Simple, classic and lovely, the pearl is an excellent choice for an engagement ring. While today the pearl engagement ring is a rather unconventional choice, during the Victorian era they were the norm. A symbol of purity and harmony, the pearl is an apt and lovely choice for a betrothal ring.
Engagement Rings in Ancient Rome
Engagement ring history dates back thousands of years. The custom of giving a ring to signify an engagement dates from the time of ancient Rome. In the early days, rings were made from iron. Gold engagement rings came into fashion in Rome during the third century A.D., and were often fashioned with a lovers’ knot or clasped hands.
Engagement Rings and Wedding Rings
Early Christians continued the Roman tradition of the engagement ring, first making it a part of the wedding ceremony and the symbol of an unbreakable vow, thereby transforming it into a wedding ring. Over time, couples felt the need to give another ring as a symbol of the promise to wed, which eventually became the engagement ring that we know today.
Pearl Engagement Rings
By the 1850s pearl engagement rings were popular, so much so that an 1875 article in the Young Ladies’ Journal advised that while any fancy ring could be worn as an engagement ring “pearls or diamonds are considered the proper gems.” Antiques-loving couples may want to hunt down one of these authentic Victorian pearl engagement rings at antiques stores or antiques websites like Lang Antiques or Tia’s.
Types of Pearl Engagement Rings
If antique engagement rings aren’t what you had in mind, there are ample selections of contemporary pearl engagement rings available. You may opt for a ring with the pearl as the central stone, surrounded by small white or yellow diamonds or other gems, such as sapphires or rubies. You might prefer the traditional diamond as the center gem, surrounded by small pearls. Alternatively, you can consult a jeweler or jewelry artist and have her create a unique ring that you design.
Where most gems are mined from the earth, pearls are unique in that they are created by living creatures. Pearls form when an irritant, perhaps a grain of sand, finds its way inside the shell of a mollusk. The mollusk then coats the it with a smooth substance called nacre, making it less irritating. The creature continues to coat the irritant, and over time a pearl forms. Generally, larger pearls took longer to form and have more nacre. Nacre taken from the interior of the mollusk’s shell is known as “mother of pearl.”
Until the early 20th century, the only way to obtain these gems was to find them naturally occurring. Pearl divers could search through thousands of oysters to find a single pearl. Because of this rarity, pearls were one of the most costly gems of the the time. In the early 1900s a method was discovered to manually introduce an irritant into the oyster so that it would create a pearl. Pearls produced using this method were called cultured pearls and made pearls more accessible to jewelry lovers.
Pearl Engagement Ring Qualities
When judging pearls, look at shape, size and luster. The rounder the pearl, the better. The larger the pearl, the better. Luster is difficult to describe – it’s the reflective quality of the pearl.
Back in the eighties, freshwater pearls tended to be lumpy and rice-shaped, but no longer. Advances in culturing techniques has resulted in pearls that mimic the shape, color and smoothness of their saltwater cousins. Nevertheless, saltwater pearls tend to be far more costly, so freshwater pearls can be had for bargain prices.