Wondering who came up with the idea of wedding rings?
While wedding rings are considered a symbol of love and also a symbol of the vows made between partners to be in each other’s lives, for as long as they live, the wedding rings don’t always have a positive reputation, with some people deeming them as modern day handcuffs that people intentionally cuff themselves to for life (or until they are set apart by death or divorce).
Wedding rings have been around for as long as anyone can recall, or forever, as most people note, and so, the idea of giving them up as a symbol of vows exchange in weddings at the start of marriages is not something that anyone can wipe off their lives easily.
For most married people, the wedding ring is the ultimate symbol of their commitment to each other. This has always been the case and in all religious and cultural settings.
The big question, however, isn’t how long the ring will be used as a symbol of love and commitment, but where exactly did this tradition originate from? And how did it come to be?
Well, more on this in this article. So, keep reading.
When were wedding rings invented?
It is believed that the first wedding rings were made close to 5,000 years ago in ancient Egypt. This is because it is thought that the ancient Egyptians are considered the first known culture where people exchanged rings of love to symbolize their love and commitment to each other. These rings were made of either leather or woven reeds.
The Egyptians came up with the idea of the ring’s circular shape, a circle, which they consider the most powerful symbol. Therefore, the band, with no beginning or end, symbolized love, eternal life, and an opening or gateway to the unknown world.
Therefore, rings were an important part of the ancient Egyptian cultures, and the most common designs were the signets and the scarabs.
Where did the tradition of wedding rings come from?
The tradition of wedding rings dates back to Ancient Egypt. These rings were exchanged between partners and were worn on the 4th finger of the couple’s left hand because of the ancient belief that there existed a vein called the ‘vein of love’ running from the 4th finger directly to the heart.
However, wedding rings became a staple once they were adopted by the ancient Romans, who are believed to have led to the modern ideas and practices of ring exchange during a wedding.
When did wedding rings start in America?
While the idea of formal marriage proposals wasn’t a thing or even an important ritual before the Middle Ages, it wasn’t until the 20th Century that Americans started to wear and adopted wedding rings as a way for couples to make their vows to each other.
The practice started in North America, and couples would give each other engagement rings encrusted with diamonds.
The Detailed History of the Wedding Band
According to the Gemological Institute of America, wedding rings were invented by the Ancient Egyptians. From their research, The Egyptian Pharaohs not only wore but also gave out rings as representations of eternity, where the full circle of the ring stood for their cultural beliefs, specifically the belief that the soul lives on, even after the body is deceased.
One of the earliest designs of the wedding ring that was created and common with the ancient Egyptians was the Ouroboros ring. This ring portrayed a popular Egyptian Motif in the form of a serpent (snake) swallowing its tail – this depiction symbolized the cycle of life.
Therefore, Ouroboros remains the oldest symbol of wedding rings from ancient Egypt. In Greek, Ouroboros means the ‘tail devourer.’ The modern design of the Ouroboros ring includes a snake with colored sapphire eyes, plus a diamond set on the serpent’s tail.
However, things changed a bit after Alexander the Great’s (The King of all Ancient Greece, previously called Macedonia) conquest of the Egyptians, and the result of this conquest was the Greeks’ adoption of the ring-giving tradition as a way for lovers to show their devotion for each other.
With the adoption of the wedding ring by the Greeks and the Ouroboros ring becoming mainstream, wedding rings became a staple for couples who were betrothed to each other.
But there were new rings designed and developed too, with most of the new rings by the Greeks depicting Cupid or Eros, the god of love.
Even after the Romans conquered the Greeks, the tradition and practices around the wedding rings lived on, but they improved on things by using copper and iron to make the rings which were given to the marrying couples during marriage ceremonies and celebrations.
Some of these iron rings featured specific motifs, most of which symbolized that the wife had control over the household goods now that she was married. The materials used to make rings changed over the years, but by the 2nd century CE, many wedding rings were made of gold.
And so, from the 3rd and the 4th centuries onwards, wedding rings were essentially made of gold. The gold rings not only grew more popular, but they also were so much more luxurious in their style elements, and they often represented and flaunted the wealth and the status of the ring giver.
Around the same time, the ring style called the fede ring was born. The fede ring featured two right hands that were clasped together, and this ring style symbolized friendship, a partnership, and for others, a marriage contract.
As this ring style was in vogue at the time, most of these ring designs were rendered in luxurious gold and then carved into gemstones as intaglios.
The most common gemstones used included garnets, onyx, amethyst, and the carnelian. The fede rings marked the beginning of personalized rings, most of which featured the owners’ carved portraits on the rings.
It’s worth noting that in addition to adopting the tradition of wedding rings, the Ancient Egyptians’ belief of the ring finger being connected to the heart was also adopted by the Greeks and the Romans.
So, the Romans also wore their wedding rings on the left hand’s 4th finger, and this finger would later be called the ring finger, a practice that lives on to date.
Medieval and the Renaissance Wedding Rings and the Evolution of Wedding Rings
The rings from the Medieval Times were made of luxurious materials like gold, and the wedding rings were also set with different precious stones. For the Medieval Europeans, the wedding rings were set with rubies because rubies represent passion.
Others were set with diamonds, the strongest gemstone representing steadfast strength, or even the sapphires that symbolize the heavens. Also, throughout Medieval Europe, the portrait and fede rings by the Romans were very popular.
And then, in the 1600s, most of the fede ring motifs were incorporated into the gimmel rings (gimmel rings refer to the rings made of two or even three interlocking metal bands).
As a result, lovers would wear one band each during their engagement period, and during the wedding ceremony, the groom would give his ring to the bride, uniting the two rings, forming a matching ring set. The complete rings during the wedding ceremony featured two hands holding each other, symbolizing the union.
Still, in the 1600s, the fede ring’s motif evolved, becoming the now infamous, Claddagh ring. The Claddagh ring is characterized by two hands holding a (fragile) heart.
And soon after that, there were many designs of Gimmel rings featuring a Claddagh motif – these rings featured a third band at the center, and this added band held and showed off the gemstone clasped by cupped hands.
As the Claddagh ring motifs grew popular, a new ring style came to life, the poesy rings. The Poesy or Posy rings were quite common during the Elizabethan and the Renaissance Eras – these rings featured poetic inscriptions, either on the inside or the outside of the ring/ band.
In Colonial America, however, the Puritans considered jewelry and the notions behind the jewelry to be frivolous.
So, the Puritan husbands opted to give their wives thimbles rather than rings. And after the wedding ceremonies, the Puritan wives used the thimbles to sew textiles and clothes for their homes. Their wives would then saw off the thimbles’ tops, forming wives.
What about diamond rings as wedding rings?
While rings made of reeds and leather came first and were followed by iron rings, then the more luxurious gold and gold-set gemstone rings, it wasn’t until 300BCE that women started wearing diamond-wearing rings.
Well, this is according to the oldest surviving accounts and uncovered diamond jewelry. It is believed that the first record of a diamond ring goes as far back as the late 100s CE.
This ring was discovered in Rome, and this was at a time when the diamonds set on rings were uncut, and they were only valued based on their hardness and not the stone’s brilliance.
However, the very first account of diamond wedding rings goes to the early 1300s or maybe the early 1400s – this wedding ring is believed to have been left behind in a will by an English widow.
There also exists a poem from a 1475 wedding. The poem is believed to be about 2 Italian socialites – Two Wills, Two Hearts, Two Passions, bonded by a diamond in one marriage (not verbatim).
However, the very first popular account involving a diamond ring (engagement) is from 1477 – the diamond ring in question was given to Mary of Burgundy by her suitor, Austria’s Archduke Maximillian.
This ring was made of several small, flat-set diamonds laid out to spell M, Mary’s initial, and it was the fitting gift for her since the engagement would make her a duchess. At the time, Mary was also the most eligible bachelorette.
The diamond ring idea was adopted by others like the Duke of Alencon to Queen Elizabeth I. Also, Mary, the Queen of the Scots, got a diamond engagement ring from the Duke of Norfolk, Thomas. Diamond rings became increasingly popular from this time.
Changing Meaning of the wedding ring
Today, wedding and engagement rings are considered tokens of love. However, this wasn’t always the case. Until the last few centuries and as humanity (Homo sapiens) evolved, marriage wasn’t about love but a less formal affair. It hardly involved legal witnesses or official documentation.
And so, throughout the Middle Ages, the only thing that was needed for two people to be considered married was a verbal exchange that illustrated the commitment of the individuals – a wedding ring was used occasionally, and so, only the verbal commitment was needed for a couple to be declared married.
Things changed in the 12th century when the Christian church established that marriage was a ‘Holy Sacrament,’ which means that weddings would only be considered legal and official after the official ceremony that included placing a ring on the finger of the bride. But this didn’t mean that marriage took place between individuals in love.
Marriage was largely transactional and political – it was deemed an exchange between families rather than a commitment to a soulmate for the rest of their lives. So, a betrothal ring was used – it was given by the male party to prove their worth and also to show their commitment, which would be deemed legal.
Therefore, it is safe to say that the wedding ring has been a symbol of fidelity, love, authority, and family alliances over the years. There also exist early accounts of wedding rings given as payment, a requirement for marriage by law – and in lieu of real coins.
The wedding ring was also an important symbol a woman needed to show that she’d been granted access to the husband’s household.
Modern wedding rings trends
Today, wedding rings are key components in elaborate wedding ceremonies, where they symbolize love and are tokens that seal the promises that couples make to each other.
Also, both individuals getting married wear the wedding ring, and the ring designs and make up differ a great deal. An engagement ring is also given before the wedding, mainly to the lady, who gets to wear it alongside the wedding ring after the couple gets married.
The earliest engagement ring design that set the pace for today’s elegant and bold designs was created in 1883 by the founder of Tiffany &Co, Charles Louis Tiffany.
The diamond ring boasts the iconic Tiffany Setting, a solitaire diamond on a 4-prong setting. It remains one of the classic styles of engagement rings today.
Many other ring designs were created afterward, including the rings from the Edwardian and the Art Deco eras. These rings are still stylish, with some of these rings borrowed and incorporated into the modern engagement and wedding ring styles.
That said, plain wedding bands are still a preferred ring style for most people today. The rings are made of many other materials other than gold, such as platinum, sterling silver, tungsten, titanium, and palladium.
And today, the perfect wedding ring is the ring that feels right and perfect to the couple/ person getting married, not what’s considered a standard.
Wedding rings have evolved over the years, their meanings too, but for the most part, they are a form of promise or commitment – love, fidelity, alliances, etc.
Stephanie is a jewelry lover when she was a teenager. Her major was fashion design when she was in college. She is a jewelry designer at SOQ Jewelry and other design companies. Now she is also a writer for our website. She writes a lot of designs&brands posts with very actionable tips.