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Wedding ring

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A white gold wedding ring.

A wedding ring or wedding band consists of a metal ring. Depending on the local culture, it is worn on the base of the right or the left ring finger (see post-wedding customs below).

Such a ring symbolizes marriage: a spouse wears it to indicate a marital commitment to fidelity. The European custom of wearing such a ring has spread widely beyond Europe.


Traditional customs

Pre-wedding customs

According to some customs, the wedding ring forms the last in a series of gifts, which also may include the engagement ring, traditionally given as a betrothal present. This tradition was already in use in Ancient Rome and is possibly much older.[1] Other more recent traditions, encouraged by the jewelry trade, seek to expand the idea of a series of ring-gifts with the pre-engagement ring, often given when serious courting begins, and the eternity ring, which symbolizes the renewal or ongoing nature of a lasting marriage, sometimes given after the birth of a first child; and a trilogy ring, usually displaying three brilliant-cut round diamonds each, in turn, representing the past, present and future of a relationship.

A European tradition encourages the engraving of the name of one intended spouse and the date of one's intended marriage on the inside surface of wedding rings, thus strengthening the symbolism and sentimentality of the rings as they become family heirlooms.

Among Eastern Orthodox and Eastern Catholic Christians, the exchange of rings is not technically part of the wedding service, but rather are exchanged at the betrothal. It is always a two-ring ceremony. Traditionally, the groom's ring will be made of gold, and the bride's ring made of silver,[2] and are blessed by the priest with holy water. The priest blesses the groom with the bride's ring, and places it on the ring finger of his left hand; he then blesses the bride with the groom's ring and places it on her finger. The rings are then exchanged three times either by the priest or by the best man.[3] The orthodox Christian Church of Greece has recently stopped performing betrothal blessings separately, as these were often non-committing, and a betrothal ceremony is the initial part of the wedding service anyway. In many families an informal blessing is now performed by the betrothed ones' parents in a family dinner that formalises the betrothal. The ceremony of betrothal is now possibly performed immediately before the wedding (or "crowning" as it is more properly called), and the actual symbolic act of marriage is not the exchange of rings, but the public proclamation of marriage by an authority figure or leader.

A ubiquitous custom, the future bridegroom gives his future bride a jewelled ring (most commonly set with a diamond) upon proposing to her. After the wedding the wedding band is worn on the ring finger, closest to the hand, and the engagement ring is worn in front of it. The rings usually match and sometimes interlock or are fused together to form one ring. In some cultures, or among anti-diamond activists, some other piece or set of jewellery, such as a bracelet, brooch, earrings, necklace, tiara or, rarely, a whole parure, may be used.

Wedding ceremony customs


In several traditions, the best man or best woman may have the duty of keeping track of a couple's wedding rings and to produce them at the symbolic moment of the giving and receiving of the rings during the traditional marriage ceremony. In more elaborate weddings, a ring bearer (usually a young boy that is part of the family of the bride or groom) may assist in the ceremonial parading of the rings into the ceremony, often on a special cushion.

In older times, the wedding rings were not only a sign of love, but were also linked to the bestowal of 'earnest money'. According to the prayer book of Edward VI: after the words 'with this ring I thee wed' follow the words 'This gold and silver I give thee', at which point the groom was supposed to hand a leather purse filled with gold and silver coins to the bride.[4]

Historically, the wedding ring was rather connected to the exchange of valuables at the moment of the wedding than a symbol of eternal love and devotion. It is a relic of the times when marriage was a contract between families, not individual lovers. Both families were then eager to ensure the economical safety of the young couple. Sometimes it went as far as being a conditional exchange as this old (and today outdated) German formula shows: 'I give you this ring as a sign of the marriage which has been promised between us, provided your father gives with you a marriage portion of 1000 Reichsthalers'.[4]

In some European countries, the wedding ring is the same as the engagement ring and changes its status through engraving and the change of the hand on which to wear it. If the wedding ring is different from the engagement ring, the question whether or not the engagement ring should be worn during the ceremony leaves a few options. The bride may wear it on her left ring finger and have the groom put the wedding band over it. She may also wear it on her right ring finger. The bride may also continue wearing the rings on different hands after the wedding – this may prevent the engagement ring from scratching and scuffing. Another option is to have the main bridesmaid keep the ring during the ceremony – there are a variety of ways to keep it: in a pouch, on a plate, etc. After the ceremony, the ring can be placed back on either the left or the right hand. The finger is always the ring finger, but there are cultural differences whether the wedding ring is worn on the left hand or the right hand.

The right hand is the traditional hand for vows or oaths. It is raised when such an oath is given, so the wedding ring would here show the sincerety of the oath. A traditional reason to wear the wedding ring on the right hand stems from Roman custom and biblical references. The Latin word for left is "sinister", which in addition to this sense also has the same senses as the English word. The Latin word for right is "dexter", a word that evolved into "dexterity". Hence, the left hand had a negative connotation and the right a good one. For the same reason, an oath is sworn while raising the right hand.

The left hand is also used for cultures that believe in the vena amoris or "vein of love" that is believed to be found in the left ring finger.

Post-wedding customs

After marriage, the ring is worn on the hand it had been placed on during the ceremony. By wearing rings on the fourth finger of their left hands, a married couple symbolically declares their eternal love for each other. This has now become a matter of tradition and etiquette in these countries. However, the most widely accepted explanation is that because the majority of people are right-handed, wearing the ring on the left hand makes it less likely to be damaged or lost during everyday activities.

Some cultures exchange additional rings: In some parts of India, Hindus may use a toe ring or bichiya which is worn instead of a ring on a finger; although this is only for women, and increasingly worn along with a finger ring. In the eastern parts of India, primarily West Bengal, an iron bangle, or 'loha' is worn by women. Increasingly, this bangle is given a gold or silver coating to improve its appearance. In Romania spouses celebrate their silver wedding anniversary (25 years of marriage) by exchanging silver wedding rings, which are worn on the 4th finger of the left hand along with the original (usually gold) wedding ring.[5]

The wedding ring may occasionally be removed for comfort or safety. It is not uncommon for those who have professions that forbid the wearing of jewelry, such as police officers, or electrical workers. Many times these people say they wear a "ring around their heart" not around their finger. Some will wear it on a chain around their neck to compensate for the inability to wear it.

Post funeral

Legally, a marriage ends with the death of either spouse, but conventions (and perceived symbolism) around the wearing of wedding rings after a spouse's death vary considerably. Traditions include the surviving spouse continuing their own wedding ring after their spouse's death, sometimes on the ring finger of the other hand; removing their wedding ring at their spouse's funeral; and taking charge of, and wearing (sometimes on the same finger as their own), their late spouse's ring. The length of time and way in which a surviving spouse wears their ring is not dictated by a common custom, but varies by family tradition and choice of the surviving spouse. It is unusual, but not unknown, to wear both rings on the ring finger after remarriage.

In Europe and in the United States in past generations, women wore wedding bands much more commonly than men did. Today, both partners often wear wedding rings, though for safety, personal comfort, or work-related reasons, a spouse may remove it from time to time. Others may object to the idea of precious metals, or dislike the idea of declaring their legal status through jewelry. Either partner may also wear a wedding ring on a chain around the neck.

The double-ring ceremony, or use of wedding rings for both partners, is a relatively recent innovation. The American jewellery industry started a marketing campaign aimed at encouraging this practice in the late 19th century.[6] Learning from marketing lessons of the 1920s, changing economic times, and the impact of World War II, led to a more successful marketing campaign, and by the late 1940s, double-ring ceremonies made up for 80% of all weddings, as opposed to 15% before the Great Depression.[6]

Diamond, 14kG, wed eng anv RING

A gold banded engagement-wedding-anniversary ring combination welded together.

One interpretation states that the woman wears the wedding ring below the engagement ring, thus making it closer to the heart. Another practice holds that the woman should wear the wedding ring above the engagement ring, thus sealing the atmosphere of the engagement into the marriage. Still others prefer that the wedding ring should be worn alone. Further, modern ring sets in the United States are often marketed as a three-piece set, including the man's wedding band, the woman's engagement ring, and a slender band that is mounted to the engagement ring before the wedding, converting it into a single, permanent wedding ring.


Most religious marital ceremonies accept a band of any material to symbolize the making of marriage vows.

To make wedding rings, jewellers most commonly use a precious yellow alloy of gold, hardened with copper and Silver or tin and bismuth. Platinum and white alloys of gold are also used, although the slightly yellow "white" gold alloys of the past have been largely replaced by a cheaper nickel-gold alloy, covered with a thin plating of rhodium which must be reapplied after some years of wear. Titanium has recently become a popular material for wedding bands, due to its durability, affordability, and gunmetal grey colour. Tungsten carbide, often with gold or platinum inlays, is recently being used as well. The least expensive material in common use is nickel silver for those who prefer its appearance or cost. Marrying couples are also beginning to use stainless steel, which has the same durability as platinum or titanium, and can accept a finer finish than the latter. Silver, copper, brass and other cheaper metals do not occur as frequently because they corrode over time and thus do not convey a sense of permanence. Wood, Stone and Organic materials can also be used but are more decorative and much less durable than metal.

Styles, patterns, and fashions

Jewish wedding ring MNMA Cl20658

A 14th century Jewish wedding ring.

A plain gold band is the most popular pattern. Medical personnel commonly wear it because it can be kept very clean. Women usually wear narrow bands, while men wear broader bands. Some couples choose to design their own wedding rings. In France and French-speaking countries, a common pattern consists of three interwoven rings. They stand for the Christian virtues of "faith, hope and love", where "love" equates to that particular type of perfect disinterested love indicated by the ancient Greek word agape. Provocatively, this pattern slides off quickly, because the rings flow over each other.

Women in Greek and Anatolian (comprising most of modern Turkey) cultures sometimes receive and wear puzzle rings – sets of interlocking metal bands that one must arrange just so in order to form a single ring. Traditionally, men wryly gave them as a test of their woman's monogamy.

In North America and some European countries, many married women wear two rings on the same finger: an engagement ring and a plain wedding band. Couples often purchase such rings as a pair of bands designed to fit together. In addition, some women who have been married a long time wear three rings on their finger (from hand to tip): a wedding band, an engagement ring, and an eternity ring. This three-ring combination is especially common in the UK.

Celtic-style wedding bands are used by some people claiming Irish or Scottish descent. This style of wedding band will often be engraved or embossed with a Celtic knot design, which is meant to symbolize oneness and continuity. Sometimes a Claddagh design is also used to symbolize fidelity.



Wedding rings do not feature in the Bible; in the Biblical account of creation you will find scant details regarding marriage, but no specific procedures for weddings.[7]

Wedding ceremonies that reference rings

  • Church of England (1662 Book of Common Prayer) - "With this ring I thee wed, with my body I thee worship, and with all my worldly goods I thee endow: In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost. Amen."[8]
  • Jewish - "With this ring, you are consecrated to me according to the law of Moses and Israel." - Said in Hebrew by the groom at an Orthodox Jewish wedding and by both the bride and groom at a Reform Jewish wedding
  • Roman Catholic - "N., take this ring as a sign of my love and fidelity. In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit."[9]
  • Eastern Orthodox - "The servant of God (N.) is betrothed to the handmaid of God (N.), in the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen." - from the Eastern Orthodox Service of Betrothal, part of the Mysterion of Holy Matrimony ("crowning"), said three times while the Priest makes the Sign of the Cross with the ring over the bridegroom's head. The same words are said three times over the bride, reversing the names of the bride and groom.

See also


  1. The Romans are also thought to have originated the custom of betrothal rings, or engagement rings, symbolizing a promise of marriage to a member of the opposite sex. Encyclopaedia Britannica, ring.
  2. Isabel F. Hapgood, Service Book of the Holy Orthodox-Catholic Apostolic Church (Antiochian Orthodox Christian Archdiocese, Englewood, NJ, 1975), p. 604.
  3. Ibid., p. 292.
  4. 4.0 4.1 Kunz PhD. DSc., George Frederick (1917). Rings for the Finger. J.B. Lippincott Co..  URL: Rings for the Finger, George Frederick Kunz George Frederick Kunz was the in-house gemologist for Tiffany's, the person responsible for the main gem and mineral collections of J.P. Morgan and later the American Museum of Natural History in New York, and has a gemstones kunzite named after him. He furthermore wrote the mineral and gemstone reports of the US Geological Survey for almost 20 years.
  5. History of Wedding Anniversary Gift Lists
  6. 6.0 6.1 Howard, Vicki. "A 'Real Man's Ring': Gender and the Invention of Tradition." Journal of Social History. Summer 2003 pp837-856.
  7. Are wedding rings a Biblical tradition or a tradition of men? What does a wedding ring symbolize?
  8. "1662 Book of Common Prayer > The Form of Solemnization of Matrimony". Retrieved 2007-10-11. 
  9. "Liturgical Texts > 1970 Missal > Rite of Marriage During Mass". Catholic Liturgical Library. Retrieved 2007-10-11. 
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