For eager brides-to-be around the world, much is made of the engagement ring. A symbol of enduring and true love, it is given to show that a woman has accepted the proposal of a man. Wearing an engagement ring signifies that you have entered into an agreement to be wed. A wedding ring on the other hand is a symbol of the covenant that you have have made one to another. Both are meaningful pieces of jewelry, but they have several differences.
Interpretation of archaeological finds suggest that engagement rings have been around since practically the dawn of man. It is believed that the engagement ring may have begun as a ring of reeds that was meant to bind a woman, quite literally, so that she could not get away from her groom. Later civilizations saw the rise of more ornate and less oppressive tokens of love. It is believed that the early Greeks gave betrothal rings, which may or may not always have resulted in a marriage, but were meant to signify true love.
The wedding ring is believed to date back to ancient Egyptian times. Rings were made from reeds found along the Nile River. They were fashioned into circles, which were meant to symbolize eternity and life. Wedding rings were worn on the third finger of the left hand, much as they are today, because it was believed that there was a vein in this finger that ran directly to the heart.
The Engagement Ring
In modern society, an engagement ring is typically presented to a woman by the man who is asking her to become his wife. The ring is meant to be a token of his affection and a sign of the life that he intends to provide for her in the years to come. Common practice states that the price of the ring should be approximately the equivalent of two months' salary for the man. A modern day engagement ring is typically made from gold or platinum, and features at least one diamond of a substantial size. Diamonds are said to be forever, and presenting a woman with a ring that contains one signifies the length and depth of your love.
Historically speaking, diamond engagement rings are a fairly new trend. Up until about the 1900's, it was very common to see other gemstones and even pearls used in an engagement ring. This was due partly to the relative scarcity of diamonds, and partly to the meanings imbued to other stones.
The Wedding Ring
In contrast, the wedding ring is a band that is worn on the same finger as the engagement ring but typically has a partner ring on the hand of the man. Traditionally, a wedding ring is a plain band of gold or platinum. It is smooth and without adornment, to symbolize the way that your life together should be--smooth and without end. In modern times, presenting the wedding ring, and placing it on the finger of the bride (and groom) is part of the actual wedding ceremony. In earlier times, the wedding ring would not be presented until after the groom had brought his bride home. In Roman times, a man would give his wife a ring to wear in order to show that he trusted her with his valuables.
Today, it is not uncommon for the engagement ring and the wedding ring to be purchased concurrently. Many modern wedding rings contain stones and other details, which make them every bit as ornate and beautiful as the engagement ring that they follow. The intricacy of these rings can make them hard to fit together, so many young couples now opt for bridal sets, which are made to be worn as a match.
Rings for Men
Historically speaking, men did not wear wedding rings. With a man's wife being equal parts his partner and his property, men were not expected to display their marital status through their jewelry. Around the time of the second World War it became the custom for men to be presented a wedding band as well, before they went off to war. The ring was to serve as a reminder of the family that they were leaving behind, and to cheer them in dark times.
Today, some men even boast engagement rings. Changes in the times have led to some women even being the ones to "pop the question". Many of these women, in the interest of staying true to the tradition, present their intended with a diamond ring that is a masculine echo of the traditional feminine engagement ring.