The ring as a pledge can be traced back to great antiquity. "And Pharaoh said unto Joseph, 'See I have set thee over all the land of Egypt.' And Pharaoh took off his ring from his hand, and put it upon Joseph's hand" (Genesis 41:42).
Similar use of signet rings as symbols of respect and authority is mentioned in several parts of the Bible, and it would appear that rings were commonly worn by persons of rank at that period, and that rings were bestowed upon others either as gifts or for the purpose of transferring authority.
Rings worn only as ornaments were common in early Egypt, in Greece, and even among less civilized peoples. In antiquity, it was the custom among people of the lower classes to break a piece of gold or silver to seal the marriage pact. One half of the token was kept by the man, the other half by the woman. This custom came before the exchange of rings. In ancient Ireland, for instance, it was the custom for the man to give the woman he wanted to marry a bracelet woven of human hair. Her acceptance of it was symbolic of accepting the man, of linking herself to him for life.
It appears that the ring as a love pledge existed at an early period. It was customary in the early Middle Ages to make a solemn betrothal by means of a ring to precede matrimony. In England, rings were exchanged to seal the verbal contract of betrothal. In Italy the use of the ring was widespread, and the diamond was the favorite gem. The diamond remains the favorite gem for the engagement ring in modern times. Indeed, many people think only of the diamond in connection with rings of betrothal. According to an old superstition, the sparkle of the diamond is supposed to have originated in the fires of love. Therefore the diamond engagement ring is considered by many persons as the only true engagement ring, portending love and happiness throughout life.