The history of engagement rings dates back thousands of years and is steeped in symbolism, tradition and cultural significance. Today, we’ll explore the evolution of engagement rings, from ancient times to the modern day, and delve into the meaning behind this renowned symbol of love and commitment.

The earliest recorded use of engagement rings can be traced back to the ancient Egyptians. Rings were worn as a symbol of love and commitment, and they were often made from braided reeds or woven rushes to symbolise the never-ending cycle of love. In 1477, Archduke Maximilian of Austria presented Mary of Burgundy with a gold and diamond ring, asking for her hand in marriage.

Archduke Maximilian III

Archduke Maximilian III of Austria, the giver of the first diamond engagement ring in history.
Source: Wikipedia Commons

In 1867, the first South African diamond was discovered, leading to the massive Kimberley diamond rush. By the time De Beers was established in 1888, diamonds were seen as rare and valuable, but there weren’t yet seen as a prized possession. Instead, diamonds were reserved for royalty, high society and the rich and famous. By the late 1930’s, huge quantities of diamonds were being produced in South Africa, but sales of these precious gems were flagging.

To boost sales and increase diamond demand amongst the general public, De Beers hired New York marketing agency N.W Ayer in 1938. In 1940, a diamond ring certainly wasn’t tradition and only approximately 10% of brides sported a diamond engagement ring.

In 1947 N.W. Ayer conceptualised a campaign involving portraits of “engaged socialites”, featuring diamond engagement rings for the middle class to aspire to. Round about the same time, a young female copywriter at N.W. Ayer, Frances Gerety, scribbled down “A diamond is forever” – a line that was destined to become one of the most recognisable marketing slogans of all time. Men were encouraged to spend two month’s salary on their diamond engagement rings and public perception of diamonds started to shift.

How did the marketing pay off? By the early 1980’s, approximately 80% of all women were being proposed to with a diamond engagement ring, and the “tradition” was well and truly sealed.


Today, engagement rings are an important symbol of love and commitment for couples all over the world. While diamonds remain the most popular choice for engagement rings, other gemstones such as sapphires, emeralds, and rubies are also frequently used. The style of engagement rings has also evolved over time, with different trends emerging and fading over the years. Yellow gold, art deco styles, vintage styles and rose gold have all been trends that have ebbed and flowed over the decades.


A 1-carat diamond ring is considered by some to be the ultimate engagement ring.

In recent years, there has been a growing trend towards alternative engagement rings. Many couples are seeking engagement rings that feature alternatives to regular diamonds and blue sapphires, such as salt and pepper diamonds, peacock sapphires and parti sapphires. Consumers are looking for rings that are made to last, both in terms of their durability and their timeless design.

At Katannuta Diamonds, we are proud to offer a range of engagement rings that are both beautiful, and ethical and feature unique gemstones. Each of our diamonds is carefully selected for its exceptional quality, and our coloured gemstones are chosen according to each client’s needs. All our engagement rings are precisely designed using CAD technology, before being cast and hand-finished by our master jewellers. Whether you are looking for a classic diamond solitaire, a vintage-inspired ring, or a modern and minimalist design, we have the perfect engagement ring for you.


A peacock (teal) sapphire engagement ring with vintage-style engraving. The history of engagement rings is being re-written as consumers move towards alternatives to the “traditional” diamond ring.

The history of engagement rings is a rich and fascinating one, and it is a story that continues to evolve and thrive, even today. As you embark on this exciting new phase of your life, consider a bespoke engagement ring from Katannuta Diamonds – our rings are a symbol of your love and commitment and are made to last a lifetime. With our commitment to ethical sourcing and supporting the South African diamond and jewellery manufacture trade, you can rest assured that your engagement ring will not only be spectacular but will be a proudly and uniquely South African creation.

South African diamond

A GIA Diamond Origin Report indicating a proudly South African, ethically sourced natural diamond.