A wedding ring or wedding band consists of a precious metal ring, usually worn on the base of the left ring finger – the fourth finger (counting from the thumb) of the left hand. In some parts of the world, it is worn on the right ring finger (e.g. Bulgaria, Norway, Germany, Poland or Russia).
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.
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.
Other more recent traditions, and the jewelry trade, seek to expand the idea of a series of ring-gifts with the promise 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 promise ring tradition encourages the engraving of the name of one’s 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.
In English tradition, the best man has a traditional duty of keeping track of a marrying couple’s wedding ring(s) and to produce them at the symbolic moment of the giving and receiving of the ring(s) 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 ring(s) into the ceremony, often on a special cushion or pillow(s).
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 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 choice of finger relates to traditions purportedly dating to classical times, from an early usage reportedly referring to the fourth finger of the left hand as containing the vena amoris or “vein of love”. At least in part due to this tradition, it became acceptable to wear the wedding ring on this finger. 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 many Western cultures, the wedding ring is worn on the left hand. In some countries such as Germany, India, Venezuela and Chile, however, it is worn on the right hand. Also in Spain it is worn right, except by Catalan people (left). Orthodox Christians, Eastern Europeans and Jews also traditionally wear the wedding band on the right hand. In The Netherlands, Catholic people wear it left, all others right. But in Austria Catholic people wear it right. Greek people, many being Orthodox Christians, also wear the wedding rings on the right hand in keeping with Greek tradition. A traditional reason to wear the wedding ring on the right hand stems from Roman custom. The Latin word for left is “sinistra”, a word that evolved into the English “sinister”. 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.
Etiquette frowns severely on the making of sexual overtures to a man or woman wearing a wedding ring.
Most religious marital ceremonies accept a band of any material to symbolize the taking of marriage vows, with unusual substitutions permitted in marriages under unusual circumstances. When people cannot obtain or adjust a metal ring of appropriate size, substitutions such as rubber bands may be used.
To make wedding rings, jewelers most commonly use a precious yellow alloy of gold, hardened with copper, 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 titanium. Silver , copper, brass and other cheaper metals do not occur as frequently because they corrode over time and thus do not convey that sense of “permanence”. Aluminium or poisonous metals are almost never used.
Many health professionals do not recommend the wearing of titanium or tungsten rings, as they are difficult to cut off in the event of an emergency. Contrary to this belief, Titanium rings can be removed quite easily using the same jewelers tools as for precious metal rings. Tungsten rings cannot be cut with these tools but can be removed by breaking with a common plumbers wrench known as ” Mole Grips”
In the United Kingdom and the United States in past generations, women wore wedding bands much more commonly than men did. Today, both partners often wear wedding rings, but where occupations or professions forbid or discourage the wearing of jewelry (as in the cases of actors, police, military pilots and electrical workers), either marriage partner may not wear a ring. In addition, people often remove wedding rings for comfort or safety. 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, thus conveying the socially equivalent message to wearing it on a finger.
The double-ring ceremony , or use of wedding rings for both partners, is a relatively recent innovation. The origin of the practice is uncertain, but it was never widespread. The American jewelery industry started a marketing campaign aimed at encouraging this usage in the late 19th century. The practice never became widespread, although it did warrant mention in an etiquette book in 1937. 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.
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.
Although in law, and in most religions, a marriage ends on first death, conventions around the wearing of wedding rings vary considerably. Traditions include the surviving spouse continuing to wear their own wedding ring after their partner’s death; continuing to wear their wedding ring, but on the ring finger of the other hand; removing their wedding ring at their partners funeral; and taking charge of, and wearing, their dead partner’s ring. In many cultures, 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.
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.
In France and French-speaking countries, a common pattern consists of three interwoven rings. They stand for ” 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.
Men in Greek, Italian and Anatolian 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. Women wryly give them as a test of their man’s monogamy. Even when the man masters the puzzle, he still cannot remove and replace the ring quickly.
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 United Kingdom.
Engraving Wedding Bands is also becoming very popular in the United States.
Celtic -style wedding bands have become more popular in the United States, Canada and other English-speaking countries with large numbers of 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.
The exchange of the wedding rings is traditionally recognized during the following spoken vows generally towards finalization of wedding ceremony such as in below wedding ceremonies.
“Until death do us part.” —common ending words of a Christian wedding vow
“With this ring I thee wed.” —from the traditional Church of England marriage-ceremony formula
“With this ring, you are consecrated to me according to the law of Moses and Israel.” —translated from the Hebrew words said by the groom at an Orthodox Jewish wedding; said by both bride and groom at a reform wedding
“ Name, 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.” —from the Roman Catholic Rite of Marriage.