The tradition of exchanging rings as the symbol of a union has been around since ancient times. While many things in the world has changed, this is one that continues, as strong as ever.
The reason these rings are so exciting is because it is a tangible representation of an abstract concept – your love and union. It displays your style and personality and demonstrates what your values are.
From the metals and gemstones you choose, to the shape of the ring itself, you’re expressing who you are as a couple. Even if you choose not to wear any of these special rings, as some people do, you’re still demonstrating something – that you are flaunting tradition.
In this article, let’s take a look at the symbolism of engagement and wedding rings, how this tradition originated, the differences between engagement and wedding rings and bands, and the many ways to wear these rings today.
Symbolism of Rings
The circle is a universal symbol. It exists in every culture and civilization and has many meanings. The circle is a symbol of completion, infinity, and of equality. It represents wholeness and perfection, with no beginning and ending.
Perhaps the most recognized circle symbol of all is the wedding ring. The ancient Egyptians believed that the ring represented eternity, while the space in the middle represented a passageway into the future.
Today, exchanging rings symbolizes the pledge of love and faithfulness, and the enclosure of the heart to just that person. Although not all rings are circular, with some modern designs being angular, this symbolism hasn’t changed.
Why Are the Rings Worn on the 4th Finger of the Left Hand?
The tradition of exchanging rings to symbolize a union originated in ancient Egypt and then spread to other parts of the world over time. The Egyptians are believed to be the first to wear rings for love.
They thought that the vein in the fourth finger of the left hand (the ring finger) ran directly to the heart. So naturally, they saw this finger as a direct connection to the heart and that wearing the ring on that finger demonstrated the pledge of love and commitment.
The Romans later adopted this tradition, calling it the ‘vena amoris’ which translates to the vein of love. This belief is what has influenced today’s custom of exchanging wedding rings.
In reality, the vena amoris does not exist! While many people still believe in this today, it is a total myth. This is one of those beliefs that you wish science hadn’t come along and debunked. Regardless, it is the symbolism that counts and the meaning of wearing a ring on the left finger hasn’t diminished.
History of Engagement and Wedding Rings
While the custom of exchanging wedding rings is an ancient tradition, that of giving an engagement ring is relatively recent.
The history of engagement rings date back to 1477, when the Archduke Maximilian of Austria gifted Mary of Burgundy with a diamond ring to symbolise that she was betrothed to him. While the engagement ring signified only a pledge and not a legal commitment, it was seen as an unbreakable pledge and as good as marriage.
However, it was only in the 20th century that this tradition really gained a strong foothold in Western culture. And the tradition of diamond engagement rings is even more recent.
During the Great Depression diamond prices plummeted. In addition, engagement rings were going out of style among the younger generation. This was becoming a tradition doomed to die. It was then that De Beers entered the scene.
With intense and clever marketing strategies, De Beers began a campaign to convince people that engagement rings were mandatory and that the only suitable stone was diamonds. They also introduced the idea that a man should spend the equivalent of 2 month’s salary on the engagement ring.
You could say De Beers single-handedly revived the engagement ring tradition. Today it is an industry worth approximately $70 billion a year!
Engagement Rings vs. Wedding Rings
Engagement rings have the element of surprise and novelty. It is worn from the moment of proposal, and is the herald of the coming nuptials whereas the wedding ring is the confirmation of the nuptials. The engagement ring often the first concrete symbol of the relationship. In addition to that, engagement rings are generally very elaborate, sport a flashy gemstone (traditionally diamonds) and are typically expensive.
Of the two, the wedding ring is the most important metaphor of love, and takes precedence over the engagement ring. This is why even though both are worn on the same finger, the wedding ring is worn below the engagement ring, closer to the heart.
When it comes to selecting these two rings, there are no rules. What matters are the preferences of the couple. The two rings can match or be as mismatched as you desire. You can opt for a bridal set where matching wedding and engagement rings are sold together or even a trio set which includes a matching ring for the groom.
Wedding Bands or Wedding Rings?
Both a wedding ring and a wedding band are very similar and there is not much difference between these two pieces of jewelry apart from the designs.
A wedding band refers to the simple metal bands that couples have been exchanging for centuries. These are often very simple, although sometimes there can be engraving and patterns.
Typically, wedding bands were made of gold but nowadays there’s a much bigger range of metals such as white gold, platinum, palladium, titanium and even rose gold to name a few.
A wedding ring, on the other hand, is more elaborate. Over time, women’s wedding bands evolved, becoming more intricate and feminine. There are various designs and styles for wedding rings nowadays, which give couples a lot of options when making their choice.
Again, whether you decide to wear a wedding band or wedding ring depends on your preferences. There is no right or wrong in this decision.
Can I Choose Not to Wear Rings?
There may be times when wearing rings on your finger might not be a good option. For example, for those who use their hands a lot at work, like nurses or doctors, a ring can be a liability. What’s more, some people just don’t like the feeling of a ring on their finger.
In such cases, you might choose not to wear the ring. This is totally fine – many couples do that these days. Instead, you could wear the ring as a pendant around your neck on a chain. Alternatively, you might consider getting a tattoo on your finger, in place of a wedding ring.
Where to Buy Engagement and Wedding Rings
Engagement and wedding rings are high-ticket items, which means it’s important to purchase from a reputable store to ensure that you’re not getting ripped off. There are many online and physical stores out there, but many offer low-quality diamonds at exorbitant prices.
Whether you choose to purchase in store or online, it’s important to look out for a few basic things, such as the 4cs of a diamond, certification, after sales policies, and customer reviews. While the benefit of shopping in store is that you get to see the stone in person (although this isn’t guaranteed), buying your rings online gives you access to endless design options, competitive pricing, and one-on-one non-pushy customer service.
Some stores, like James Allen, even have a diamond expert on hand to walk you through the pros and cons of your chosen diamond. With all this in mind, we recommend the following retailers:
Why: Superior diamond imaging, competitive prices, high quality, wide range
An online giant in the diamond space, James Allen a stunning collection of high-quality diamonds. The images and videos are unparalleled in quality and is the same as viewing the diamond through a jeweler’s loupe. They also have a diamond expert to guide you through the process.
Why: Competitive prices, wide range, great quality
One of the most well-known online diamond retailers, Blue Nile offers a massive exclusive online diamond inventory. Search diamonds and gemstones here at competitive prices, solid after-sales policies, and good customer service.
Why: Superior cut quality, exclusive range, stunning designs
Whiteflash has earned an international reputation for the elite quality of their precision cut diamonds, and for their impeccable collection of designer engagement rings. Check their stunning range of diamond jewelry and loose diamonds.
Why: Impeccable quality, superior cut, small but exclusive inventory
Brian Gavin is a renowned expert in diamond cut – and it shows in their superior diamond quality. For the very best in diamonds, search their inventory of designer diamond jewelry and loose diamonds.
Why: Lab created and mined yellow diamonds and sapphires
Engagement rings are worn from the time the couple decide to commit to each other – it’s the symbol of promise, marriage, and loyalty. Wedding bands and rings are worn to symbolize marriage, lifelong commitment, and union. There are many wedding ring designs to choose from, with more elaborate options available today.
While most couples choose to wear both rings, today an increasing number of couples are choosing to do things their way.