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Opinion

Concept of engagement ring dates back to Greek, Roman empires

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November 19, 2009

Does anyone remember J.Lo’s ridiculous rock a few years ago?  That huge ring of hers, wherever it may be now, was her and her then-fiancé Ben Affleck’s way of telling whoever read the tabloids that their love was bona fide, oh-so-very-real and forever.

After that crash-landed in the proverbial fail pond, Ms. Lopez found a new man and, more importantly, a new ring. What had ever possessed these men to give her a ring in the first place? I have nothing against Lopez or the men involved-it’s the ring that mystifies me. What is the reason that rings are even exchanged come engagement? 

The idea of the wedding ring, some historians say, can be seen throughout the ages. The Egyptians used reeds and other plants that grew along the Nile to fashion braided rings to give to their lovers.

While these rings needed to be replaced often due to their flimsy nature, they communicated the symbol of eternal love.

The circle of the ring also indicated the sun and moon; the space where the finger slips through was regarded as a gateway.

Marriage was considered a gateway for many new experiences…like the in-laws. The Greeks eventually adopted this tradition.

The Romans accepted this practice in the agreement that it kept them cool, like the Greeks. Early Romans also adopted the use of iron to create the rings.

While this communicated the valor of the love shared, it also got rusty with time…as many marriages do. Silver and gold eventually replaced corroding iron, most likely lowering tetanus concerns among the betrothed.

Today, wedding and engagement rings are commonly worn on the third finger of the left hand. It was believed a vein was located in this finger that directly connected with the heart. The Romans referred to this vein as “vena amoris,” or “the vein of love.”

Other regions of the world wear engagement rings differently, sometimes adorning them on the right hand or the thumb.

The gemstone and diamond accents embedded in the bands did not rise in popularity until the Middle Ages, when sapphires, rubies and emeralds would speckle rings of the wealthy. Diamonds also gained importance with their durability.

Its resistance to damage symbolizes the strength of the union of marriage.

The rarity of the mineral also made it restricted to the wealthy—giving a diamond ring showed how valued the recipient really was. Perhaps this is why the stereotype that girls dream of diamonds around their fingers is so prevalent. Who doesn’t want to be shown that they’re valued?

Perhaps the idea of value is what Mr. Affleck tried to get across when he presented his fiancé with that $1.2 million pink diamond ring. Or did he want to tell J. Lo that his love for her was strong, eternal and of the heart?

He didn’t choose an iron band, so at least he took care to reduce her tetanus chances.

He may have just wanted to get her a nice little ring, walked into a jeweler’s store, and was swiftly carted over to the high-roller section where he met the bill. At least, I hear, he is still happily married to Jennifer Garner. Wonder what her ring looks like?     

<b>Laura Krawczyk</b> is a student at the University of Wisconsin-River Falls.