When a happy couple picks out an engagement ring or their wedding bands, I often get the question of which hand does either ring go on, which order do they sit, and so on. The short answer? It depends. A lot of cultures and/or religions have their own beliefs on which hands and fingers engagement rings and wedding bands sit upon. If you really want to delve into the content, though, then that is what we’re here for today. America has its own traditions as well, and that is what this blog will be primarily focusing on with a nod to what other countries, cultures, and religions adhere to. I want to educate my customers, not only on what is customary here in our great country, but also around the world, as to allow them to choose which path works best for them. Maybe you’re originally from another country, or have a rich heritage you wish to represent, or just maybe it could be as simple as you think a specific way will work easiest with your lifestyle. There are no right or wrong ways to wear your engagement ring – only what works best for you.
Which finger do you wear an engagement ring?
“Which finger would be considered your engagement ring finger?” “Which finger is your wedding finger?” We’ve already gone in-depth about types of engagement rings and picking the center stone, among other similar topics. One topic, however, that we have yet to touch on is which finger would be considered the ‘proper’ finger to wear your engagement ring. As stated earlier, culture, region, or religion can have different opinions. In American culture, though, wearing your wedding ring on the 4 th finger of the left hand is considered the norm. The question that I’m usually followed with after explaining this is “Why?” This sequence of questions is very typical for couples looking to take the next step in their relationship, and as always, I welcome any questions from my clients. The easy answer: Tradition. We have been choosing that finger on that hand so long because that’s the way it’s always been done as long as any of us can remember. However, I do not enjoy leaving my customers with that watered-down answer, when there’s a rich history that can be introduced to them. When delving into the history of the engagement ring, we need to turn the hands back on the clock to ancient times.
It’s considered fact by many historians that engagement rings go as far back as ancient Egypt, who then passed their traditions on to the Greeks. It was the Romans, however, who were the first to record the rules and traditions about engagement rings. The Romans wrote that all engagement rings were to be worn on the left hand, on the 4 th finger, or as we know it today, the ring finger. This was because the Romans believed there was a vein that ran from your 4 th finger that ran all the way to your heart. It was given a name as well – vena amoris – which literally meant “Vein of Love.” We have no proven that this isn’t true, but wasn’t it just romantic of the ancient Romans to connect a significant meaning as to why they chose that finger? These rings were typically more like the wedding bands of today, but they were most certainly given before the wedding. Diamond engagement rings, like the ones we see today, were actually not a popular choice until the 1470’s when Maximillian I gave his betrothed (Mary of Burgundy) a diamond engagement ring at her request, the day before they were married. They had a happy and successful marriage, and thus, the idea that diamonds were the trend to follow when getting an engagement ring was born.
Even with such a rich history, it is the person wearing the ring that ultimately decides upon which finger and which hand the ring goes. I often joke with my clients that if they have family from different regions of the world, or that have religions that do something different from the norm, that they’re lucky. They get more options to choose from.
Why is the engagement ring worn on the ring finger?
As earlier discussed, the American status quo is that the engagement ring is worn on the left ring finger, the 4 th finger starting from the thumb. To summarize, this was a tradition left behind by the ancient Romans (following suit after the ancient Egyptians and Greeks) and their belief in the “vein of love.”
Earlier, I mentioned that cultures and religions have different variances with how they handle engagement and wedding rings. Catholics, for example, traditionally wear their engagement rings on their right ring finger, while Protestants typically wear them on their left ring finger. Many people of Western European countries, save for Ireland, tend to wear their engagement rings on the right hand. Meanwhile, Chile, a South American country has a unique tradition when it comes to engagement rings and wedding bands. For the people of Chile, both the man and woman receive an engagement ring worn on the right hand, and the day of their wedding the ring switches from right ring finger to left. This change is important, as it signifies a rite of passage from being engaged to being married.
Some cultures don’t present rings for engagements at all. Kenyans present extravagant jewelry to show that they’re in a committed relationship. Hindus choose to show they’re engaged by wearing a toe ring, called a Bichiya. In this culture, they choose to do a toe ring because when the woman is on her feet the pressure of the ring is on a nerve that’s connected to the reproductive system and keeps it healthy. Indian culture chooses to show commitment to marriage by wearing a lot of glass, gold, and iron bracelets.
Last but most certainly not least, the one tradition that almost everyone knows is the wearing of the Claddagh Ring, in Irish culture. This ring is a stone in the shape of a heart, with a crown at the top, and hands that form the band, making it look as though the hands are “holding” the heart stone. When you are not single, you wear it on your ring hand with the crown facing toward the body. Once you’ve entered a serious relationship, you turn the ring so that it’s now facing toward your significant other. When the lucky individual gets engaged, they transfer the ring from the right hand to the left hand with the crown facing toward them once again. Finally, on the big day, the heart is turned once again toward the body on the left hand.
So now you’re able to see that the options are virtually endless for how one can show off and celebrate their engagement. If it works for you, run with it. Remember, the most important people in the relationship is the couple within it.
What hand do you choose for the wedding band?
If a customer doesn’t know what hand the engagement ring goes on, then you can almost guarantee that they will be equally as curious about which hand is the wedding ring hand. As I’ve stated numerous times, I love educating my clients and I am more than happy to include them in the conversation. After all, what good is having knowledge about a topic if you aren’t going to spread that knowledge to others?
Now, one may thing that the exact same rules apply to the wedding bands as they apply to engagement rings, but this isn’t always the case. Even the wedding band history is different than that of the engagement ring. Although they may have both gotten their starts in Ancient Egypt, their stories definitely differ. They would exchange gifts to profess their love, usually in the form of rings. These rings were usually made of reed or leather, not gold or other precious metals that we use today. These rings were given to each other as gifts of devotion and weren’t necessarily given on the day of their wedding, however. No matter when these gifts were given, though, they had a huge significance to their culture. The Egyptians viewed the ring as symbols of love, connection, and eternal life, due to their shape. The circle, as we know, has no beginning or end. They used that ring to symbolize their commitment, and there was no end to the feelings of love they had for one another. A little-known fact, though, is that the hole inside the circle, where your finger goes, represents all the openings into heir future or into the world unknown.
As we move forward through time, we see that the Ancient Greeks and Romans used wedding bands as well. They did go about it a bit differently than that of the Egyptians of their time, but the overall idea was very much the same. The Romans were the ones that connected the symbols of faithfulness to the actual marriage, a tradition that holds even today.
Wedding Bands typically go on the left ring finger, much like the engagement ring. They also go on the inside of the engagement ring. The reasoning behind that, is that the wedding band is meant to be closest to your heart.
Which one is worn first? The Wedding Ring, or the Engagement Ring?
This is another question I get fairly often, and usually as the wedding day itself draws nearer. Most couples don’t want to feel awkward in front of their loved ones and friends while trying to get everything situated, and rightfully so! For the best clarity, we’re going to start this conversation by jumping to after the wedding day, first.
Once the big day is complete and you’re now a happily married couple, you will be wearing both your engagement ring and your wedding band. IT’s tradition to wear them both on the same finger, on the left ring finger. From here, there are two choices: One possibility is that you put the wedding band on first and the engagement ring after that. The reasoning behind this is, as stated earlier, we want to have the wedding ring the closest ring to your heart, since that is the ring that is the pledge of your eternal unity. The second option is putting the engagement ring on first, and the wedding band on top of it. The thought process behind this idea is that the engagement ring and engagement period came before the wedding band, and the wedding band on the outside symbolizes the many happy years to follow.
Either choice is completely appropriate but be sure to have that decision ready for the big day. If you’re choosing to wear the engagement ring first, then you’re set. Just go through the ceremony and add the wedding band at the exchanging of the rings, do the big kiss at the end, and head over to the reception. If you decide to wear your wedding band first, then there’s an effortless way to make that happen. Before the ceremony, switch your engagement ring to your right ring finger, and have your left ring finger free and ready to have the wedding band slid on during the exchanging of rings portion of the ceremony. After you finish walking up the aisle, now married to your significant other, you can switch the engagement ring from the right finger to the left, on top of the newly placed wedding band. From here, you’re now set, not only for the rest of the evening, but depending on how often you take it off, maybe even for life.
If you have questions about how often one should take off their rings or clean them, please refer to this blog post: How often should you clean your engagement ring?
A Men's Guide to Wearing Rings
Don’t worry men, we didn’t forget about you! For the men, all that was stated in the engagement ring portion of this blog rings true. Most men in America choose to wear their wedding band on their left ring finger, if they wear one at all. There’s a growing fad that married men don’t even wear their wedding band after the big day. Of course, cultures, region, and religions can influence these choices and cause a gentleman to choose a different hand or finger. I believe that as long as you’re comfortable and ready to show off your ring, you can’t go wrong.
Sometimes I feel like I’m repeating myself in some instances, but that’s because I want to ensure that all the knowledge I have is left here for you to take in and consider. For now, I shall leave you with this: At the end of the day, it’s all about what makes you happy. There are always “supposed to” or “what is usually done” but think of those as guidelines that can be followed as closely or loosely as you and your significant other pleases. After all, they are your special pieces that symbolize your love for each other. No rules or directions can change that.
Why should I come to you to design my ring?
We involve you in every step of the creation process here at Wedding Bands and Co. First, we will sit with you and go over any concerns you may have, as well as take in any design directions and design elements you may have for your ring. Once we’ve established how we want it to look, we will proceed with the design process. Once you’ve seen the design, you may make any changes you see fit, as well as taking the time to answer your questions and address your concerns. Our rule is to help you create the perfect ring, and that means we are here to listen to you to make sure that your engagement ring and wedding ring is one of a kind and made specifically for you.
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By: Koorosh Daneshgar CEO/Design Chief