We explore the origins of the wedding ring and how it came to be made and worn in different cultures and religions throughout the world.
Marriage is something that exists within almost every culture in the world. However, the way that people wear wedding rings varies significantly depending on where you are. Although it is seen as a universal symbol of love and unity, it also comes in all manner of shapes, sizes, and materials.
But before we explore the various wedding ring traditions across the globe, let’s first take a look at where this meaningful piece of jewelry came from.
- The origins of the wedding ring
- The Egyptians
- The Romans
- Early Asian civilization
- The history of the men’s wedding ring
- The choice of gold content for a wedding ring
- The Western world
- Across Asia
- Modern cultural wedding ring traditions
- England and North America
- Russia and France
- The Celtic nations
- The indigenous people of North America
- Religious wedding ring traditions
The origins of the wedding ring
Many would argue that Egypt is the birthplace of the modern wedding ring. However, the tradition actually originated in Neanderthal times. Believe it or not, these so-called barbaric creatures were arguably more civilized than you might think. Indeed, it is believed that Neanderthals used to tie things like twigs, grass, and rushes around the bride’s wrists or ankles to express their friendship and loyalty. They also believed that this would keep her soul intact and help her live a long life. It wasn’t until much later on that other cultures began to create their own wedding ring traditions.
Several hundred years after the Neanderthal invented the wedding ring, the Egyptians began making their own variation from materials such as bone, ivory, leather, and hemp. However, the wedding ring later evolved into a metal form which was known as ‘ring money’.
Back then, the law dictated that once a woman received such a ring, she would then have a claim on her husband’s possessions.
The Romans, on the other hand, had a more romantic interpretation when it came to the wedding ring. This is perhaps unsurprising, however, given their rather lavish lifestyle. To them, the precious item of jewelry not only symbolized that a married woman had a right to her husband’s possessions, but that she had also unlocked his heart. This romantic notion explains why a key was often part of the traditional wedding ring during those times.
Early Asian civilization
The early Asian civilizations were certainly not as romantic as the Romans when it came to their wedding ring traditions. On the contrary, they saw it as more of a legal contract between a man and a woman. Remarkably, couples would seal their marriage with puzzle wedding rings which would immediately fall apart if they tried to remove them from their fingers. The wedding ring was therefore used as a way to expose infidelity. After all, if one of the partners removed it in the absence of the other, they would soon find out about it.
Over the following years, the wedding ring gradually evolved into the style that we know throughout the world today. During medieval times, they were made almost exclusively of gold and often included gemstones. Interestingly, it wasn’t until much later, in the 1940s, that jewelers began embedding diamonds into wedding rings, which remains the fashion today.
The history of the men’s wedding ring
How men came to wear wedding rings is truly a heartbreaking story. Up until the 20th century, only women would traditionally wear them as a means to show their love and loyalty to their husbands. However, when WWII separated men from their wives, they began to wear wedding rings as a means of carrying their loved ones with them. This was particularly poignant given that they didn’t know if they would ever be reunited. While this romantic notion of course no longer applies, the tradition remains and the majority of Western men continue to wear a wedding ring to this day.
That said, nowadays, men’s wedding rings come in a variety of different forms. They are not only made of gold and no longer have to match the design of the bride’s. Depending on the groom’s preference, for instance, they might be simple and sleek or have diamonds or other stones – it all comes down to personal taste.
The choice of gold content for a wedding ring
Interestingly, the amount of gold content in a wedding ring actually depends on where you are in the world.
People from countries where pure gold is the norm, for example, often consider 14 or 9-carat gold to be low-budget. Those who are used to lighter gold, however, find pure 22-carat gold to be too showy and fake. Once again, it all comes down to geography.
The Western world
When choosing a wedding ring for their partner, most people living in Western countries regard 14-carat gold as standard. However, the Dutch have particularly high standards when it comes to the content of gold. In fact, the Dutch law actually states that anything less than 14-carat gold may not even be called gold. Despite this, 9-carat gold is becoming increasingly popular, even in countries like Germany and the United States, where 10-carat gold is also common.
Unlike in the Western world, pure yellow gold is far more plentiful and popular in Southeast Asia. It is also strongly linked to religion and can be seen in the many spectacular temples scattered throughout the continent. As a result, 18 and 22-carat gold is regarded as the norm. Meanwhile, in India, gold is seen as more of a symbol of superiority, beauty, and attractiveness. This is why Indian brides are often sparkling with gold on their wedding days. The groom might also give his bride a wedding ring with a higher gold content as this is more durable and symbolizes that he is investing in a long-lasting marriage.
Modern cultural wedding ring traditions
The wedding ring has taken on many different designs throughout the ages and is worn in a variety of ways across the globe. Below are just some examples of this.
England and North America
In England and North America, wedding rings are used to mark special milestones throughout a marriage. The first mark is the engagement ring which is worn on the fourth finger of the right hand. Once the couple is married, the engagement ring then moves to the opposite hand, on the same finger, but on top of the wedding band.
The romantic meaning behind this is that the ring sits closer to the heart of the one who wears it. And finally comes the eternity ring. This is traditionally given on the first wedding anniversary or when the first child is born. It can either sit on top of the wedding and engagement ring or on the opposite hand.
Russia and France
Wedding rings come in a wide variety of designs in France and Russia. In France, for instance, it is often a family heirloom that is passed down through the generations. Unlike in some Western countries, the engagement ring can also have gemstones such as rubies, emeralds, or sapphires instead of diamonds.
The Russians, meanwhile, are fairly creative when it comes to their wedding ring design. These rings often consist of three multi-colored, interlocking bands of rose, white, and yellow. These are known as ‘triple rolling rings’ and symbolize the Holy Trinity of Christian orthodox religion; or the couple’s past, present, and future.
The Celtic nations
In Celtic countries, wedding rings often come in a Claddagh design which incorporates hands, a heart, and a crown. These represent friendship, love, and loyalty, respectively. Although many people claim that this design of ring dates back to the 17th century in the Irish fishing village of Claddagh in Galway, it most likely originated in Roman times.
Back then, the gesture of clasped hands was a symbol of pledging vows. Of course, nowadays, the Claddagh ring is an emblem of Irish identity and worn by many people; not only those who decide to tie the knot.
The indigenous people of North America
If you like a splash of color in your jewelry, then you will no doubt appreciate the style of wedding ring worn by the many indigenous people of North America. These are almost always made of silver and feature vibrant semi-precious stones and materials such as turquoise, red coral, and shells.
These are thought to hold specific powers in Native American culture and benefit the wearer. Furthermore, the rings are often engraved with symbols – such as the sun, trees, or fruits – as well as animals – like elk, moose, and buffalo – that are considered to be sacred to that particular culture.
Religious wedding ring traditions
Interestingly, the wedding ring is not always worn on the left hand. In fact, religion often plays an important role in deciding how it should be worn.
Believe it or not, the left is regarded by some as evil. In fact, the Latin word for left is ‘sinister’, which naturally has dark connotations. This is why in some Catholic counties, people wear their wedding ring on their right hand. That said, not all Catholics follow this rule. In the Netherlands, for instance, they wear their ring on their left hand; while over in Austria, they choose their right hand.
Similarly, while Protestants often wear their ring on their right hand, not all of them do so. After all, some like the idea that it sits closer to their heart and therefore opt for the left ring finger. Ultimately, it really comes down to how much of a romantic soul you are.
As you can see, there is no ‘one size fits all’ approach (pun intended) when it comes to wedding ring traditions around the world. Indeed, when picking out that all-important piece of jewelry, personal taste plays just as much a role as culture and religion. And this is just as well, too, given that with any luck, you will be wearing it forever!
Where do different cultures wear wedding rings? ›
"Today, wedding rings are most commonly worn on the fourth finger of the left hand. But some countries including India, Germany, Spain, Norway, and Russia traditionally wear their wedding rings on their right hand." Overall, it seems cultural traditions and norms set the standard for this custom.What cultures exchange wedding rings? ›
The Western traditions of wedding rings can be traced to ancient Rome and Greece, and were first associated with the marital dowry and later with a promise of fidelity. The modern exchange of rings derived from the customs of Europe in the Middle Ages as part of Christendom.Why do other countries wear their wedding ring on the right hand? ›
The Romans, who introduced the world to the principle of marriage proposals, believed that the left hand was untrustworthy and unholy. Therefore, they used to wear their wedding rings on their right hand.What is the tradition of wedding rings? ›
Engagement and weddings rings, in the past as now, symbolize commitment, love and devotion. In the past, wedding rings signified a promise or contract between a couple and their two families. They were also tokens or even security deposits that showed a man's promise was “good as gold.”Do the Chinese wear wedding rings? ›
China has acquired the custom of wedding rings as late as the era of post-Cultural Revolution economic reforms, when rings were affordable and Western influence was allowed in. As an adopted habit, there are variations on how rings are used, if at all, and when.Do Japanese wear wedding rings? ›
The Japanese, like Westerners, traditionally also used to wear a wedding ring on their left hand because they believe a vein leads directly to the heart through the left hand. These days, most Japanese people do not have a preferred hand to have a ring on.What is a divorce ring? ›
A divorce ring is a piece of jewelry that symbolizes the end of a marriage. It can be worn on the finger of the hand that once held a wedding ring, or it can be placed on a necklace or bracelet.What is the Romanian wedding ring tradition? ›
In Turkey, Lebanon, Syria, Romania and Brazil, the ring is worn on the ring finger of the right hand until the wedding day and afterwards it is moved to the ring finger of the left hand.Which cultures do not use wedding rings? ›
In Chinese tradition, higher status for men was signified by having several young female partners or concubines. A ring denies that status. For this reason, many modern Chinese men do not wear a wedding ring.What does a Russian wedding ring mean? ›
The classic symbolism of the Russian wedding ring is associated with Christianity, each ring representing a member of the Trinity: The Father, Son and Holy Spirit. For many non-religious couples, the different rings symbolise the past, present and future of their relationship.
Why do Americans wear wedding rings on the left hand? ›
The western tradition of wearing your wedding bands on your left finger goes further back than you might have previously thought- all the way to the days of Ancient Rome. At the time, the Romans believed that a vein ran directly from the fourth finger on the left hand to the heart.What religions wear wedding rings on right hand? ›
In Jewish tradition, during the wedding ceremony, the wedding ring is placed on the index finger of the right hand.
The tradition of exchanging wedding rings can be traced back to ancient Rome. However, unlike the exchange of rings in today's marriage ceremonies, rings were not exchanged between partners as they get married. Instead Roman men would present a ring to the bride's father as a symbol of purchase.Where in the Bible does it talk about wedding rings? ›
Although wedding bands aren't directly mentioned in the Bible, other types of rings are mentioned throughout many passages, particularly in Genesis. Abraham's servant gave Rebekah a nose ring to claim her as Isaac's bride (Genesis 24:22).What is the wedding ring tradition UK? ›
The majority of people wear their wedding ring on their left hand, particularly in the UK. Tradition states that your wedding ring is worn on your fourth finger and this finger is often known as the wedding ring finger. This is also finger you wear your engagement ring on.Does the Indian culture wear wedding rings? ›
While exchanging rings is not a traditional part of the Indian ceremony, we will be incorporating this custom into ours. The groom will also give the bride a mangalsutra, or sacred necklace, as a symbol of their marriage. There are seven vows taken during the ceremony, but you won't see us locking lips.Do Mexicans wear wedding rings? ›
After the wedding ceremony, the wedding ring is worn with the engagement ring on the same hand and same finger. The ring is also worn on the left hand in Mexico, Canada, France, Chile, Italy, UK, and throughout Asia.How do Koreans wear wedding rings? ›
A couple's ring is traditionally worn on the ring finger. Whether it's on the right or left-hand is not important. A ring on the ring finger is a sign of love and commitment. A ring on your index finger represents friendship.How do Chinese wear wedding rings? ›
According to Chinese tradition, engagement rings are worn on the middle finger, while wedding rings are worn on opposite hands by the bride and the groom. The bride wears a band on her right hand, while the groom wears his on the left.Why do Korean couples wear rings? ›
That's where she learned about the phenomenon “Couple Rings”. According to the South Korean tradition, you'll celebrate 100 days as a couple by giving each other a ring, as a sign of being in a serious relationship. “I think this is such a nice tradition”, Efva says, “and something that inspired me a lot.
Do Thai wear wedding rings? ›
Rings are seldom a part of the process of marriage. Therefore you can not say a Female or Male is single if they are not wearing a ring. Thai culture still incorporates a dowry system given by the male to the father of the bride for the daughter.
Black can signify power, courage, or strength, as well as show conviction or belief. In relation to marriage, a black ring can symbolize the power of love. Wearing black rings can be a way for a couple to show that they are dedicated to their marriage and that they believe in the strength of their union above all else.Why do married couples stop wearing wedding rings? ›
There are reasons why spouses may choose to stop wearing wedding bands after the ceremony. The rings may no longer fit the wearer because of significant weight gain or loss or because the wearer's occupation prevents them from donning the rings daily.Is it OK to wear your wedding ring after divorce? ›
#1 Continue to wear it
If you feel comfortable to still wear your wedding ring, then you should not feel pressured to take it off. Some people are not ready to remove their wedding ring for some time, perhaps not until they meet someone else or enough time has passed for them to recover from their divorce.
In Italy the wedding ring is usually worn on the left hand: this tradition dates back to Roman times when the left ring finger was believed to be connected directly to the heart by a special vein called 'vena amoris', the vein of love.What is the tradition of Indian wedding ring? ›
According to the tradition in Indian wedding ceremonies, the wedding ring should be made of 18 or 22 carat gold. There are a few reasons for this. The giving of gold to the bride has some origins in religion, and it believed that the more gold she is given at her wedding the happier she will be in life.How do Germans wear wedding rings? ›
In Germany the traditional engagement ring is usually a gold band worn on the left hand. After the wedding the same ring is worn on the right hand. Men also wear their wedding ring on the right hand. May is normally a preferred month for weddings.Does the Bible say not to wear wedding rings? ›
The use of wedding ring is not commanded in the Bible, and there is no indication that it was ever practised in the New Testament.Why do Muslims not wear wedding rings? ›
As everyone knows, Islam preaches marriage without dating. So, Islam marriage doesn't undergo the whole process of an engagement or even exchanging wedding rings. That's because Islam sees dating as an act of sin. The tradition of wearing wedding rings is derived from the West which goes against the Islamic teachings.Are there rules for wedding rings? ›
As we've said above, there are no hand-set rules when it comes to wedding rings and engagement rings. Ultimately, it all comes down to your preferences. If you want to have only an engagement ring – that's fine, if you want to have both but wear them on different days – that's okay as well.
What is an Irish wedding ring? ›
The Claddagh ring (Irish: fáinne Chladaigh) is a traditional Irish ring that represents Love, Loyalty and Friendship – the heart represents Love, the crown represents Loyalty, and the hands represent Friendship. The Claddagh ring can be worn in a number of different ways to denote the wearers relationship status.How do Ukrainians wear wedding ring? ›
In most countries in America, brides are supposed to wear their ring on the left hand. In Ukraine, women need to put their ring on the right hand. It is a tradition. And no woman would ever wear a wedding ring on the left hand.
The three rings represent the marriage relationship that two people are about to embark on. It also represents the different stages in a romantic relationship: engagement, marriage, and eternity. A 3 ring set is a popular choice for people who are getting married.What culture wears wedding ring on middle finger? ›
Some early Celtic peoples wore their wedding ring on the middle finger, while in 17th-century England it was not uncommon to wear it on the thumb. Also non-traditional: men wearing wedding rings.What cultures wear wedding rings on left ring finger? ›
Traditionally, in Western culture, wedding rings have always been worn on the left hand. This is true of countries such as the UK, US, France, Portugal, Switzerland, Australia, and Canada. This tradition dates back to the 11th century.What does it mean when a woman wears a ring on her middle finger? ›
When a person wears a ring on the middle finger, rather than the ring finger, it's an indication that they are not engaged or married. It's the most noticeable finger, as it is the longest digit, so any ring worn on the middle finger is highly noticeable.What finger do Muslims wear their wedding rings? ›
In the Islamic world, especially in parts of the Middle East and South Asia, it is customary for women to wear their engagement rings on their left ring finger, and for men to wear a wedding ring on their right ring finger.Which finger do Christians wear wedding ring? ›
But you might be wondering on what finger is the wedding ring worn? For example, Christians tend to wear the engagement ring on the left ring finger and the wedding band on the right, while Jewish wear the wedding ring on the left hand.Why do Catholics wear their wedding ring on right hand? ›
There is evidence that Catholics wore their wedding rings on the right hand during the early middle ages. This came from the belief that the right hand was spiritually more significant, as God blesses with his right hand and it is also used to make the sign of the cross.Are wedding rings pagan? ›
Is It True That Wedding Rings Are Pagan in Origin? There are a lot of myths and misconceptions about wedding rings out there. So, let's set the record straight: wedding rings are not pagan in origin. They have a long history that predates Christianity.
What are the ring exchange promises? ›
“I give you this ring as a symbol of my everlasting love for you.” “I give you this ring as a sign of our love for and commitment to each other. I promise to support you, care for you, and stand alongside you for all of our days.” “I offer you this ring to wear as a symbol of our unbreakable bond.Who goes first in ring exchange? ›
Move the Ring
Traditionally, the wedding band goes first on the finger so it's closest to the heart. To ensure the proper position, some brides temporarily move their engagement ring to their right hand. Then, after the nuptials, they return the ring to their left hand over the wedding band.
“I give you this ring as a reminder, That I will love, honor, and cherish you, In all times, In all places, And in all ways, forever.” The meaning of most vows is that rings serve as a reminder and symbol of the promise of the relationship.Are wedding rings a religious symbol? ›
Wedding bands don't directly have any historical religious significance but there are many modern spiritual interpretations to their usage. Historians believe that wedding ring usagen originated from very old Roman traditions, prior to Christianity.What does the Catholic Church say about wedding rings? ›
The Catholics view the ring as a reminder to betrothed couples of their consent, of their vows. The rings represent their promises to each other and a symbol of their devotion to each other.Do the French wear wedding rings? ›
Couples wear wedding rings on their left hands in many Western countries, such as North America, South America, and European nations including the UK, Italy, France and Slovenia.Do Amish wear wedding rings? ›
As you probably already know, Amish don't wear jewelry. This includes wedding rings and engagement rings. No jewelry of any kind.Did Egyptians wear wedding rings? ›
The ancient Egyptians were among the first known people to exchange wedding rings. Much like today, the circle in ancient Egypt was considered to be a symbol of eternity, which made wedding rings the perfect tokens to signify the eternal love of the spouses who wore them.Why do Americans wear wedding ring on left hand? ›
The western tradition of wearing your wedding bands on your left finger goes further back than you might have previously thought- all the way to the days of Ancient Rome. At the time, the Romans believed that a vein ran directly from the fourth finger on the left hand to the heart.Which finger do Chinese wear wedding ring? ›
The Chinese explanation, of course, is that the union between you and your partner is unbreakable, and a wedding ring worn on the ring finger represents a marriage that is meant to last forever.
Why do widows still wear their wedding rings? ›
A common option when deciding what to do with your wedding ring after your spouse's death is to continue to wear it in their honor. For many, it can be a form of comfort to continue wearing your wedding ring. Often that ring is a reminder of the love and memories you shared with your spouse.Is it OK to wear wedding ring on right hand? ›
Whether it's for stylistic or sentimental reasons, a ring on the right hand isn't uncommon at all. While many marriage traditions have come and gone, the wedding ring on the left hand has stood the test of time. If you want to wear your wedding ring on your right hand for whatever reason, go for it!Do Muslims wear wedding rings on left hand? ›
There isn't a strong tradition for wedding bands in Islamic countries (except for Iran, where the ring finger of the right hand is used), but they are becoming more commonplace as a result of globalization, and are worn on either the right or left ring finger - whichever the couple prefers.Do Muslims wear wedding rings? ›
Wearing an engagement or wedding rings is not unlawful in the Islamic perspective, as there is no religious text that determines this. If the ring is silver, there is nothing wrong in both men and women wearing it. But if the ring is made of gold, women can wear it, while men cannot.Which countries wear ring on right hand? ›
Countries that wear wedding rings on the right hand may live in Eastern or Southeastern Europe. This may include Cyprus, Georgia, and sections of the Caucasus area and Siberia and the Russian Far East. Other right-hand wedding band wearers include people from Latvia, Austria, Poland, Norway, Spain and Portugal.Why do Russian wear wedding ring on right hand? ›
Why do Russian people wear wedding ring on right hand? The rings, in the Orthodox tradition, mean much, much more than simply, “I love you”. We wear wedding rings on our right hands because the Lord's right hand makes firm the foundations of the earth. Moreover, the rings symbolize God's word to remain faithful to us.