Traditions ebb and flow throughout history, but certain things are truly timeless. Wedding rings have been around for thousands of years, and although wedding ring styles and materials may change, their stature as a symbol of love and commitment remains.
The history of wedding rings is a fascinating one. Today's wedding rings are very different from those exchanged by our ancestors, but in many ways the meaning behind them is still the same. We wear rings that connect us to one another and tell our stories, just as men and women have been doing since ancient times.
Will the Circle Be Unbroken
Tracing the history of wedding rings gives us a close look at the ring's symbolic meaning. The ring—a circle—has had symbolic significance throughout human history. Circles represent totality, wholeness and unity, as well as eternity and timelessness. A circle is infinite. It has no beginning and no end, and as a symbol of love, it has come to represent eternal love.
Rings can represent human love as well as God's love. Their meaning is similar in Christianity as it in eastern religions and ancient mythologies. The circle's perfect symmetry and never-ending existence make it a symbol for Heaven, and its perfect balance makes it an emblem for God.
The Vein of Love
Evidence suggests that the history of wedding rings began in ancient Egypt, about 6,000 years ago. The ancient Egyptians were among the first known people to exchange wedding rings. Much like today, the circle in ancient Egypt was considered to be a symbol of eternity, which made wedding rings the perfect tokens to signify the eternal love of the spouses who wore them.
It was also the ancient Egyptians who began the tradition of wearing a wedding ring on the fourth finger of the left hand, which today we refer to as the ring finger. It was believed by the Egyptians that this finger contained a special vein—vena amoris, or the "vein of love"—which connected directly to the human heart.
Wedding ring traditions and trends have changed in many ways throughout the centuries. Ancient Greece and Rome offer some of the earliest examples of wedding rings being worn in the western world. At first, wedding rings in ancient Greece and Rome were made of leather, ivory or bone. Metal rings eventually became popular with the ancient Romans, with the most common metal being iron. Gold and silver wedding rings were typically worn only by the very wealthy.
Over the next hundred years, there were many trends in the history of wedding rings. Fede rings were popular in Europe for centuries, rising to prominence especially in the 1100s. These rings were typified by a design with two hands clasped, and often had intricate designs. Today, the Irish Claddagh ring, which includes two hands holding a heart with a crown, is one of the last remaining examples of the fede ring.
During the 16th and 17th centuries, gimmel rings also became popular. These consisted of two interlocking bands, which would be separated throughout the engagement. One half of the ring is worn by the bride and the other half by the groom. At the wedding ceremony, the two bands would be reunited, and worn from then on by the wife.
Wedding Rings Today
Today's engagement and wedding rings share a lot with their predecessors but have some differences, both in appearance and in their meaning. For example, it wasn't until the 20th century that men wore wedding rings along with their brides. Up until that point, it was usually only the women who wore rings.
There were also chapters in history when wedding bands were seen almost as a mark of ownership, rather than the symbol of committed partnership that they are today. That much, fortunately, has changed. Today, the importance of wedding wings as a symbol of eternal love between two committed partners is almost universally understood. It's also just as deeply cherished for men as it is for women.
At Rustic & Main, we believe in crafting unique, one-of-a-kind wedding rings for men and women, which symbolize your love and tell your story. To start designing a ring that represents the shared history of you and your fiancée, message our live chat team today. If you're still deciding on the perfect ring style, take our ring style quiz to get inspired!