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)...