Engagement ring

In Western tradition, an engagement ring is a ring worn by a woman indicating her engagement to be married. In some countries, such as the United Kingdom, it is worn on the left-hand ring finger, while in other countries, such as Poland and Ukraine, it is customary for the ring to be worn on the right-hand. By modern convention in countries such as the United States, 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 future marriage.

Similar traditions purportedly date to classical times, dating back from an early usage reportedly referring to the fourth finger of the left hand as containing the vena amoris or "vein of love".

In the United States and Canada today, it is becoming more common, but still quite rare, that a woman will also buy an engagement or promise ring for her partner at the time of the engagement.

In Egypt, Sweden, Norway, Denmark, France, Finland, Germany, the Netherlands and Brazil, both the man and the woman usually wear engagement rings, most often in the form of matching plain bands of white, yellow, or red gold. In these countries the man's engagement ring often also eventually serves as the wedding ring. Some men wear two rings, but this is rarer. The woman's wedding ring can sometimes have a precious stone. In northern Germany, the tradition of engagement rings is not often followed and is often viewed as an American import. In Spain, the woman sometimes buys an engagement wristwatch for the man after accepting a marriage proposal.

History

The inception of the engagement ring itself can be tied to the Fourth Lateran Council presided over by Pope Innocent III in 1215 . Innocent declared a longer waiting period between betrothal and marriage; plain rings of gold, silver or iron were used earliest. Gems were important and reassuring status symbols to the aristocracy. Laws were passed to preserve a visible division of social rank, ensuring only the privileged wore florid jewels. As time passed and laws relaxed, diamonds and other gems became available to the middle class.

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". Another Victorian tradition was the Dearest Ring, which spelled the word "dearest" using the first letter of each jewel.

The origin of our custom to use diamonds in rings, and more recently, in engagement rings, can be traced back to the Middle Ages and even the Romans. The Romans valued the diamond entirely on account of its supernatural powers. Pliny wrote that a diamond baffles poison, keeps off insanity and dispels vain fears. . The medieval Italians copied these beliefs and added some to it: they called it the "Pietra della Reconciliazone" because it maintained concord between husband and wife. On this account it was recommended as the stone to be set in wedding (or espousal) rings. Note: not on account of its beauty therefore, which was described by Isidore of Seville as a small stone devoid of beauty.

One of the first occurrences of the diamond engagement (or wedding) ring can be traced back to the marriage of Maximilian I (then Archduke of Austria) to Mary of Burgundy in 1477. Other early examples of betrothal jewels incorporating diamonds include the Bridal Crown of Blanche (ca. 1370–80)

Price

The price for an engagement ring can vary considerably. Usually, they can be found within the range of a few hundred dollars to several hundred thousand dollars. Price varies by the material used, the value of the diamond, and retailer. A conventional buying price ranging from one to two months wages for a ring guideline originated from De Beers marketing materials in the early 20th century, in an effort to increase the sale of diamonds.

When shopping for rings with one or more diamonds, the price can depend significantly on the carat weight, color, clarity and cut of the diamond, otherwise known as gemological characteristics of the diamond.

Selection

In some countries the tradition has been for the the future groom to privately select and purchase a ring, to be presented to his desired bride when he proposes.

With more and more couples living together prior to marriage, however, it is becoming more common for a couple to select the engagement ring while purchasing a wedding band together. This eliminates the possibility of the woman not liking the engagement ring. In countries where both partners wear engagement rings, the matching rings tend to be purchased together.

Refusing the gift

Women traditionally refuse offers of marriage by refusing to take the offered engagement ring. In some states of the United States, engagement rings are considered "conditional gifts" under the legal rules of property. This is an exception to the general rule that gifts cannot be revoked once properly given. See, for example, the case of Meyer v. Mitnick, 625 N.W.2d 136 (Michigan, 2001), whose ruling found the following reasoning persuasive: "the so-called 'modern trend' holds that because an engagement ring is an inherently conditional gift, once the engagement has been broken, the ring should be returned to the donor. Thus, the question of who broke the engagement and why, or who was 'at fault,' is irrelevant. This is the no-fault line of cases."

One case in New South Wales, Australia ended in the man suing his former fiancée because she threw the ring in the trash after telling 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.Engagement rings are men's property | NEWS.com.au

Tradition generally holds that if the betrothal fails because the man himself breaks off the engagement, the woman is not obliged to return the ring. Legally, this condition can be subject to either a modified or a strict fault rule. Under the former, the fiancé can demand the return of the ring unless he breaks the engagement. Under the latter, the fiancé is entitled to the return unless his actions caused the breakup of the relationship, the same as the traditional approach. However, a no-fault rule is being advanced in some jurisdictions, under which the fiancé is always entitled to the return of the ring. The ring only becomes the property of the woman when marriage occurs. An unconditional gift approach is another possibility, wherein the ring is always treated as a gift, to be kept by the fiancée whether or not the relationship progresses to marriage. Recent court rulings have determined that the date in which the ring was offered can determine the condition of the gift. e.g. Valentine's Day and Christmas are nationally recognized as gift giving holidays. A ring offered in the form of a Christmas present will likely remain the personal property of the recipient in the event of a break up.

In the United Kingdom, the gift of an engagement ring is presumed to be an absolute gift to the fiancée. This presumption may be rebutted however by proving that the ring was given on condition (express or implied) that it must be returned if the marriage did not take place, for whatever reason. This was decided in the case Jacobs v Davis [1917] 2 KB 532.

See also

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