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The Historical Significance of Diamond Engagement Rings

diamond engagement ringsThink of the last time you heard of someone getting engaged without a diamond engagement ring. Can you even think of an instance? It’s possible you or one of your friends had a spontaneous engagement and then bought the diamond engagement ring later, but the ring usually occupies an important place in the engagement story.

Have you ever stopped and thought about why? Why do men give women a diamond engagement ring to solidify an engagement? I’ve told you the marketing story behind the popularity of diamonds, but there’s another narrative that’s just as important and intriguing.

Until relatively recently, marriage was a necessity for women who wanted to have a secure economic and societal position. A broken engagement was not just a personal embarrassment but a risk to a woman's future marriage prospects and financial stability. Because of this, “breach of promise to marry" laws were created in the United States to protect women from canceled marriage plans. According to these laws, a man’s promise to marry a woman was seen as a legally binding contract. This allowed a women to sue her fiancé if he broke off the engagement and left her seen as "damaged" in the public eye. 

Starting in the 1930s, states began to abolish "breach of promise" laws, and now it is rare for someone to sue for a broken engagement (though it does still happen occasionally). Around the same time, diamond engagement rings began to gain in popularity. Margaret F. Brinig, a law professor from the University of Notre Dame, wrote about this connection in her paper, "Rings and Promises":

"The diamond ring rapidly changed from a relatively obscure token of affection to what amounted to an American tradition...

The change in demand for diamond engagement rings may therefore be explained by an increase in need for such a bond because of the abolition of a cause of action for breach of marriage promise."

The theory is that women started to require collateral to seal the promise to marry once these laws began to disappear. That’s when the idea of giving your bride-to-be a small, sparkling ring became popular. The diamond rings provided a small cushion of protection so the woman would at least have something if the man chose to leave.

Not a very romantic take on engagements, is it? Think about how far we’ve come from this mentality. Now, women and men have more options about who and when they marry, and diamond engagement rings are not a symbol of a legal agreement but as a symbol of commitment and love. 

Did you know any of the history behind the popularity of the diamond engagement ring? Add your take in the comments! 

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