Skip navigation

Arts, Humanities & Social Sciences

Department of Anthropology

banner

Museum of Anthropology

American Material Culture

Love Has a Nice Ring to It

Diamond ring

The tarnished and scuffed wedding band shows its daily, time worn use.

Erma Jean Nebosky, my maternal great aunt, received this engagement ring and accompanying wedding band from my great uncle Edward Frank Nebosky, "Uncle Ski." The engagement ring is a yellow gold band upon which a solitaire diamond is set and the wedding ring is a solid yellow gold band. Of Aunt Jean's possessions, I requested only to inherit her rings. I will use the engagement ring when proposing to my future wife and the wedding band reciting my vows. On those days, I will not be doing anything new, for these traditions have been practiced for hundreds of years.

Aunt Erma Jean Nebosky 

Erma Jean Nebosky

3/17/1952 - 9/5/2017

General consensus states the idea of wedding bands dates back to ancient Egyptian pharaohs who used the circle, a shape with no beginning or end, as a symbol of eternity. The Egyptians believed the vena amoris (vein of love) ran directly from the heart to the top of this finger thus leading to what we now call the 'ring finger.' The tradition did not become customary until Roman times. The practice of gifting a diamond ring upon acceptance of a marriage proposal is credited to Archduke Maximilian of Austria when he proposed to Mary of Burgundy in 1477.

Diamond ring in box 

Although the diamond appears blue in photos, its color has been valuated as commercial white to very, very slight yellow with slight white inclusions, visible only under magnification.

Both husband and wife did not begin wearing wedding bands in America until the beginning of World War II as young men prepared for deployment, not knowing if they would return. The rings provided comfort to lonely soldiers and reminded brides that their faraway soldier thought of them always. The height of the war saw 85% of couples exchange rings during wedding ceremonies.

During World War II, platinum was in short supply; because of this, gold was the precious metal of choice. After the war, preferences returned to more classic styles. Single solitaire diamond rings with gold bands became the most popular choice, a description that my great aunt's rings match. The simplicity of the engagement ring returned with a vengeance and big, bold stones practically vanished.

Diamond ring in box 

The engagement ring is a solitaire diamond set on a single, yellow gold band.

There was a lot of pressure on young people in the 1950s to marry and start families. This societal pressure was also present in terms of appearances. The average engagement ring's diamond weighs about 1.08 carats today; Aunt Jean's diamond weighs 1.14 carats. Uncle Ski was a young Navy sailor when he proposed to Aunt Jean. The two married August 8, 1952 behind a gas station in Mississippi. Given those two facts, it is interesting that he could afford such an expensive ring. A wedding lasts a day, but a ring with a large stone lasts a lifetime while conveying messages of marriage, everlasting love, and socioeconomic status whenever viewed. Uncle Ski most likely decided that spending his savings on a large ring was more important than spending it on a ceremony.

Aunt Jean's smile sparkled brighter than her diamond on the sunniest of days. She will always be missed, but her memory lives forever through her rings. I hope to have the opportunity to one day use these treasured family heirlooms to make my girlfriend my fiancée and my fiancée my wife, just like Uncle Ski did so many years ago.