Engagement rings are an aspect of courtship and relationships that hold great importance. This way of marking a new stage in your connection with one another, and preparing for a future marriage, comes with a lot of tradition and “rules” around what you should or should not do. It’s understandable that these written and unwritten rules might be rather confusing.
To put your mind at ease and clear up any questions you might have about engagement rings; here is our guide to the engagement ring traditions you should be aware of, and the ones you should follow (as well as the ones you shouldn’t be worried about breaking).
Alekon Pictures / an engagement ring
1. The act of giving an engagement ring itself- Where does it come from?
Pope Innocent III
The act of wearing an engagement ring can be traced back to the 1200’s. Back in 1214, Pope Innocent III introduced a law that forced couples who wanted to marry to move into a period of waiting before they go through with committing to the legal and spiritual contract that is marriage. This was to stop “shotgun” marriages and people from marrying in a flight of fancy, and to ensure that marriages were done in devotion to one another and in the name of God. During this “waiting period”, couples were asked to wear a ring that would act as a mark of their commitment to each other and the prospect of getting married.
2. The cost of the engagement ring- How much should you spend on your engagement ring traditionally?
The traditions around how much an engagement ring should cost, or how much you should spend on a ring are rather contentious. In the United Kingdom, the average cost of an engagement ring in 2022 is £2100.
You will often hear from family members or read in gossip magazines that “a man should spend 3 months' salary on the engagement ring”. The idea is that it proves you value your fiancé and demonstrates that you are able to provide financially for her. However, this isn’t an ancient tradition, and is actually a product of infamous marketing that has been ingrained within our increasingly commercial culture.
The “tradition” of prescribing that you should spend a percentage of your salary on an engagement ring was spurred by an advertising campaign made by the De Beers diamond cartel in the 1930’s. The leading diamond company at the time, De Beers, was struggling to sell their diamonds during the Great Depression. As a way to create demand for their diamonds, they successfully created a selection of adverts that stated any good or worthy man should be willing to prove his love and devotion for his future wife by spending a month’s salary on a diamond solitaire ring. This advertising campaign combined glitz to draw in women, and also shamed men into spending their money, unless they wanted to receive claims of being inadequate. The campaign was incredibly successful, and helped De Beers survive the Great Depression and continue to lead the diamond market.
As the American economy improved during the Reagan era, De Beers updated their suggested spend to 2 months salary on an engagement ring.
De Beers / Their “2 months salary” advertising campaign from the 1980’s
The three-month salary tradition that is popularised today comes as a spin off from this campaign. As De Beers was trying to break into the Japanese market, they were struggling to find people in Japan who wanted to buy diamonds. Diamonds were not popular in Japan, practically unheard of as a jewellery choice there before World War Two.
Until 1959, it was illegal for diamonds to be imported into Japan. In the 60’s when it was legal, and when De Beer’s started trying to sell its products in Japan, only 5 percent of Japanese brides received diamond rings. In 14 years, that percentage rose to 60 percent.
Pinterest / De Beers distinctive Ginza building in Japan, looming over Tokyo
To create a demand for their engagement rings, similar to their campaign based around male worth during the Great Depression, De Beer’s targeted Japanese men. Prior to the post-war American controlled Japanese government, most marriages were arranged and there was no act of engagement or gift giving of jewellery to demonstrate your love. De Beers associated the act of choosing your own bride and giving a woman an engagement ring with a move into modernity and towards western values.
Japanese men were urged to spend three months' salary on engagement rings by De Beers, and this was a stroke of genius because it linked spending money with a Japanese sense of honour. Honour is one of the most treasured things in Japanese society, so this expectation of proving your honour by spending 3 months' salary on a De Beers diamond ring soon became widespread. From there, the three-month idea spread back to the western world and has been taken as “tradition”.
So, in truth, whilst some may say you should spend 3 month's salary on a ring; you aren’t actually doing something terribly taboo if you don’t.
The more important thing is that you place lots of consideration on the ring itself, and that you choose a ring that both you and your partner will treasure.
An engagement ring holds as much meaning as you place upon it, it is more than just a stand in for a bank account statement. It’s supposed to symbolise your deepest feelings about your partner and represent your relationship with them; as well as being a piece of jewellery that they will covet and wear for the rest of their life.
But if you are worried about meeting the “traditional” expectation of spending one, two- or three-months' salary on a ring; here at London DE we have a range of engagement rings starting at £1000 up to £12,000 which you can take your pick from.
If you are concerned about how your partner will feel about the expectations around engagement rings, it’s worth having a conversation about it. It’s now not uncommon to find couples splitting the budget for engagement rings, which alleviates the expectation on the man to spend 3 months salary or have the engagement ring be proof that you can provide for your future bride.
If you decide to do this, and are working together to purchase an engagement ring, then it is best you are both involved in the search for said engagement ring. This leads us onto our next question
3. Do couples pick out engagement rings together?
Zoriana Stakhniv / matching engagement rings, chosen together
It is now 2022, and times are a changing! Once upon a time, a man would choose his partner’s ring all alone, with the marriage already arranged and the ring as part of the formal proposal. But now, many couples come to a joint decision that they want to take their relationship to the next level, and both want to propose to one another. Because of this, the aspect of surprise behind a proposal or an engagement ring is less crucial, and many couples want to choose an engagement ring together.
Benefits of choosing an engagement ring as a couple
There is no need to fear that it will be a bad omen for your marriage or anything like that. There are actually plenty of benefits that come with picking an engagement ring together.
One of the obvious things is the fit of the ring. When you select a ring, even if you know your partner's ring size, there is always the risk of the ring not fitting perfectly. By picking a ring together you remove the need for resizing at a later date.
Another great part of choosing an engagement ring together is that you get all those memories to reflect on when you are married.
It’s also a great trial for married life. You are making a decision about something that has a lot of emotional and financial worth together and choosing an engagement ring is a commitment to marrying one another; rather than it being a one-sided proposal and decision. It also sets up the precedent that you make important choices together as a couple. This sort of experience can also help you learn more about your partner and help understand one another's values and perspectives.
Finally, and maybe the best benefit is peace of mind. According to The Knot, a premier wedding and engagement planning company, who conducted a study on engagement rings; one out of three couples now shopped for their engagement rings together. Of that group, 89% of the men who were surveyed and had chosen the ring with their partner were glad that their other half had been actively involved in the decision-making process.
Risks of choosing an engagement ring without your partners input
On the other hand, there are certainly risks that come with picking an engagement ring for your potential fiancée without your partner's input.
A woman called Rachel was proposed to by her partner. They had a magical evening together, and when he got down on one knee, she said yes to the love of her life! Everything was perfect, including a rooftop view from their hotel room and the romantic candlelight atmosphere.
However, when he pulled out the ring, she was mortified. He had picked out a wonderful yellow gold engagement ring.
The only snag was that Rachel was allergic to yellow gold!
Whilst she enjoyed the magical proposal, the night was slightly spoiled by the difficult conversation they had to have later. If they had chosen the ring together, one of the first things they could have covered was that she was allergic to yellow gold and searched for engagement rings with a different type of band.
4. What about the proposal?
Andre Jackson / A couple proposing to each other
As we have mentioned, there are plenty of positives that come with shopping for an engagement ring together. It can be a great romantic adventure in and of itself.
If you want to surprise your partner and keep it a surprise, do it on a random day and spontaneously take her to the jewellery shop.
Or if you prefer to plan things and make an event out of it by arranging to go to a jeweller ahead of time; your partner will have the pleasure of talking about it with friends and family and look forward to it in anticipation.
There is no reason that searching for an engagement ring together should ruin the fun of finding the “perfect” engagement ring or the romanticism of a proposal. If you have been dating for an extended period and are both interested in settling down, the prospect of an eventual proposal shouldn’t be an earth-shattering surprise. The proposal itself can still be a surprise, because once you have selected an engagement ring together, the time when you get down on one knee can still be kept secret from them.
What rules are there for engagement rings?
5. Your engagement ring should have a white diamond centre stone
Sabrianna / A white diamond centre stone
Some have stated that a ring with a white or colourless diamond is the only centre stone option that you can choose from when selecting an engagement ring. However, this is a tradition made to be broken. Feel free to choose coloured gemstones or more adventurous diamonds in your engagement ring. This could mean sapphire, ruby, or emerald; as well as lesser known and more exotic gemstones like tourmaline, aquamarine or morganite.
If you are interested in the many different gemstones that you could explore and have as part of an engagement ring, we have a wide selection of loose diamonds and gemstones on offer here.
6. Engagement rings should be styled a certain way.
There are certain traditional designs for engagement rings. Silver, yellow or white gold and platinum bands with a single solitaire diamond is what most people think of when they think of a traditional engagement ring. But it doesn’t have to be that way. If you want a different type of band, you could choose a rose gold ring. Or if you can’t narrow it down to a single metal, you could be adventurous and get an engagement ring that incorporates multiple metals. If you don’t like gemstones, you can buy a Russian engagement ring which is a plain band.
There is an endless variety of engagement ring designs, and you should feel like you have the freedom to choose the ring you want; not the ring that fits tradition and is expected of you.
Engagement ring traditions from further afield that you may not have heard of
7. Latin America
Whilst giving your fiancé an engagement ring when you propose is the norm around most of the world and then a separate wedding band when you get married. However, in much of Latin America the tradition is that couples will exchange rings they have selected for one another during their proposal. They wear their engagement rings on their right hands until the day of their wedding, and then once married, they move their ring to their left hand and wear it there as their wedding ring from then on.
Ireland has the historic Claddagh ring, which is used to signal engagement. The ring consists of a crown, which symbolises your devout loyalty to God and your partner; hands, which symbolises your shared friendship; and a heart, which symbolises your love for one another. When the ring is worn on the right hand with the crown facing the wearer; it signals to others that the woman wearing it is single. If she is wearing the ring on her right hand with the crown facing outward, it indicates that she is in a relationship. When it is moved to the left hand and facing inward, it’s a declaration that the woman has been engaged. Finally, when she is married, the groom will move the crown from facing inward to its new position facing outward. Who needs a relationship status on social media when you’ve got a Claddagh ring.
Because the left hand is seen as unholy within Indian society, engagement rings are traditionally worn on people’s right hands. In other parts of India, engagement rings are done away with altogether; with engagement bangles and bracelets being preferred to celebrate the betrothal.
Turkey, the gateway between Europe and Asia, has a very unique engagement tradition whereby the bride and groom stand in front of a senior member of their families and wait in silence while a young girl they have selected carries their engagement rings to them on a tray. The rings they have chosen are tied together with a long red ribbon and the senior family member who is standing beside them cuts the red ribbon; and makes a traditional statement with blessings and wishes, and then presents their rings to the happy couple.
11. Should I ask the bride’s father for his blessing before I propose?
In a bygone era, if you wanted to marry a woman, you as the potential groom would have to approach your future father-in-law and ask for his permission to marry his daughter, as she was legally his property. If he refused, you would be forced to end your courtship.
This was during a time when women had little status or independence within society; and marriages were more legal and financial agreements, rather than a chance to solidify your love with one another.
Nowadays, whilst you don’t need to ask for a parent’s permission to marry one another; some women do like the gesture of you asking your future father-in-law for his blessing. But it is worth asking them this question beforehand, because others feel like it is perpetuating old ideas that they are their father’s property.
12. Should I get down on one knee?
Taylor Brandon / a man down on one knee
Where did getting down on one knee for proposing marriage come from? The practice originates from the days of knighthood and chivalric orders. Knights would get down on one knee in front of their lord as a display of respect, obedience, and loyalty. It was also a feature of religious ceremonies, with you kneeling before God. Kneeling when you were proposing a marriage helped link your proposal to the will of God and give it religious significance.
Whether you wish to continue this pageantry is a choice for you and your partner.
Here at London DE, we are the UK’s leading supplier of certified diamonds, emeralds, rubies, sapphires and other coloured gemstones.
We ethically source and supply loose stones; and more relevant to this article are experts in creating both bespoke and ready to wear engagement rings, created in our workshops in London’s Hatton Garden. In our operations we utilise connections with local businesses to ensure we maintain a low carbon footprint and support the local community.
If the idea of a bespoke engagement ring piques your interest, you can arrange a free consultation with London DE, either in person at our Hatton Garden location or over Zoom.