Rings have been used throughout history to denote important connections to the wearer: signet rings secured secret messages, stylized bands indicated membership in societies and still others pledged fealty to commanders and lords. The simulated diamond jewelry involved in a romantic commitment, however, is not only beautiful, but rich in both ancient history and modern symbolism. The two most readily-identifiable pieces of wedding jewelry are also the most iconic: the engagement ring and wedding ring. So what exactly is the difference in the comparison between an engagement ring versus a wedding ring, and how is that changing as relationships evolve.
The Engagement Ring: A Promise Set in Stone
The one unifying factor of most recognized engagement rings is the inclusion of a stone, such as a shining diamond or diamond alternative solitaire. While 20th-century designs have heavily favored a large, central stone placement, the new and back-in-vogue halo and channel-set band are rising steadily in the ranks of popularity.
Who: Traditionally given by a man and worn by a woman, cultural movements toward equality and relationship dynamics have evolved tradition. That means that anyone, regardless of gender, can happily present or wear an engagement ring to symbolize their connection to their beloved. Some couples even choose to exchange mutual engagement rings; a precursor to the commitment that they’ll display with wedding rings later.
What: These rings are usually a single band made of precious metal, such as yellow or white gold, platinum, or palladium with the inclusion of a high-quality cut stone or stones to signify it as a specific engagement ring.
Where: An engagement ring is usually worn on the left hand ring finger, where it may be joined by a wedding band after the eventual ceremony, moved to the right hand in favor of a wedding ring on the left, or removed entirely in favor of a wedding ring and only worn on special occasions.
When: Usually given at the moment one partner proposes to another, often presented in a small jewelry box, but may also be offered on its own or hidden in something else, such as a flute of champagne.
Why: The engagement ring is a symbol of union between two partners, and a visible signal to the world that they will be consciously connected through vows or a ceremony, which may be legally binding, spiritually binding, or both.
The Wedding Ring: Forging a Connection
Wedding rings are a joyful and memorable part of any wedding ceremony, so much so that they even necessitate their own carrier: a ring bearer. Used to symbolically link two partners connecting through marriage, they may be identical or shaped to fit each wearer’s style with hints of similarity, and may be altered, engraved, or upgraded to celebrate events like milestone anniversaries, children in the family, and other treasured recollections.
Who: Many people often debate over who buys the wedding bands. Unlike the engagement ring, in modern history, wedding rings have always been presented to and worn by both partners, regardless of gender. In the event one spouse cannot wear a wedding ring for medical or vocational purposes, “stand-in” silicone rings or pendant-worn rings are sometimes used as temporary stand-ins until the ring can be worn again.
What: Also called the wedding band, the difference in wedding vs. engagement ring styles is that the wedding design doesn’t usually incorporate a large center stone. While some cut stones, such as a Nexus Diamond™alternative may be included, these are usually smaller accents and flush with the surface of the band, rather than raised in a highly visible position in the setting. Wedding rings are most often made with a solid precious metal, such as yellow gold, white gold, platinum, or palladium, and are far less likely to feature the ornate metalwork or carvings found in engagement rings.
Where: Many people have questions on how to wear a wedding ring set. Wedding rings are usually worn on the ring finger of the left hand. While legend states that the reason behind his placement is an ancient (debunked) myth that a special heart-connected vein runs through this finger, the explanation may be far more straightforward. Only an approximate 10% of the population is left-handed, which means that wearing a precious and valuable ring on the non-dominant left hand (rather than the active and more visible right hand) keeps it safer from damage, loss, and theft.
When: Wedding rings are exchanged at the altar or at a similar point of importance in a marriage ceremony, often during the period when vows are exchanged in front of an officiant. The rings are brought to the marriage partners by a ring bearer. In western ceremonies, this is usually a young boy, such as a nephew, though some young modern couples elect to have a family pet bring the rings up.
Why: Wedding rings are exchanged as a token of promise, loyalty and love between two partners. They serve as a constant reminder that the wearer is connected to their spouse, and shows the world that the wearer is “spoken for” by their spouse and thus not available romantically.
Do I Need Both?
With the skyrocketing costs of weddings - venue, dress, photographers, caterers, etc. - some couples feel the pressure of budgeting their nuptials. They may, while still dating, discuss the possibility of leaving out the engagement ring from the marriage equation and opting for simple wedding bands instead. Thankfully, this drastic step isn’t a necessity: affordable, gorgeous options like Nexus Diamond alternative stones, ensure that timeless engagement ring style and a once-in-a-lifetime wedding don’t need to be mutually exclusive. While the commitment within a marriage is no less binding with one ring rather than two, remember that an engagement ring isn’t just a lifetime promise - it’s a sparkling touchstone for the deep love you share with one another.
If the style of the traditional engagement ring, with its large, showy center stone, is the issue, there are many that are modest and elegant as well. Consider a “stacked band” design that allows the wearer to show off as many or as few gems as they like. Another unique option is a slender band with a gypsy-set stone flush to the surface of the precious metal: this style stays unobtrusive, offers a hint of sparkle, and won’t snag on hair, clothes or hosiery if the wearer is very active.
If you do opt for both rings, selecting a specific “bridal set” can help with a comfortable wearing experience. These sets are designed to be worn together seamlessly, preventing pinches or awkward settling on the finger as the rings fight to stay upright. These sets do require some discussion and forethought, making them a bit harder to buy for surprise engagements, but not impossible. As a side benefit, deciding on a set and style beforehand makes it easy to match a spouse’s wedding band to pair as well.
Important Tips For Engagement & Wedding Rings
These rings will, barring any accidental loss or damage to the ring itself, remain a part of your look for the rest of your life: with that in mind, it’s important that they’re comfortable! Here are a few tips for getting the most mileage out of your rings:
Take advantage of periodic professional cleaning for all rings set with a diamond or diamond alternative. Dirt, dust, body oils and lotions can dull a stone’s shine considerably. Keeping the surface clean doesn’t just prevent your ring from looking dingy, it also amps the gorgeous play of light against the internal facets.
If your engagement or wedding ring sparkles, it’s important to have a jeweler examine the settings or prongs at least once a year. This will keep bent edges or prongs from allowing your stone to become dislodged.
If you plan on getting an engraving on your ring’s band, get it sized first. Letters and words engraved inside a band may stretch, shrink, or become otherwise unreadable if your ring requires resizing. Even if you think you know your size, it’s a smart idea to double-check with a jeweler before ordering your rings.
As soon as you get your rings, take clear pictures from all sides. Newlyweds, unused to the feel and weight of their new rings, often misplace these precious pieces of jewelry on their honeymoon. Having images will help you locate any missing rings more quickly, and will also help with insurance claims.
Don’t forget to let your finger “breathe” once in a while. If your wedding ring is tight enough to be uncomfortable, be sure to look into having it resized: failing to do so could harm that finger’s circulation. Remove your ring for a few hours or a day here and there to let your finger and skin get a break from the constant contact of the surface.
Is your ring too loose, but you aren’t able to get it resized anytime soon? While it’s important to fix the underlying issue, make use of ring sizers - soft, tube-like wraps that attach to the base of a ring - to keep it securely on your finger until you can get to a jewelry store.
Wedding vs. Engagement Ring: One or Both, It’s Up To You
Making your engagement and wedding ring choices represents an exciting and memorable experience in a couple’s love life, so above everything else - have fun! Enjoy looking through your options, discussing preferred precious metals and stone color, and creating a ring or bridal set that’s 100% you.
*Diamond Nexus strives to provide valuable information, while being clear and honest about our products. The Nexus Diamond™ alternative is a patented lab grown stone that, among all simulants, most closely imitates the look, weight and wear of a mined diamond, with two exceptions - it is absolutely perfect in every way, and it costs significantly less. Price points and environmental facts expressed in this blog were taken from popular online retailers and may vary. Learn more about the environmental impact of mining by visiting our blog.
1 “The History Of The Wedding Band.” With These Rings, (no publish date), http://withtheseringshandmade.com/history-of-wedding-rings. Accessed October 25, 2019.
2 Lee, Heather; Donovan, Blair. “Engagement Ring vs. Wedding Ring: Do You Need Both?” Brides, May 29, 2019, https://www.brides.com/story/wedding-ring-engagement-ring-etiquette. Accessed October 25, 2019.
3 “Groom Style: Who Pays for His Wedding Ring?” The Knot, (no publish date), https://www.theknot.com/content/who-pays-for-grooms-wedding-ring. Accessed October 25, 2019.