The Truth about the Wedding Ring

From cavemen to Cleopatra—Why the fuss about wedding rings?  

There is so much excitement around getting engaged that much of the history and symbolism can get lost in the happy chaos. You may have wondered why we use rings or why the diamond is the most common stone used today. Well, you’ve come to the right place. We’re going to look at the history and traditions behind one of the most anticipated events in life.

Wedding rings symbolize the union between two people and their commitment and love for each other. The ring is circular likely because it represents the union as eternal—without a beginning or end. This tradition is true for most cultures around the world today. However, the wearing of a diamond ring is a relatively new tradition in the wedding ring’s long history.

According to tradition wedding bands as a symbol of marriage and wedding ceremonies date back to Egyptian times, around 2800 B.C. Other stories predate even the Egyptians and go back to prehistoric times. Texts exist that indicate a groom would tie strands of grass to the ankles of his wife in an effort to keep his wife’s soul from escaping. Whether the practice was actually based on this belief or if it was simply the groom’s way of keeping the bride from running away, we’re not sure. How the times have changed! The wedding band tradition has changed over time, starting with grass, moving to rope, then to leather, and finally to the metal band we’re familiar with today.

Several ancient cultures (including the Romans) claim ownership of the reason why the ring is placed on the third finger on the left hand (the ring finger). It was believed that there was a vein that ran directly to the heart from that finger. The Romans called it the “Vena Amoris” which when translated means “Vein of Love”—a fitting name for a wedding ring.

Diamonds truly are a girl’s best friend

Many people attribute Marilyn Monroe with the line “Diamonds are a girl’s best friend” and her influence on the culture this phrase emits. Surely she played a role in popularizing diamonds, but the origin of the phrase and culture surrounding it in recorded history goes back to 1477. This is when the first diamond engagement ring that we know of was given. Archduke Maximillian of Austria made Mary of Burgundy swoon with what was nothing more than a very aged piece of coal. During this time period though, diamond engagement rings were only common among royalty and the wealthy.

It wasn’t until the late 1800s until many new diamond mines were discovered and the price of diamonds dropped dramatically, becoming more affordable for the average couple.

And it wasn’t really until the 1930s that diamond  engagement rings became very popular. Because the diamond is the strongest material on earth and among the most precious, the stone became an important family heirloom able to be passed down from one generation to the next. Today, diamond engagement rings make up roughly 80% of all engagement rings purchased in the United States.

Men’s Wedding Rings

We have been talking a lot about women’s rings, but let’s not forget the other half of the species. Traditionally men took longer to adopt and wear wedding rings rings themselves, and you can come to your own conclusions as to why not. However, the ancient Egyptians had it right and made rings for both the man and the woman to express their endless love for each other. During World War II, men began to wear wedding rings to remind them about their families and their wives back home. After the war it became more common and is now the norm for both men and women to wear wedding bands.

So there you have it. Everything that you ever wanted to know about why married men and women wear wedding rings. Below are a few interesting things that we discovered while learning about the origin of the wedding ring.

-The youngest engagement ever recorded happened in 1518 between the arranged betrothal of Princess Mary, the daughter of Henry VIII to the then infant Dauphin of France when she was just two years old. The smallest engagement ring ever!

-In other cultures around the world, people will exchange another ring as well or in place of the ring on the finger. In parts of India a toe ring is worn as a sign of marriage. In eastern India they may wear an iron bangle (bracelet) to represent engagement.

-Some people choose to get tattoos as a sign of their commitment instead.

-The Count of Monte Cristo proposed by giving his sweetheart a string, which he tied around her finger.

Whatever you decide to do for your engagement—tattoos, string rings, or the traditional and elegant diamond ring—just make sure that tangible symbol of your love is significant to both of you and that your bride-to-be is happy. In the end, that’s really all that matters. Good luck!