Why does the engagement ring typically have more bling than the wedding ring?: originally appeared on Quora: The best answer to any question. Ask a question, get a great answer. Learn from experts and access insider knowledge. You can follow Quora on Twitter, Facebook, and Google+.
I think the question really goes back to why engagement rings are so fancy.
The History of Diamond Rings as an Exclusively Upper Class Custom.
Before the 20th century, only the wealthiest of the wealthy could afford diamond rings. One of the first recorded examples of a diamond ring was in 1477, when Archduke Maximilian of Austria gave one to Mary of Burgundy. After that point, diamond engagement rings became a symbol of wealth and prosperity, and accordingly, limited to the furthest arches of the upper class.
These wealthy folks, however, tended to have even more ornate rings. It was all the fashion in 17th and 18th century France to have rubies and diamonds in one's engagement ring to symbolize love and eternity. Mind you, this is all wrapped up in the nobility, so it had a degree of showmanship as well as romance.
The 1930s De Beers/Ayer "Diamonds are Forever" Marketing Campaign.
Prior to the 20th century, the people outside of the ultra-wealthy class (a large amount of people), just used simple rings as engagement rings.
In 1930s, after a twenty-year drop in diamond sales, De Beers, a diamond company, hired N.W. Ayer to put on a national marketing blitz. After in-depth research, Ayer found that diamonds were associated with romance (see above) and eternity, and sought to strengthen that association with the "Diamonds are Forever" campaign.
Well-funded by De Beers, Ayer convinced many Hollywood producers and actors to feature diamonds in their movies and red carpet showings. The marketing effort apparently worked. Between 1938 and 1941, diamond sales rose 55%.
Diamond Rings as Collateral
Adveristing campaigns and all, you also need to realize what position women were in in the early 20th century.
If a woman was jilted at the altar, she was likely unsuitable for marriage afterwards. This was a disastrous prospect for most women who had little earning power. You see, virginity was a must back then for brides, but a lot of women lost their virginity during the engagement period (a tacitly encouraged practice). So, if a woman slept with her fiancￃﾩ and he broke off the engagement, her reputation was ruined. She would never marry.
In the 1930s, a man who broke off an engagement with a woman could be sued under the "Breach of Promise to Marry" action (also known as heart balm laws, now largely unenforced). Even today, if an engagement is broken, a woman is entitled to keep the ring as a gift. So, in a sense, you can look at an engagement ring as collateral, an insurance policy for the worst-case scenario: the man cuts and runs.
Of course, you can also see the diamond ring as an show of stability and promise to a woman. A man who can save up three-month's salary has more potential to be a decent husband than a guy who says, "Hey you, marry me."
So, in this sense, engagement rings represent something very different than wedding rings. The engagement ring is a strange mix of romance and collateral.