Getting engaged and married is an exciting time that is richly steeped in tradition. Many wedding details have evolved over decades and sometimes even centuries to represent a special meaning, including simulated diamond jewelry and where to wear engagement rings. Today, buying engagement rings is considered a symbol of the love two people have for one another and their intention to wed. The history of wedding rings, however, is one that was not always so sentimental. Rings were often used more practically to signify several different conditions of the relationship. Becoming familiar with the history of engagement and wedding rings allows us to understand where our traditions come from so we can decide which ones we identify with enough to include in our own weddings and which don’t feel as relevant.
Where Do You Wear an Engagement Ring?
Traditionally, an engagement ring and wedding band are worn on the fourth finger of your left hand, which is commonly referred to as the ring finger. The roots of this tradition have been traced back to the people of ancient Rome. At the time, they believed that this finger contained a vein that ran directly to the heart referred to as the Vena Amoris, translating to Vein of Love. Under this belief, couples began wearing rings on this finger as a symbol of the love and devotion they had for one another as it’s closest to their hearts.
Even though modern science has discovered that no such vein exists, the tradition of wearing both the engagement ring and wedding band on the fourth finger of the left hand persists in the United States and many other countries around the world. Where to put engagement rings on your finger, however, can also depend on your marital status. Tradition dictates where you should wear the ring if you are engaged or married, and there is even specific etiquette for the rings on the day of your wedding! Here is what you need to know.
Historically, engagement rings became popular many years after the wedding band did. It’s believed that the first engagement ring was used by Archduke Maximilian of Austria in 1477 when he presented his fiance Mary of Burgundy with a ring featuring a beautiful array of diamonds. His choice to use an engagement ring sparked a tradition that we still honor today, though not every detail is the same.
While an engagement ring is still placed on the left ring finger in most of the world, many things that surround engagement ring tradition have changed. Diamonds have long been the stone of choice for the ring, since they commonly symbolize a couple’s eternal commitment to one another with diamonds being one of the hardest and most durable gemstones available. Plus, no two diamonds are the same, just as each couple shares their own unique love story. However, even with this interlaced meaning, we have started to see a number of couples opt for engagement ring styles that feature other stones as the centerpiece of their rings. Duchess of Cambridge Kate Middleton, for example, has a ring with blue sapphire as the center stone. A lab created diamond simulant, like the Nexus Diamond™ alternative, may also be an excellent alternative option as you can get the look, weight and wear of a diamond, for a fraction of the cost.
In the past, tradition has also always called on the man proposing to the woman with the ring, who would then wear the ring as a symbol of her acceptance of the marriage proposal. However, as society has evolved, this tradition is no longer the defined standard. It’s not uncommon to see a man wearing an engagement ring or a woman proposing to her partner. However you choose to do it, make sure you know what to look for in an engagement ring!
The Day of the Wedding
The tradition of a wedding ring to symbolize marriage began in Egypt almost 5,000 years ago. The circular shape of the ring is intended to represent eternity, with no beginning or end, just like the couple’s enduring love for another. Some believe the center of the ring also has significance and represents a gateway and everlasting love. Typically, the couple will exchange rings during their wedding ceremony by placing the wedding band on the left ring finger after saying their vows, but this begs the question, where do you put the engagement ring in the meantime?
Given that most individuals wear their wedding band closer to their hearts, or under the engagement ring, but receive the outer ring first, the engagement ring will need to be moved on the day of the wedding. Rather than take it off completely, most brides move the ring to their right ring finger for the ceremony before sliding it back on top of the wedding band later. This is not usually a problem, but sizing may present a challenge for some since it can be common to have slightly larger ring sizes on your right hand. However, as long as it’s within a quarter of the size, it should work just fine. If it won’t fit, is too loose or you decide you just don’t want to take your engagement ring off, it’s completely acceptable to place the wedding band above your ring and switch them around later if you so choose. Some brides even choose to solder the engagement ring and wedding band together, making a single piece of jewelry representing the marital bond.
After the Wedding
Though most people choose to wear their wedding band under their engagement ring, how to wear your wedding rings is really more of a personal preference. You can wear them in the traditional way, reverse them, wear the two rings on opposite hands, wear your wedding band by itself completely, or change it up for special occasions. Sometimes a bride chooses to incorporate multiple wedding bands that can stack to create a more unique and eye-catching design. Breaking the so-called rules of engagement rings allows you to make choices that you enjoy, better suit your lifestyle, and represent your individual style. In other words, just because it is tradition does not mean it must be followed.
The Evolving Symbolism of Engagement Rings
Historically, engagement rings have represented more than just a couple’s love for one another and their promise to wed. Over many centuries, these rings have held meaning that continues to evolve with the times, emphasizing what is important to many people at a given time. Here are some of the most interesting meanings engagement rings have held throughout history.
- An Indicator of Status. Though marriage today is seen as a mutual decision between two people in love, that was not always the case. In ancient Rome and other civilizations, marriages were arranged as a transaction between families, often to improve the status of the less fortunate family. The ring was introduced as a symbol of the legally binding agreement between the families and indicated that the woman had become her husband’s property. At the time, the rings were made of iron and had no embellishments, though some would wear gold rings with certain features or inscriptions on them to represent their husband’s wealth. Not surprisingly, the Romans were also the first society to implement legal regulations around monogamy, dowries and even divorce.
- A Reminder to be Faithful. During the Renaissance period, puzzle rings were invented as a way to know if a partner had been unfaithful, though they were most often worn by wives. It is said that these rings featured multiple pieces that formed a single band, interlocking in such an intricate way that if it were removed from the finger it would fall apart and a woman would not be able to put it back on, thus notifying her husband that she had been unfaithful.
- A Sign of the Times. The Victorian era is when we see new elements of design first added to engagement rings and wedding bands. As a society, the people of this time period are known for being sentimental and took much more care in creating rings that were beautiful, not just functional. It was not uncommon to see rings featuring elaborate decorations such as hearts, flowers and colorful gemstones. Prince Albert even proposed to Queen Victoria with a ring depicting a serpent with an emerald head. Victorians are also responsible for making diamond rings more accessible to the middle class as a result of the diamond rush in the mid-19th century. Though the stones had long been a favorite of those in high society, the trend became more popularized at this time. As styles and fashion have changed and evolved, so too have the designs of engagement rings.
Engagement rings and wedding bands are steeped in history and tradition, which can make many feel as though there are specific rules that must be followed. However, the truth is that you have the ability to do whatever you like when it comes to your wedding and the jewelry associated. Learning more about the various customs and symbolism of engagement rings can help you decide which traditions you would like to keep and which not. Starting there will give you a good foundation to set you up for the next steps like how to determine ring size and then comparing styles from classic engagement ring styles to trendier ones of today. From where to wear your engagement ring, to which design to select, to the now popular selection of lab diamonds and diamond alternatives in lieu of mined diamonds, the possibilities are endless and exciting to create the wedding and ring of your dreams!
*Here at Diamond Nexus, we strive to provide valuable information while being clear and honest about our products. The Nexus Diamond™ alternative is a patented lab created diamond simulate that, among all simulants, most closely imitates the look, weight and wear of a 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: blog.