Diamonds are forever: engagement rings then and now

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Romance, prestige or a way of demonstrating tenure? The meaning of the engagement ring has changed over time, as has its design, grandeur and monetary worth. What are the latest trends in ring design and, most importantly, who has the biggest diamond?

Hidden in a fortune cookie, dropped in a champagne glass or presented in a velvet box on one knee - the only thing that can be more exciting than the proposal is the ring itself! An engagement ring is more than a glitzy piece of jewellery, it symbolises a promise of fidelity and commitment to another person in marriagei, and it has done so for centuries.

An engagement ring symbolises a promise of fidelity and commitment to another person in marriage.

A brief history

The ancient Egyptians are said to have been the first people to wear wedding ringsii,iii, iv. As the circle of the ring's band did not have an end or a start, it symbolised eternity and therefore the eternal bond of the two loversv. The ring, just like today, was placed on the fourth finger of the left hand as the Egyptians believed that this finger had the 'vena amoris' (the vein of love)vi, which was linked directly to the heart. The ancient Romans are also thought to have used customary iron rings that signified the lasting nature of the engagement and also the closing of the marriage dealiii, vii.

The diamond, with its first recorded appearance in India in 800BCvi, is traditionally used in modern engagement rings. The word 'diamond' is etymologically linked to the classical Greek word adamasviii, meaning 'unbreakable' or 'invincible', and so the gemstone commonly symbolises 'steadfast love'.

The first known usage of a diamond engagement ring was in 1477 when Archduke Maximillian of Austria gave Mary of Burgundy a gold ring in the imperial court of Viennavi,ix. The ring was set with diamonds that spelt out the letter 'M'iv.

Diamonds are a girl's best friend

When it comes to choosing a perfect diamond engagement ring that will be treasured forever, it's important to pay attention to the four C's - colour, cut, clarity and carat. These terms will come in handy when you're gazing at the glamorous jewels in stores such as Tiffany's or Cartier.

Clarity is determined by the size and number of inclusions (internal) or blemishes (external) in or on a diamond. The higher the number of inclusions and blemishes, and the larger they are, depreciates the value of the diamond as they may interfere with the dispersion of lightx.

Carat refers to the weight of the diamond. The larger the diamond the more carats it will have. A carat is equivalent to 200 milligramsx.

The traditional colour of a diamond on an engagement ring is white because it's a neutral colour; however, coloured diamonds are becoming increasingly fashionable.

The cut of a diamond dictates its brilliance by enabling it to maximise the amount of light that enters itxi. The cut measures symmetry and the facets, and can range from shallow to deep. The cut may be marquise, oval, pear, round, heart, trilliant, princess, radiant, emerald or baguette. Brides-to-be are opting for non-traditional diamond cuts and colours.

Breaking the rules of engagement rings

From the conventional solitaire style to a wide variety of gemstones and designs, engagement rings are no longer a one size fits all. Current trends are showing that women are increasingly opting for unconventional rings that complement their individuality and exclusive taste.

Never go out of fashion: vintage-style rings such as heirlooms or ones in the art deco style are becoming increasingly popularxii.

Dare to be different: many brides-to-be are daring to be different with unconventional gemstones. Although white diamonds are the usual suspects for engagement rings, other popular ones include gemstones like beryl, rubies, emeralds and sapphiresxii - the most famous of which is Lady Di's engagement ring, given to Kate Middleton by Prince Williamxiii.

Singular stones: just as the traditional white diamond is being thrown out with the bouquet so is the traditional round-cut diamond. Ladies in love are opting for other diamond cuts including marquise, pear, cushion and emerald cutxiv.

Draped in diamonds: Why have a single diamond when you can have 10! Bejewelled brides-to-be are choosing rings with centrepiece diamonds encircled by smaller stonesxii.

The dearest diamonds in exclusive engagements

No precious stone was left unturned for these celebrities and dazzling divas! Their boyfriends let the world know just how precious they were with a very expensive public display of affection with these exceptionally valuable rings! The allure of a pricey ring has let them lay claim to some of the most expensive engagement rings in the world.

  1. The world's most expensive engagement ring was sold in April 2013 for US$9.49 million to Graff Diamonds, a prestigious jewellery house named after Laurence Graff, jewel collector extraordinaire. The Blue Diamond Ring by Bvlgari features a 5.3-carat blue diamond that was crafted in 1965xv.
  2. In second place, Jay-Z's proposal to world-famous diva Beyonce Knowles involved an engagement ring valued at US$5 millionxvi, xvii. This 20-carat engagement ring has an 18-carat rectangular diamond in its centre. The ring was designed by Lorraine Schwartz, one of Beyonce's favourite jewellersxvi.
  3. Hotel heiress, Paris Hilton, comes in at third place with a 24-carat diamond engagement ring costing US$4.7 million from her former fiancée Paris Latsis, the son of a Greek tycoonxvi. The ring was designed by a private designerxviii.
  4. Songstress Mariah Carey was also the recipient of an extravagant engagement ring with a US$2.5 million price tag designed by jeweller Jacob Araboxvi. The 17-carat diamond ringxix was given to her by American celebrity Nick Cannon and features 58 small pink diamonds surrounding a larger pink diamond in the ring's centrexvi.
  5. Socialite Kim Kardashian's 72-day engagement to basketball player Kris Humphries came with a US$2 million 20.5-carat diamond ring, also from jeweller Lorraine Schwartzxvi.

While your engagement ring or wedding band might not be as expensive as Beyonce's, its worth is equally significant. Looking after your precious belongings is made easier with home and contents insurance. Get a quote with Allianz today!

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ii Lifestyle Lounge, History of Wedding Ring, viewed 21 October 2013,

iii Room of Fun 2013, Interesting Facts About Engagement Rings, viewed 21 October 2013,

iv Your Tango, Who Invented Engagement Rings, Anyway?, viewed 21 October 2013,

v Jones, W 1877, 'Chapter V Betrothal and Wedding Rings', Finger-ring Lore, viewed 21 October 2013,
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vi Jewellery Monthly 2013, 19 Crazy Facts about Engagement Rings, viewed 21 October 2013,

vii Jones, W 1877, 'Chapter V Betrothal and Wedding Rings', Finger-ring Lore, viewed 21 October 2013,
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viii 'Adamant', Oxford English dictionary online, viewed 21 October 2013,

ix Famous101 2013, Famous Engagement Rings in History, viewed 21 October 2013,

x Forbes, Bankrate's Guide to Diamonds for Every Budget, viewed 22 October 2013,

xi Diamond Ideals, Learn about Diamonds, viewed 22 October 2013,

xii The Knot, 6 Top Engagement Ring Trends, viewed 22 October 2013,

xiii List 25, 25 Most Expensive Pieces of Jewelry in the World, viewed 22 October 2013,

xiv Cosmopolitan, The Hot New Trends in Engagement Rings, viewed 22 October 2013,

xv Anton E 2013, 'World's Most Expensive Engagement Ring', Ealuxe, viewed 21 October 2013,

xvi Dekneef, M 2013, 'The Bling Ring: 10 Most Expensive Engagement Rings', Hollyscoop, viewed 21 October 2013,

xvii Divirgilio, A 2012, 'World's most expensive engagement rings', Bornrich, viewed 21 October 2013,

xviii Mandel, K 2005, 'Paris Hilton Gets Two Rings for Engagement', People, viewed 12 November 2013,,,1072588,00.html

xix Acuna, K etal 2012, 'The 15 Most Expensive Celebrity Engagement Rings', Business Insider Australia, viewed 12 November 2013,