The celebration of specific materials in connection with specific
wedding anniversaries is something that does not go back very far
except for the Silver Wedding Anniversary (25 years) and the Gold
Wedding Anniversary (50 years).
These two anniversaries seem to have originated in the Germanic
region of Europe, probably about 500-700 years ago. It might seem
strange that such anniversaries could be celebrated, after all,
didnt people die young?
There are two reasons:
People got married much earlier, 13 was not too young to get married
so a 25th anniversary could happen before a 40th birthday.
The second is that people make a mistake with "average lifespan"
calculations: The average lifespan for someone in medieval times
might have been 35, but the average was dragged down by the very
high child mortality rate. The fact is, if you made it past 20 then
you were very likely to live to be 70-80 years old, so a Gold Wedding
Anniversary was quite likely.
The reason why 50 and 25 are significant numbers is that they are
a half and a quarter of a century respectively. For that reason
some countries also celebrated 12 and a half years (half of 25),
and that was a Copper anniversary.
Apparently other traditions had materials associated with anniversaries
for years 1 to 5, and then every 5 years thereafter. With the 5th
anniversary being for Wood, apparently around 1875, not that long
The Diamond wedding anniversary is a little bit confusing. Originally
it seems this was the 75th Wedding Anniversary however when Queen
Victoria had been on the British throne for 60 years she celebrated
her Diamond Jubilee. This was then adopted as the material for the
60th Wedding Anniversary. Perhaps having a 60th celebration is more
realistic than waiting another 25 years when the minimum age of
the couple would be 100 years old.
Where celebrations are occurring the retail sector is never far
behind, just as the greeting card trade is behind the creation of
many recent celebrations (like Fathers Day). It was the American
National Retail Jeweller Association that created a list in 1937
giving a materials list for every wedding anniversary up to the
15th and then every 5 years up to the 60th. This list is now considered
to be the definitive one.
There are other lists like the "modern", "flower"
and "gemstone" lists.