Monday, October 5, 2009

Wedding Rings - the Tradition

One of the earliest symbols of marriage, and one that we still use today, is the wedding ring. You may well ask, “But how did it start?”

Centuries ago in Egypt, rings were twisted or braided from reeds - the same reeds from which Egyptian “paper” or papyrus was made. Since a ring (or circle) has no beginning and no end, it represented eternity. The center hole symbolized things known and unknown. When a lover gave a ring, it was in the hopes that the love would be eternal, without end, like the ring. The problem was that the reed ring would only last about a year at best.

When metal was introduced, iron became the chosen material. The ring now had the added symbol of strength. The strong man gave his woman the iron ring so their love would have the strength of iron. But, eventually the iron ring rusted.

Before coinage, the legal tender was gold rings. If a man gave a woman a gold ring, it proved that he trusted her with his wealth. The chosen woman would wear the marriage ring on the third finger of the left hand because it was believed that a vein traveled from that finger directly to the heart.

Along comes Maxmillian, the Archduke of Austria. He desired Mary of Burgundy as his wife and wanted to give her a gift she couldn’t refuse. Upon consulting his counselors, he was advised to give her a diamond ring. He did. She accepted. And thus, the precedent was set for diamond rings as engagement rings.

Many gems were rare, but the diamond was chosen because it was the stone of Venus, the Goddess of Love – and rightly so, because the brilliant diamond carried a fire in its depths that would go on forever.

However, diamonds were so rare that they were only available to the very rich, until the 1800’s, when a huge diamond mine was discovered in South Africa. Several decades later, in the 1900’s, a method was devised to cut the stones in little pieces and mass market them to the general public. Now it was possible for almost anyone to buy a diamond ring. It might be miniscule, but it WAS a diamond - proof of unending love.

In this fast-changing world, I wonder when it will become common for women to give men diamond engagement rings?