by Linda DiProperzio
Once the wedding day is over, many of the items you selected—flowers, food, décor, for instance—will only live on in photos. The rings you exchange with your new spouse, however, will be worn for years to come.
The exchange of rings during the wedding ceremony has been a tradition since ancient times. While it once showed that a bride belongs to her husband, it is now a symbol of love and commitment. Couples around the world, however, wear their wedding rings differently, whether it’s due to culture, religion or simply personal preference. If you’re unfamiliar with how to showcase this precious piece of jewelry, here’s a crash course on everything you need to know about wearing a wedding ring.
Wedding Ring Traditions
History has revealed that the practice of wearing a wedding ring actually started with the Neanderthals. It is believed that they used items from nature, such as twigs and grass, and tied them around the bride’s wrists or ankles to show she belonged to her husband. The Egyptians continued the practice, but used bone, ivory, leather, and hemp. It wasn't until the ancient Romans that precious stones came into play, with jewelry being used to symbolize that the bride was not only married, but also now had a right to her husband’s possessions.
As for men, they didn’t start wearing wedding rings until World War II, when soldiers going off overseas would don a ring as a way of carrying their loved ones with them. But now in modern times, both men and women--whether in a heterosexual or same-sex union--are swapping both wedding and engagement rings.
While couples in the United States, United Kingdom, France and Canada traditionally wear their wedding bands on the ring finger of their left hand, those in other countries—namely India, Germany, Spain, Norway, and Russia—wear their bands on the right hand.
The Irish often prefer a specific ring, called the Claddagh, that can be used as an engagement ring, a wedding ring or a ring that symbolizes friendship. It can be worn on the right or left hand.
The Wedding Ring Finger Meaning
Throughout history, the wedding ring has been worn on every finger—even the thumb! Now, it is traditionally worn on the “ring finger,” which is the fourth finger on the left hand. This particular finger was chosen because it is believed that it has a vein running directly to the heart. In fact, the early Romans called this the Vena Amoris (vein of love). Modern medicine, however, has proven that all fingers venous connections to the heart, but the tradition continues. Although in some countries, including India, Germany, Spain, Norway, and Russia, wedding rings are usually worn on the right hand.
Engagement ring vs. Wedding ring: What is the difference?
The first recorded engagement ring was gifted by Austria's Archduke Maximilian to Mary of Burgundy in the 15th century. The engagement ring, traditionally worn on the ring finger of the left hand, symbolizes that the person wearing it has accepted a marriage proposal. Typically, an engagement ring features a prominent center stone that is sometimes surrounded by smaller stones. But nowadays, anything goes when it comes to engagement rings. It can be one ring, a cluster of rings or even a band.
The wedding ring is exchanged at the ceremony as a symbol of the couple’s union. It can also showcase gemstones or simply be a metal band. Again, couples are doing whatever they prefer when it comes to choosing their wedding rings. Some women choose to wear two bands—one above the engagement ring and one below—while men are not as concerned with choosing a metal to match their partner’s style. There are no longer any rules to follow; it’s all about what you love and want to wear everyday.
How should you wear your engagement ring during the wedding ceremony?
Many people want to wear their wedding band at the base of their ring finger. With that in mind, place your engagement ring on your right hand before you walk down the aisle. Once your partner places your wedding band on your ring finger, you can then slide the engagement ring on top of it if you like. Some also choose not to wear their engagement ring at all on the big day.
In what order should you wear your engagement and wedding rings
Since many married couples choose to wear their wedding bands closest to their hearts, it would make sense to put the wedding band on first and then place the engagement ring on top. Some also choose to wear their engagement and wedding rings on different hands, which is completely fine, too. Take our advice: just do what feels comfortable!
Engagement and wedding ring types
When it comes to finding your perfect engagement and wedding ring style, the sky really is the limit! Jewelers have gotten super creative with their designs, mixing and matching stones and metals. Here are some basics to get you started in your search:
Stone shapes are divided into two categories: round and fancy shape, which include princess, emerald, cushion, oval, pear, and heart-shaped. While the diamond has been the traditional gemstone for engagement rings, many couples are thinking outside the box and opting for colored stones. Sapphire, in particular, is highly durable with absolutely breathtaking color options. Rubies, emeralds, and spinels are also trending.
There are also a variety of metal types to choose from when designing or selecting your engagement ring. White gold and platinum are the two most popular metals because they are so durable. And couples that want to select something a bit different can opt for yellow or rose gold.