A Fascinating History: Engagement & Wedding Rings Symbolism

what do wedding rings symbolize

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Last Updated on April 25, 2024 by Steal the Style

The tradition of giving wedding bands and engagement rings has been around for a long time, so long in fact, that many of us don’t stop to really think about where it came from or why it is so important to us.

Although they give these beautiful items of jewelery with sincerity to symbolize their mutual love, people often aren’t familiar with the real meaning or multi-faceted history behind the engagement and wedding ring.

So where did this popular tradition stem from and why? What do wedding rings and engagement rings symbolize?

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Ancient History

Our symbolic use of rings is thought to have originated in prehistoric times when cavemen would fashion a cord from braided grasses to be wrapped around the woman’s wrists, ankles and waist. Anthropologists believe that rather than a romantic act, this was meant to bring the woman’s spirit under the man’s control.

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Rings in Ancient Egypt

Some believe that the oldest recorded exchange of engagement rings comes from ancient Egypt, about 4800 years ago.

The Egyptians brought romance to the rings symbolism. For them, the circle represented endless love while the empty space in the center represented a gateway to the couple’s future together.

Rings in Ancient Rome

It was thought that the fourth finger on the left hand contained a special vein that was connected directly to the heart, and, therefore this became the official finger for the wedding Roman’s eventually adopted this tradition but with their own twist. Rather than offering a ring to a woman as a symbol of love, they awarded them as a symbol of ownership.

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Iron Rings

Roman men would “claim” their woman with the giving of a ring. The Romans began the make the betrothal rings out of iron, symbolizing strength and permanence.

Engraved Rings

It is also said that the Romans were the first to engrave their rings. They agreed with the Egyptians and the ring was worn on the fourth finger of the left hand believed to contain the vein of love – Venous Amorous

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Puzzle Rings

Around the same time in the region of Asia Minor, puzzle rings were popular. These cleverly designed rings which fell about into a number of interconnected smaller bands were given out by Sultans and Sheiks to each of their wives. Because the puzzle ring would fall apart if removed, it was believed that it would prevent acts of infidelity.

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The Promise

One of the earliest recorded instances of a ring being used to enter into a formal contract is found in the Visigothic Code. The mid-7th century Visigothic Code required “that when the ceremony of betrothal has been performed and the ring shall have been given or accepted as a pledge, although nothing may have been committed to writing, the promise shall, under no circumstances, be broken.”

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In 860 AD, Pope Nicolas 1 prescribed that a groom should present his betrothed with a ring fashioned of gold. This was intended to represent the groom’s wealth and promise to care for his wife once married.

Diamond Rings

The first well-documented use of a diamond engagement ring was by Archduke Maximilian of Austria in the imperial court of Vienna in 1477, upon his betrothal to Mary of Burgundy. This popularized the use of diamond wedding jewellery among those with wealth and social status.

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Recent History

Engagement rings as we know them today, with remarkable gems set in precious metals – became popular in around the fourteenth or fifteenth century when the affluent and the royals began to exchange and wear these jewels.

They were so expensive however, that nobody other than the royals and the rich could afford to exchange them. It was to be many centuries before these engagement rings would become more popular or traditional.

The Tiffany Setting

In 1867 diamonds were discovered in South Africa and by 1872 global output was over a million carats per year making them more accessible than ever before. A few years later saw the introduction of the ‘Tiffany Setting’, a six pronged design that lifted the gem into prominence above the ring band.

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A Diamond is Forever

Global diamond company De Beers, in 1938 started a campaign to promote diamonds and in what has become one of history’s most successful marketing campaigns, coined the phrase “A diamond is forever.

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The Solitaire

The solitaire came to prominence in the early 20th Century and continues to be the archetypal style of diamond engagement rings in Hong Kong and around the world. Solitaires tended to be round brilliant cut diamonds, but fancy shapes such as princess, oval, emerald, marquise and cushion cuts have become popular alternatives and Haywards bespoke engagement rings can even be custom cut to your liking.

Giving a Ring

The giving of a ring in honour of a betrothal, and marriage has been going on since ancient times, and although it may not always have been as glamorous and romantic as it is today it was still a way of committing to a contract of betrothal or marriage.

Engagement Rings

These days wedding bands and engagement rings are made with beautiful metals, often set with shimmering gems. Men and women in many cultures exchange rings signifying commitment and lasting love and showing that the wearer is engaged or married.

Some people today choose to keep wearing their engagement ring after marriage so they select a ring that will fit snugly with the wedding ring. They may even have the 2 rings, called a Bridal Set when sold together, soldered together before or after the wedding.

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Ring Care

Either way, have your engagement ring inspected and cleaned at least a few days in advance so that it’s gleaming like new for your wedding day. Just as the wedding is the culmination of the couple’s relationship, the engagement ring is the glorious and romantic symbol of their commitment to one another. It should shine just as brightly as their smiles on the wedding day.

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