The Evolution of Wedding Bands: From Ancient Times to Modern Day
Everyone knows that wedding bands are staples for any wedding. Usually, there are at least three rings: the engagement ring, the women's wedding ring, and the men's wedding ring. With modern technology and jewelers who have studied their craft for years, any couple can buy or design the ring of their dreams. Simple or ornate, traditional or contemporary, it doesn't matter.
The possible combinations between gemstones, materials, and styles are endless. Wedding bands are available to meet the needs of any couple and their personal style.
But it wasn't always this way. Wedding rings have existed in one form or another for a long time, but the styles and materials have evolved over time. Wedding rings, as a tradition, span many cultures. This seemingly simple act of gifting a piece of jewelry has grown and changed over time, starting with the ancient Egyptians and ending up as the wedding bands you know and love today.
Wedding Bands in Ancient Egypt
The first recorded evidence of a formal exchange of rings dates back 3,000 years to ancient Egypt. These first rings were normally made of hemp or reeds, which predictably didn't last long. Often the rings were later replaced by leather or ivory. More expensive rings were thought to show more love and prove the giver's wealth.
The symbolism behind these Egyptian rings is fascinating. Ancient Egyptians believed rings symbolized everlasting love because a circle has no beginning or end. The circle also invoked the image of an ouroboros, or a snake swallowing its own tail. Rings depicting the ouroboros were common. This snake represents the eternal cycle and unity of all things. Additionally, the open space in the middle of the band was thought to represent a gateway to the unknown.
Wedding Rings in Ancient Greece and Rome
After Alexander the Great conquered Egypt, the tradition of giving rings gained popularity in Greece. These rings often depicted Eros, the god of love. When the Romans conquered Greece, the tradition was adopted by the Romans.
In Rome, the custom evolved, and wedding rings made from iron and copper became popular. These stronger materials represented a couple's strength and the permanence of their relationship. Later on, gold and silver became the new standard for the wealthy. The Romans were also responsible for starting the tradition of engraving rings.
Wedding rings are typically worn on the 4th finger of the left hand. Now called the ring finger, ancient people believed that this finger contained a vein called the vena amoris, that led straight to the heart. Putting a wedding ring on that finger symbolized the love the couple shared.
We now we know that the idea is outdated and untrue, but the tradition persists. Couples still wear wedding bands on their ring finger, which symbolizes love and commitment.
Medieval and Renaissance Wedding Rings
Medieval times saw the rise of the gimmel ring, a type of ring with interlocking parts that coil together and can be taken apart to be worn as two or three separate rings. These were especially popular in the 16th and 17th centuries. Each person would wear one part of the ring, and during the wedding ceremony, the man would take his ring off and reunite it with his wife's ring on her finger.
Gimmel rings with a Claddagh motif were very popular. These rings depicted a pair of hands holding a heart. Each hand and the heart were on separate rings and could be worn separately or all together.
Elaborate rings were very popular during this time. Some rings had detailed engravings of the couple or other symbols. Around this same time period, ornate silver poesy rings gained popularity. Often poetry was inscribed on the inside or outside of the band. Engraving on the inside kept the message private and close to the wearer.
This time period also saw the rise of precious and semi-precious gems used in rings. Different types of gems held typically had specific meanings. Rubies represented passion. Sapphires represented the heavens. And diamonds represented strength.
Rise of Diamond Wedding Rings
Because diamonds are one of the hardest substances, it's easy to see why it is commonly associated with an unbreakable bond. But diamond rings were not the standard until relatively recently.
The oldest recorded diamond wedding ring was from the late 1300s or 1400s when an English widow left her ring in her will. Other known diamond rings were owned by royalty, including Queen Elizabeth I and Mary, Queen of Scots. Diamond engagement rings gained popularity in Victorian times because of Queen Victoria's well-known love of diamonds.
The modern popularity of diamonds in engagement and wedding bands was actually because of a marketing campaign in the 1940s. De Beers, a diamond company, launched a massive marketing campaign that used movies and celebrities to sell diamond rings. As a result, in 1939, only 10% of women-owned diamond rings, but that number jumped up to 80% by 1990. Even now, diamond engagement rings and wedding rings are wildly popular.
Where did Engagement Rings Come From?
Originally there were no engagement rings, only wedding rings. Getting married in medieval England was as simple as a man offering a woman a ring and her accepting it. No clergy or witnesses were even necessary. Unfortunately, this made proving and keeping track of marriages difficult. One or both of the people in the couple could easily deny the marriage took place.
In the 12th century, the Christian church declared marriage a holy sacrament and created an official ceremony. As a result, men were no longer allowed to place a ring on a woman's finger without the intent to marry her. Many historians believe this may have led to the creation of engagement rings. Wedding rings were seen as more official, while engagement rings were seen as personal.
When Did Men Start Wearing Rings?
The church pushed for men to wear rings along with their wives in an effort to keep them faithful. But this didn't catch on until World War II when soldiers started to wear rings to remind them of their wives or girlfriends back home. The trend eventually caught on with civilians as well. Today it’s standard practice for men to wear wedding bands along with their wives.
Modern Meanings of the Wedding Band
The wedding band and all its symbolism have come a long way. From Ancient Egypt to today, the styles, materials, and symbols have changed many times over. But the wedding band stands the test of time, and the basic principles have stayed the same.
Today, wedding bands are a symbol of love, devotion, and commitment. They act as a statement of partnership and a symbol of your strength as a couple and individuals. Of course, they also add a beautiful piece to your wardrobe.
Ready to Design a Ring of Your Own?
Having a symbol of your love that you can wear daily is why this tradition has endured and is still a standard practice today. So when you're shopping for a wedding ring, or admiring the one you already have, remember how far this tradition has come and appreciate the connection you now have with people thousands of years ago.
Whether you are inspired by ancient designs or more modern ones, we can help you design or choose the engagement ring or anniversary right of your dreams!