1477: In one of the first recorded uses of a diamond engagement ring, Archduke Maximilian of Austria proposes to Mary of Burgundy with a ring that is set with thin, flat pieces of diamonds in the shape of an "M."
1700s: Silver "poesy rings" engraved with flowery sayings are in vogue in Europe. Across the Atlantic Ocean, the Puritans give their betrotheds useful thimbles instead of rings, which are derided as frippery. Eventually, however, many thimbles get their tops sliced off and are worn as rings anyway.
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1800s: The highly sentimental Victorians make jewelry from human hair, and use gemstones to spell out names or endearments, such as a D-E-A-R-E-S-T ring set with a sequence of diamond, emerald, amethyst, ruby, emerald, etc.
1867: Diamonds are discovered in the Cape Colony (now a province in South Africa), the beginning of a huge increase in the diamond supply.
1880: Cecil Rhodes, who arrived in South Africa in 1873, founds the DeBeers Mining Company with other investors. Within the decade, they will control 90 percent of the world’s diamond production.
1886: Tiffany & Co. introduces the "Tiffany setting," a six-prong ring designed to maximize a diamond's brilliance by raising it up from the band.
1890s: Affordable wedding rings and diamond engagement rings appear in mail-order catalogs, such as Sears & Roebuck.
1918: Cartier creates the Trinity Ring—intertwined hoops in Pink gold (love), white gold (friendship), and yellow gold (fidelity)—for Jean Cocteau, who gives one to his lover, poet Raymond Radiguet. It is still a traditional wedding ring in France.
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1920s: Manufacturers and retail jewelers try to launch the concept of men's engagement rings, which sinks like a lead balloon.