservative might prefer to save the thousands of dollars spent on an engagement ring in favour of a downpayment for a first home or an extravagant honeymoon. If the appearance of a diamond is desired but not its cost, there are several alternatives, such as moissanite, a less-expensive, synthetic alternative that is in many ways superior to diamond based on physical properties, including being the only alternative to diamond that can be mounted in a tension-setting-type ring.
For engagement rings, though, it truly is the thought that counts; the endurance and intention of love and future marriage are indicated, and the future groom purchases a ring with a gem that both is within his price range and appeals to his betrothed. Very large stones are extravagant displays of wealth, not necessarily an additional proof of love, although it is true that a man who spends much less than he can afford and much less than required to purchase a ring that his betrothed will enjoy wearing might be considered cheap rather than thrifty.
In some European countries (for example, Germany), engagement rings are usually plain gold bands without a diamond.
At one time, engagement rings mounted sets of stones. One traditional sentimental pattern mounted six to celebrate the joining of two families: The birthstones of the bride's parents and the bride (on the left), and the birth stones of the groom and his parents (on the right). The parents' stones were mounted with the mother to the left of the father. The bride and groom's birthstones would be adjacent in the center. Another similar pattern, for four stones, mounted the birthstone of the parents' marriages, and the birthstones of the bride and groom. These token rings often disassembled, to expose a channel in which a lock of the suitor's hair could be treasured.
A Victorian tradition was the Regards ring, in which the initials of the precious gems used spelled out the word 'regards'.
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