Like most personal or familial traditions, they are begun and stressed by those companies which have the most to gain from an increase in popularity. An engagement ring and wedding band are no different in that over the years their use and cost has been pushed by those who will benefit the most from their acceptance.
The engagement ring can be traced back to Pope Innocent III in 1215 AD when he declared a waiting period between engagement and marriage. Initially plain bands of silver, gold and even iron were used as gems were used as a measure of status among aristocracy. Laws were on the books to separate classes and only the privileged were allowed to wear jewels. Over time, laws were relaxed to allow others to wear jewels in their engagement ring and wedding band.
Initially, engagement rings and wedding bands contained stones, with one pattern having six birthstones to mark the birthdays of the engaged couple’s parents and themselves. In the middle of the 20th century, diamond producer DeBeers, began standardizing the diamond engagement ring and wedding band with an extensive advertising campaign.
Male Engagement Rings Didn’t Catch On
The United State jewelry industry attempted to establish the use of the male engagement ring, even touting a supposed historical precedent of medieval times, but failed. They did however succeed in encouraging the use of wedding bands for men. The notion of an engagement ring and wedding band for the female is now the established “tradition.”
Costs of the engagement ring and wedding band have also been pushed upwards over the years as in their early use, whatever the man could afford was acceptable even with the origins of band made of iron being a token of the pending marriage. Today’s typical “accepted” cost of an engagement ring is between two weeks and three months of the man’s salary being spent.
Engagement rings in the United States are considered “conditional” gifts under legal rules of property, in that, when accepted by the woman as an agreement to be married. If later the wedding is called off by the woman it is to be returned to the man. If the man calls off the wedding it can be treated as an unconditional gift, and is kept by the recipient.
The idea that gifts can not be taken back includes this exception as in Meyer vs. Metnick (Michigan, 2001) found that an engagement ring as a condition gift. Thus there is a need for determination as to who broke off the engagement, in order to find to whom the engagement ring would legally belong to.