The History of The Wedding Ring, A Symbol of Love
A wedding ring is an emotionally loaded purchase. For most of us, it’s more than just jewellery: it’s a symbol of eternal romance, as well as the lifelong commitment we’re planning to make. It’s recognisable in just about every culture and has represented the circle of life for centuries. But what’s less known is that this humble accessory has fantastical origins.
The wedding ring’s history can be traced all the way back to the Ancient Egyptians, who believed in the vena amoris, meaning “vein of love,” theorising that the heart’s blood supply ran directly to the third finger of the left hand. Since then, wedding rings have been worn on the third finger, now commonly referred to as the “ring finger”—although some cultures choose to wear wedding rings on the right because that’s the hand typically used for making sacred oaths and vows.
The so-called Wedding Ring of England, for example, which was created for the coronation of William IV in 1831, was placed on the third finger of the sovereign’s right hand by the archbishop as a symbol of “kingly dignity,” says the Royal Collection Trust. It was last worn by Elizabeth II during her marriage to the nation in 1953.
A second coronation ring, inspired by William IV’s, was made for Queen Victoria in 1838, featuring an octagonal step-cut sapphire open-set in gold and overlaid with five rubies forming a cross. The royal goldsmiths, unaware that the coronation ring was worn on the third finger of the right hand, made the ring for the Queen’s little finger. The Archbishop forced it on, and she had to soak her hand in iced water after the ceremony.
According to the Gemological Institute of America, women in Ancient Rome carried on the tradition set by the Egyptians of wearing wedding rings to “either signify a business contract or to affirm mutual love and obedience.” The American Gem Society, meanwhile, writes that that the wedding ring was further established by a Roman tradition in which wives wore handcrafted rings made from copper and iron, among other materials, that were attached to small keys to indicate their husbands’ ownership. Moving on (thankfully)...
Gold betrothal rings were even found underneath the pumice of Pompeii 2,000 years after Mount Vesuvius buried the Roman town in smouldering ash, despite gold and silver being used only by the extremely wealthy. But fast-forward to the 20th century and wedding bands were overshadowed by a new-found excitement for engagement rings, which were popularised by copywriter Frances Gerety when, in 1947, she coined the phrase “A Diamond is Forever” for a De Beers jewellery campaign.
A plain wedding band worn alongside a diamond engagement ring continues to be the most common choice for brides, while men’s wedding jewellery is still a relatively new trend. Jewellers tried to popularise wedding bands for bridegrooms in the 1920s, but they only became mainstream in the mid-20th century, when soldiers fighting overseas during World War II wore them as a comforting reminder of their wives and families back home.
Today, couples are beginning to move towards unique styles and non-traditional stones. Jacqueline Kennedy’s emerald by Van Cleef & Arpels, for example, and Kate Middleton’s blue sapphire ring, fashioned from the late Princess Diana’s engagement ring, are examples of how women want their wedding jewellery to have personality.
Others are persuaded by eco-friendly and fair-mined options, and even recycled diamonds. One thing’s for certain: the wedding ring is deeply rooted in a rich history that spans centuries, and it will continue to evolve as we do.