Hi, and thanks for the question.
Back in the Middle Ages in Britain the family of a daughter who got
"engaged" would demand a 'payment' from the groom - this payment was
to compensate for the employment of another to do the work previously
carried out by the daughter. A time period was arranged for the man to
pay for his bride (nowawadays referred to as the 'Engagement')
At the time gold rings were used as currency - so a gold ring was
given to the family in payment for the bride and is the reason why a
gold ring is now placed on the third finger of the left hand. The
tradition continues to this day, with the giving of a gold ring still
the moost common for engagements.
The site at "British Wedding Traditions" will answer most of your questions.
On the subject of diamonds it says:
"Diamonds are the most chosen stone to decorate rings, either in a
wedding ring or engagement ring. Cupid (the Goddess of Love) is
reputed to have had diamond tips on his arrows which could pierce the
heart of any unsuspecting victim and make them fall in love. The
tradition of diamond engagement rings perhaps started with the
Archduke Maximilian of Austria when he gave a diamond ring to Mary of
Burgundy in 1477.
"The diamond is said to represent innocence, and is a symbol of love
and courage. The ancient Greeks believed that diamonds were splinters
of stars that had fallen down on the earth. They have also been said
to be the tears of Gods, crystallised lightning or hardened dew drops.
probonopublico-ga mentions De Beers below, and he's quite right. In
1939 they launched a huge advertising campaign in New York. It was
this that started offf the modern US tradition of diamonds as THE
engagement ring. So, while the diamond had periods of popularity (the
Victorian era for example), it was De Beers who were the factor that
made the diamond engagement ring the main choice. Given the size of
the jewellry market in London, it wasn't long before the big sell took
effect in the UK, and it has showed no signs of abating since then.
So effectively, De Beers gave an old tradition new life, and it came
back to the UK via the US, but it has now become a common tradition on
both sides of the Atlantic.
As for cost in the UK...according to the "Engamement - Diamond Rings" site
"If you are about to buy a diamond engagement ring, you may want to
consider spending the commonly accepted guideline of two months'
The above site also has some great advice on how to choose a ring at :
Most British High Streets feature at least one jewellers. A google
search of "engagement rings UK" will give you far more than you're
likely to need.
H Samuels is the biggest chain jewellers in the middle-of-the-road,
all purpose jewellers category
Beaverbrooks are more at the top end of the market
Here is a good list of the independents, most of whom have an online presence
Or you could always do what I did, and get a ring specially designed.
The Harriet Kelsall Jewellry design company has a host of information
on designing and procuring a designer ring from them, as well as some
more facts on the history of engagement over at
Good luck, and have a happy engagement
engagement rituals UK
engagement ring history
designer jewellry UK
jewellry shops UK