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Similar traditions purportedly date to classical times, dating back from an early usage reportedly referring to the fourth finger of the left hand as containing the vena amoris or "vein of love".
In the United States & Canada today, it is becoming more common, but still quite rare, that a woman will also buy an engagement or promise ring for her partner at the time of the engagement.
In Sweden, Norway, Denmark, Finland, Germany, the Netherlands and also in Brazil, it is possible both the man and the woman wear engagement rings, most often in the form of matching plain bands of white, yellow, or red gold. In these countries the man's engagement ring often also eventually serves as the wedding ring. Some men wear two rings, but this is rarer. The female is occasionally given a diamond wedding ring. In northern Germany, the tradition of engagement rings is not often followed and is often viewed as an American import. In Spain the woman sometimes buys an engagement wristwatch for the man after accepting a marriage proposal.
Designs of engagement rings have varied greatly over the years. Contemporary fashions for ring materials are a gold, platinum, silver or, rarely, titanium band mounting at least one diamond. Recently, three-stone diamond engagement rings have become popular, in contrast to the more traditional solitary diamond.
Although the establishment of the diamond engagement ring as a standard in Western culture has been attributed to one of the most successful advertising campaigns in history, by the world's leading diamond producer de Beers, in the 1940s, they were already popular and diamond engagement rings were featured in many novels from the turn of the 20th century and earlier.
An engagement ring is often significantly expensive and acts as a visible demonstration of a person's commitment to their betrothed. The rationale for using a diamond is that it is the most enduring, beautiful and expensive gem. However, some people prefer different gems or semi-precious stones such as sapphires, star sapphires, emeralds, and rubies. Pearls and opals are rare, because these are soft stones.
In some European countries such as Germany, Finland, Norway, Sweden and Denmark, engagement rings are usually plain gold bands without a gem. In others such as France, engagement rings usually mount a colored gem rather than a diamond.
Gold and platinum are recommended by many jewelers, because of their inherently higher value and because these metals are more durable than silver. Often a gold or silver ring will employ a platinum setting as it provides better protection for the stone.
Titanium and stainless steel are becoming more popular because of their lower cost and higher strength. These materials as well as traditional jewellery metals like gold and platinum that have been treated and work-hardened allow for a type of setting called a tension ring which is popular because it causes the illusion of a floating stone. Titanium and steel must be machined on a lathe because the temperatures required for proper fabrication are much too high for a small jewellery operation. A titanium ring might cause problems with removal in case of an emergency, as hospital tools are unable to cut some grades of titanium, although the titanium ring maker's FAQ challenges this notion. The results of their tests have shown that a manual ring cutter can cut through a ring in under two minutes and electric tools would be faster. Regular electrician pliers will cut a gold ring in under a second.
At one time, engagement rings mounted sets of stones. One traditional sentimental pattern mounted six to celebrate the joining of two families: The birthstones of the bride's parents and the bride (on the left), and the birth stones of the groom and his parents (on the right). The parents' stones were mounted with the mother to the left of the father. The bride and groom's birthstones would be adjacent in the center. Another similar pattern, for four stones, mounted the birthstone of the parents' marriages, and the birthstones of the bride and groom. These token rings often disassembled, to expose a channel in which a lock of the suitor's hair could be treasured.
A Victorian tradition was the Regards ring, in which the initials of the precious gems used spelled out the word "regards". Another Victorian tradition was the Dearest Ring, which spelled the word "dearest" using the first letter of each jewel.
The origin of our custom to use diamonds in rings, and more recently, in engagement rings, can be traced back to the Middle Ages and even the Romans. The Romans valued the diamond entirely on account of its supernatural powers. Pliny wrote that a diamond baffles poison, keeps off insanity and dispels vain fears. . The medieval Italians copied these beliefs and added some to it: they called it the "Pietra della Reconciliazone" because it maintained concord between husband and wife. On this account it was recommended as the stone to be set in wedding (or espousal) rings. Note: not on account of its beauty therefore, which was described by Isidore of Seville as a small stone devoid of beauty. 
In more recent times a Parisian Oracle of mystic subjects, the Baron d'Orchamps, announced the diamond, if worn on the left (hand) warded off evil influences and attracted good fortune and since he had fashionable clients the word spread and the wearing of the diamond on the left hand became in itself a fashion. 
One of the first occurrences of the diamond engagement (or wedding) ring can be traced back to the marriage of Maximilian I (then Archduke of Austria) to Mary of Burgundy in 1477.  Other early examples of betrothal jewels incorporating diamonds include the Bridal Crown of Blanche (ca. 1370–80) and the Heftlein brooch of Vienna (ca. 1430–40), a pictorial piece depicting a wedding couple.
The diamond engagement ring did not become the standard it is considered today until after an extensive marketing campaign by De Beers in the middle of the 20th century, which came to include one of the most famous advertising slogans of the 20th century: “A Diamond is Forever”.
In the early 20th century, the United States jewelery industry attempted to start a trend of male engagement rings, going so far as to create a supposed "historical precedent" dating back to medieval times. The attempt failed, although the industry applied lessons learned from this venture in its more successful bid to encourage the use of male wedding rings. 
When shopping for rings with one or more diamonds, the price can depend significantly on the carat weight, color, clarity and cut of the diamond, otherwise known as gemological characteristics of the diamond.
In the last ten years, there has been a movement towards less traditional buying methods by consumers. In years past, a prospective groom would travel to the local jewelry store to pick out his ring, taking the advice of the friendly clerk. However, with the advent of the internet, consumers have become more savvy, searching the World Wide Web for as much information as they can find to educate themselves on the subject. This has led to the success of a new breed of jewelers who can only be found online. The lack of a 'brick-and-mortar' store has enabled some of these retailers to trim their overhead, thereby offering the same or better quality product at drastically reduced prices to these highly informed consumers.
With more and more couples living together prior to marriage, however, it is not unheard-of for a couple to select the engagement ring while purchasing a wedding band together. This eliminates the possibility of the woman not liking the engagement ring.
One case in New South Wales, Australia ended in the man suing his former fiancée because she threw the ring in the trash after telling her she could keep it despite the marriage proposal failing. The Supreme Court of New South Wales held that despite what the man said, the ring remained a conditional gift (partly because his saying that she could keep it was partly due to his desire to salvage the relationship) and she was ordered to pay him its AUD$15,250 cost.
Tradition generally holds that if the betrothal fails because the man himself breaks off the engagement, the woman is not obliged to return the ring. Legally, this condition can be subject to either a modified or a strict fault rule. Under the former, the fiancé can demand the return of the ring unless he breaks the engagement. Under the latter, the fiancé is entitled to the return unless his actions caused the breakup of the relationship, the same as the traditional approach. However, a no-fault rule is being advanced in some jurisdictions, under which the fiancé is always entitled to the return of the ring. The ring only becomes the property of the woman when marriage occurs. An unconditional gift approach is another possibility, wherein the ring is always treated as a gift, to be kept by the fiancée whether or not the relationship progresses to marriage. Recent court rulings have determined that the date in which the ring was offered can determine the condition of the gift. e.g. Valentine's Day and Christmas are nationally recognized as gift giving holidays. A ring offered in the form of a Christmas present will likely remain the personal property of the recipient in the event of a break up. 
In the United Kingdom, the gift of an engagement ring is presumed to be an absolute gift to the fiancée. This presumption may be rebutted however by proving that the ring was given on condition (express or implied) that it must be returned if the marriage did not take place, for whatever reason. This was decided in the case Jacobs v Davis  2 KB 532.