Increasingly, engaged women have expressed an interest in learning about the history of rings so that they can make an informed choice about what their rings say about their personalities.
Although the seemingly limitless possibilities for rings can be intimidating at times, by learning about the history of wedding and engagement rings you’ll get an opportunity to consider more than the classic four “C”s (clarity, cut, karat, and color) when choosing your perfect engagement ring.
The Ring’s Roots in Ancient Egypt
The circular shape of a ring inherently symbolizes infinity, and this idea dates back to ancient cultures, including the Egyptians. Circular elements like the sun and the moon were worshipped and recreated in the form of art objects on walls, in homes, and on the body. It’s only logical then, that when we pledge to give our love to another person, we also give to them the symbol that means never-ending.
Where we choose to wear the ring is important symbolically, too. Ancient Egyptians believed that the third finger of the left hand held an element that traveled directly to the heart. Once the Greeks conquered Egypt they adopted this idea as well. The vena amoris (vein of love) became the traditional place to wear a wedding ring from your beloved.
Although rings symbolized “forever,” these ancient versions certainly didn’t last that long. They were made of materials like hemp or wool and would fall apart in about a year’s time. Thank goodness that aspect is ancient history!
Even though you wouldn’t dream of giving your honey an itchy wool ring, maybe you’ll be inspired by this bit of history to create a special event for the kids invited to the wedding or bridal shower. Perhaps they would enjoy a crafts day where they can make rings out of fun materials, like pipe cleaners, yarn, or foodstuffs.
A “Key” to Your Heart
In early Rome, iron was the metal of choice for a ring. It was a very strong metal and therefore represented the strength of a man’s love for his woman. Of course, the woman would have to be very careful when she wore it because of the possibility of rust.
Some engaged couples started to give gold or silver rings at this time too. This act was meant to show that the man trusted his soon-to-be wife with his riches. Often, in addition to the engagement and wedding rings, yet another type of ring was given once the man carried his wife over the threshold. He would give her a ring shaped like a key, to symbolize both his heart and their new home together. If you’re looking for a different style of ring that isn’t just the traditional band, you might consider this ancient custom of the “key ring.”
The Story of the Stones
Of course, the diamond is the go-to stone when you want to say “forever.” It is the hardest rock on earth and also one of the rarest. But if you find that you’re a bride with vintage tastes, a colored stone might just be for you. In medieval Europe, rubies were given to symbolize the red of the heart and sapphires were popular as symbols of the sky, also considered infinite.
Ask your mother or grandmother and her friends if they wore any other types of stones besides the diamond. Those who lived through the Great Depression might have some interesting stories to tell about wedding rings from this time.
The Decorative Aspect of Your Rings
From Renaissance Italy to Victorian times, betrothed women preferred ornate engagement rings with decorative elements. Niello, an ancient form of engraving in decorative patterns, was very popular. If you visit a museum that has medieval jewelry on display you will see many different niello designs.
World War II ushered in a new fashion of decorative ring and was adopted by many men deposited far from their fiancées. Say “hello” to the gimmal ring. This ring is one ring that is formed by two or three hoops. A soldier stationed overseas and his fiancée could each take one hoop to wear while separated, reminding them of each other. Then, when they were reunited, they could put the rings back together again to make one whole ring. The gimmal ring might be a practical idea for you and your husband if he isn’t thrilled by jewelry, or if circumstances dictate that you have to spend long stretches of time apart.
The Modern Ring
Today, you will find many of your friends buying round solitaire diamonds. Solitaires are the standard for contemporary brides. But for you, getting what you love should be your top priority. Whether it is a traditional style, passed down to you from your fiancé’s grandmother or an über-trendy tattoo ring, only you can decide what will work best with your own unique sense of style and priorities.
You must decide which wedding traditions to keep and which to toss. Just remember that the ring really is truly a symbol of your fiancé’s love, one you can look at every day.
Lisa is a special needs teacher and a hugger. She always makes time for everyone and lightens up everybody’s lives with her presence. When she is not chasing her students around the yard, she finds time to write about what she truly loves, and you guessed it, its people and relationships.