People in the modern world wear rings as a sign of affection and commitment to a relationship, be it a friendship, company or spouse. However, the meanings of specific types of rings and where they are worn differ between countries and cultures. For instance, a ring worn on the right hand in the United States will bear a different consequence than in India.
In the ancient world, rings were a symbol of authority, used to show wealth and power. People in authority worn signet rings to prove their identity and authority, but also to mark edicts and letters sealed with wax and marked by the signet to authenticate it to the receiver. The Romans started the trend of giving rings as a symbol of marital status and wore them on the right hand.
In much of the Western world, it is traditional to wear a wedding ring on the left-hand ring finger. However, in nations around the world, wedding rings are worn on the right ring finger. Eastern Orthodox Christians, like those in Greece, continue the tradition of the Romans in this manner. Countries in the Far East, such as India, have their own reasons for wearing a ring on the right hand, which started as a tradition of wearing a wedding ring on the right-foot toe. The custom evolved into wearing it on the right hand after its inclusion in the British Empire.
According to "USA Today," a movement started as recently as 2002 in the U.S. of wealthy unmarried women purchasing large rings for themselves. Instead of waiting for a man to purchase the envy-inducing diamond ring of her dreams, a single woman purchases her own diamond or other precious stone ring. She then wears the ring on her right ring finger with the regularity most people wear their wedding ring as a symbol of her wealth and independence.
It is not only in American culture that a ring on the right ring finger could signal single status. In Ireland, the claddagh ring is a popular symbol of friendship and loyalty. Worn on the left ring finger, it typically signifies commitment to a romantic partner. However, when worn on the right ring finger it can symbolize openness to pursuing a romantic relationship or single status without interest in romance, depending upon which way the claddagh’s heart points.
It is a popular concept among jewelry aficionados that each finger upon which a ring is worn has a different meaning. According to Wellstone Jewelry, there is “the significance, symbolism and meaning of where we place the ring, on which finger, right hand or left, and what is the significance, symbolism and meaning of any given choice.” For example, a wedding ring worn on the left ring finger symbolizes and emphasizes creativity and self-expression in marriage, while wearing it on the left ring finger symbolizes and values propriety and self-analysis, Wellstone says.
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- “Rings: Symbols of Wealth, Power and Affection”; Diana Scarisbrick; 1993
- The Knot: Ceremony—Eastern Orthodox Wedding Rituals
- "USA Today": Right-Hand Rings Signal Single Status
- Kai Jewels: Claddagh Ring History and Meaning
- Wellstone Jewelry: Symbolism, Significance and Meaning of Rings on the Five Fingers
Based in Southern California, Daniel Holzer has been a freelance writer specializing in labor issues, personal finance and green living since 2004. His recent work has appeared online at Green Your Apartment and other websites. Holzer studied English literature at California State University, Fullerton.
hand touching necklace ring jewelry pearl finger wedding image by Paul Retherford from Fotolia.com