Jewellery has always provided us with a potent illustration of the times, a symbol of the society and the culture from which it was created, but few pieces are as telling as the engagement ring: a symbolic circle that represents eternity, loyalty, commitment and love.
But just as relationships are becoming anything but predictable – the nuclear family is not the only option in our more free-form society where anything goes – women are seeking rings that reflect their lives and independence more and more. And increasingly, of course, they are choosing their own engagement rings too, looking for designs that echo their personality rather than simply their social or financial status, and that speak volumes about very modern love stories.
In some ways this is no different from engagement rings throughout the centuries. As early as the Middle Ages, a diamond ring was referred to as a commemoration of love and marriage, worn on the fourth finger of the left hand, from which the vena amoris ran directly to the heart.
The diamond ring continued to symbolize love when, in 1477, Archduke Maximilian gave what is thought to be the first recorded engagement ring to Mary of Burgundy to mark their betrothal, with hogback diamonds forming the letter ‘M’ in celebration of their union. During the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries the engagement ring became increasingly flamboyant and sentimental, with intertwined hearts, bows, love knots and messages spelled in gems. It wasn’t until early in the twentieth century that the single-diamond setting was popularized.
While a classic solitaire diamond might be a pure symbol, as clear as a flawless diamond, some of us are now opting for rings that are just as free from conventions as our partnerships – whether in marriage, civil ceremony or long-term relationships. And while the engagement ring is still one of the most significant pieces of jewellery a woman will wear in her lifetime, it now needs to be expressive as well as timeless.
For many, more complex designs have increasing allure. The Enchanted Lotus Band from De Beers perfectly illustrates a trend for more exuberant pieces. Its band of intricately woven brilliant diamonds – 301 in all – form lotus flowers set in white gold. More elaborate still is the Secret Kiss of the Roses Ring – the ultimate statement piece with a stunning ten-carat flawless rose-cut diamond set over a pink brilliant-cut diamond and surrounded by 428 brilliant-cut diamonds.
By choosing a less conventional – and in many ways more personal – engagement ring, women are also embracing designs that feel unique to them. Whether choosing to have their own bespoke ring made or selecting the more characteristic cluster ring, women are opting for designs that, while still timeless, are definitely more individual. The textural Talisman Ring dotted with rough-cut diamonds (once the exclusive privilege of kings and queens who wore them for good luck and prosperity) is another such unconventional piece meant to be treasured for a lifetime.
The Talisman Collection also illustrates how the rise of more idiosyncratic rings has brought with it a trend for different coloured diamonds too, such as the rough yellow diamonds on textured gold prominent in De Beers’ Talisman Band.
Ultimately though, and despite today’s shifting roles and rules of engagement, most couples are still seduced by the symbolism and meaning intrinsic to precious, timeless pieces. Take the Atea Ring, which uses a circle – a primeval symbol of eternity – as its starting point. With a central design of dynamic swirls of micropavé diamonds, this ring celebrates the energy of nature but also reflects the dynamics of modern life. Or the exquisite Swan Pavé Band that transforms pairs of elegant swans into intricate hearts that form a delicate band of white gold. Relationships may have evolved, but the central themes of commitment and loyalty remain the same.