History and the "Here and Now"
DOWRY ~ Though long a part of contemporary culture, the engagement ring is
actually a rather new custom associated with the marital tradition.
Prior to the eighteenth century most countries, particularly of European,
and later New America, operated on a dowry system. Likewise
some "Middle East" countries also organized, and still organize,
their marriages around dowries. The philosophy behind the dowry
system involves compensation. When a man comes to claim his
bride (back then most marriages were prearranged or a binding contract
of economic benefit, not love) the husband-to-be brings gifts in exchange
for the daughter's hand. Usually these gifts involve hefty sums
of money, portions of land, or as much as one could part with so as
to secure his new bride and compensate her family for their loss.
Often young girls were simply looked at as a form of economic currency;
their net value equates the total sum of their dowry for their family.
The woman's ability to birth and give rise to male heirs determined
her economic value to her new husband. This "anti-romantic"
tradition wasn't always devoid of emotion. Moreover, this custom
is still practiced in several parts of the world today.
CHIVALRY ~ However, in the eighteenth
century the Western world became influenced by the courting culture.
Chivalric notions of honor, justice, loyalty became a code of ethics
for men who sought out the chaste hand of their virgin bride.
These marriages became the first in history to incorporate notions
of "love" into their selection process. Though royalty
still depended on arranged marriages, and some of the wealthy still
operated on old customs, most of the commonwealth was free to choose
their bride at their love's leisure. However, it still behooved
the wealthy to marry among the wealthy- and though the poor could
dream of social climbing by profiting from a beneficial marital arrangement,
social status boundaries were still very much intact.
But despite the metamorphosis from dowry to courting traditions,
their always involved the central relationship between the father-in-law
and groom-to-be that involved the latter directly asking the former
for his daughter's hand. This tradition has been cemented in
Western culture and is still largely important to more conservative
families today. It was the notion of asking the hand however
gave rise to the engagement ring...
From AU' NATURAL to GOLD ~ In the early days the future brides would don rings of a natural
plant rush, and weave their stems together for a knotted ring.
This ring would be replaced by a new one after it died. In Medieval
times the brides would wear a ring that encompassed three fingers;
else they would don three different rings, to symbolize the holy trinity.
As gold became a common currency the groom-to-be would offer his future
bride a gold ring as a symbol of his personal affection and his indebted
payment to her family. Thus the beginnings of the engagement
ring had found their way into our culture.
DARWINISM ~ But the engagement ring has become more elaborate over time:
one might say, it has "evolved" quite dramatically, from
its original form. What was originally a gold band, or a series
of gold bands, has become an intricate heirloom that usually includes
a diamond, or multiples thereof, followed by artistic etchings, multiple
mountings, etc. etc. Even the metal choice has become inundated
with a variety of selections from platinum to yellow or white gold,
titanium, etc. Though all these choices can seem overwhelming,
one thing remains constant surrounding the custom of the engagement
ring...it is primarily the man's choice. Though more modern
times suggest the female has the autonomy to select her own ring,
the groom is technically still responsible for purchasing the ring
(so tradition goes). But good news for the men: tradition usually
suggests the female should purchase the groom's wedding band.
MODERNITY ~ Tradition usually allows the ring to be either a family heirloom
or a new purchase. When purchasing the new ring the traditional
notion is to allow one month's savings for the price of the ring.
However, modern times and contemporary notions about the attractive
size, style, etc. of the "perfect ring" have changed so
much that generally it is safe to allow a generous amount of money
that is within the scope of one's budget when making the purchase.
You don't want to have to take out a loan to buy her a ring, but you
also don't want to be sitting on a hefty paycheck and only purchase
a ring worth a couple hundred dollars (so long as you want to look
like a sincere groom-to-be). The best guideline to follow is
to be reasonable, practical, and let your purchase be affordable.
The ring should sting your wallet but not break the bank, for a crude
Happy ring hunting!