The act of decorating the fingers--and the self--is an age-old custom. While the materials have often changed due to any number of factors including finances or personal preference, the symbolism and, thus, importance of rings have virtually remained the same.
Much like the fashion industry and its ever-fluctuating trends, engagement rings have also undergone their fair share of changes. As precious metals (silver and gold) gained favor in Western cultures, metalsmiths sought creative new ways to imbue meaning in their handiwork. During the sixteenth century towards the late eighteenth century, for example, posy rings were wildly popular. Based on the French term 'poésy,' these rings incorporated rhymes or verse engraved within the inner band, ideally to be seen or known only by the ring's wearer.
Many engagement rings were of the posy style, but not all posy rings were meant for an engagement. They were also given as friendship tokens or as a tangible gesture of fealty. Mourning rings and other religious reliquaries were also not immune to the posy fever. Inspiration for many of the amatory verses found within posy rings originated from popular literature (cue Shakespeare), pamphlets, and even published handbooks about the art of courtship. Of course, customers who desired to further personalize their representation of undying love created their own compositions.
The insides of posy rings housed the engravings, but by no means were the outsides left unadorned. Decorations were often made to match, continue, or enhance the verses written within. Some posy rings even had colored enamels added to the base metal. If this was the case, the interior inscriptions were also enameled black for ease of visibility.
Engagement baubles made in the current century certainly have designs that illicit reactions of breathless awe and even fervent inspiration. Many of them will be designated to become family heirlooms, but few rings are able to tickle literary fancies and have as much to historically reveal as posy rings.