Wedding jewelry has a fascinating history, and there are ever-changing rules of etiquette surrounding engagement rings and wedding bands. Whether our preferences are based on tradition, current trends, or a simple desire for an aesthetically pleasing appearance, the rings we choose are ultimately symbols of love.
Wedding ring history goes way back. The first examples are described on papyrus scrolls that date back approximately 6,000 years. These ancient Egyptian relics describe the exchange of braided reed or hemp rings. While these rings may not have lasted long, they made use of the circular shape, which ancient Egyptians regarded as a symbol of eternity, and which signified the promise of lasting love. Today’s custom of wearing our wedding rings on the fourth or “ring” finger of the left hand originated with ancient Egyptians as well. They believed that this finger was home to a vein that provided a direct connection to the wearer’s heart.
Ancient Romans and Greeks were probably among the first to wear rings signifying betrothal. Where today’s engagement rings are tokens of true love and deep commitment, early engagement rings were usually family rings that served as a contractual expression as well as an outward sign of a women’s unavailability for courtship. Once these women were married, rings were often attached to keys as a symbol of the husband’s ownership of the wife. If this custom seems less than romantic to you, you’re on the right track: in ancient times, fathers typically exchanged their daughters for money and goods. Although some people may have married for love, it’s clear that many marriages began as social contracts with benefits for both families involved.
In 1477, Archduke Maximilian gave the first-ever diamond engagement ring to Mary of Burgundy, starting a trend that has lasted to this day. If you like, you can learn more about the history of the engagement ring in our in-depth guide.
What’s the difference between a wedding ring and an engagement ring? The answers to this question lie in intent, timing, and style.
Engagement rings are presented before marriage, usually at the time of proposal. While there are many styles to choose from, most engagement rings contain diamonds. At one time, solitaires were most common. While solitaires are still very popular, many couples opt for something more ornate such as a halo ring or a three-stone ring. Gemstone engagement rings are popular as well.
Wedding rings are exchanged during the wedding ceremony. They are usually less ornate than engagement rings, although many styles contain small diamonds, either on the bride’s ring or on rings for the bride and groom alike.
Some wedding rings are sold as part of a set that might contain an engagement ring and a wedding ring for the bride. Some sets come with a matching wedding ring for the groom. Sets that contain an engagement ring and at least one wedding ring are known as bridal sets. When the engagement ring is purchased separately, a set of wedding rings typically includes similar rings for the bride and groom.
Curious about the difference between wedding rings and wedding bands? You’re not alone. This is a common question, and the answer is a simple one. The two terms are actually interchangeable! While the term “wedding band” is often used to describe less ornate rings, it isn’t always the case.
If you’re choosing bridal jewelry, it’s a good idea to think about how the engagement ring and wedding ring will fit together if you plan to wear both rings on your left ring finger. If you’re purchasing a vintage engagement ring and a separate wedding band, you may want to wear your engagement ring on your right hand after marriage and keep your wedding band on that very special finger. The reason for this is that if the rings don’t fit precisely together, friction may cause damage to one or both, and the fit might feel uncomfortable.
Wedding and engagement ring traditions vary worldwide, but these days, wedding jewelry symbolizes abiding love and fidelity rather than ownership. There are many different wedding and engagement ring settings to choose from, and it’s completely acceptable to create your own look rather than sticking with tradition if that’s what you prefer. Who knows? Perhaps you’ll start a new trend!
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