Wondering about the traditions behind the wedding ring finger, and whether or not to buck that custom and try something new? Here’s everything you need to know about how to wear your engagement, wedding or promise ring.
Ring Finger Meaning
The tradition of wearing an engagement and/or wedding ring on the fourth finger of the left hand is a romantic one—but the meaning is totally untrue.
Kristen Lawler-Trustey, a spokeswoman for jewelry brand Forevermark, explains that the ancient Romans believed this finger had a vein that ran directly to the heart—the Vena Amoris, or “Vein of Love.” So of course, couples in love should wear the symbol of their love and devotion on that lifeline.
Today, we know there’s no such vein (although we still love the story!), yet the tradition of wearing the engagement and wedding ring on the fourth finger of the left hand continues here in the US. But there are some countries, says Zaven Ghanimian, CEO of Simon G Jewelry, where the ring finger of the right hand is the more popular choice for brides and grooms to wear their rings, like in Russia, Greece and Colombia.
Want to know more about which finger and hand to wear your wedding, engagement or promise ring? Read on.
Wedding Ring Finger
Wedding rings are a sweet symbol of eternal love throughout history.
“The tradition of wedding rings came about in Egypt, about 4,800 years ago,” Ghanimian says. “The circle symbolizes eternity, with no beginning or end. What most people don’t know is that the hole in the center of the ring also has significance—it’s not just space, but rather a gateway or door. When you give a woman a ring, it signifies immortal love.”
A bride and groom typically exchange rings during their wedding ceremony, placing the ring on each other’s wedding ring finger—the fourth finger of the left hand—after saying their vows.
There are no rules on which metal your wedding rings must be made of, or whether or not they should match. Some couples choose to have their wedding date or a romantic phrase inscribed in their bands.You can opt for simple bands or more elaborate ones with stones or designs.
Engagement Ring Finger
It wasn’t until more recently that engagement rings appeared on the scene.
“The first recorded use of a diamond engagement ring occurred in 1477, when Archduke Maximilian of Austria presented Mary of Burgundy with a ring featuring hogback diamonds (modern-day baguette diamonds) arranged in the shape of the Gothic letter M,” Lawler-Trustey says.
His engagement ring choice then sparked a trend—for more than one reason.
“Diamonds have long been an unwavering symbol of a couple’s eternal love and commitment to one another,” Lawler-Trustey says. “A diamond is the hardest and most durable naturally occurring substance found on Earth, making it the perfect choice to represent enduring, everlasting love and the promise of forever. Each diamond is also incredibly rare and unique. No two diamonds are alike, just as each couple’s love has its own unique story.”
Still, diamonds aren’t a requirement for an engagement ring. For example, Duchess of Cambridge Kate Middleton has a blue sapphire, Carrie Underwood has a canary yellow diamond and Jessica Simpson has a red ruby.They can have other gemstones, or whatever else suits your sense of style.
Tradition also has it that a man proposes and women are typically the ones who wear engagement rings as a symbol of their acceptance. But there’s no rule that says a man can’t wear one as well.
“Today, especially with same-sex marriage, it is not uncommon to see a man wearing an engagement ring,” Lawler-Trustey says.
Which Finger Do You Wear Your Wedding Ring On?
The first thing to note is that married people typically wear their wedding bands closer to their hearts—in other words, below the engagement ring.If you’re planning your wedding and looking down at that sparkler, you’re probably wondering how you’ll wear your engagement ring on your wedding day.
Probably the most popular way to swing this is to move your engagement ring to your right hand for your walk down the aisle. That way, your fiance can slide your wedding band onto your left hand, and you can then later place your engagement ring on top of it.
“Usually people have slightly larger ring sizes on the right hand, but as long as it is within a quarter of size, this should work,” Ghanimian says. If the engagement ring is too big or too small to do this—or you just don’t want to take the engagement ring off (and risk losing it!)—it’s okay to put your band above your engagement ring. Some brides even have the wedding band soldered to the engagement ring, so it becomes one piece of jewelry, and represents the marital bond.
After the wedding day, wear your engagement and wedding rings however you like them best. Again, the most popular way in the US is to have them both on the ring finger of the left hand with your wedding band first, but you can separate them and wear them on opposite hands, or you can wear your wedding band solo.
“Many women are wearing their wedding bands solo as an excuse to start a collection of bands that they then stack on their right hand,” Lawler-Trustey says. “Some women are even receiving more than one wedding band on the day of the wedding to surround their engagement ring. Another trend we’ve seen is forgoing the traditional engagement ring altogether and requesting a beautiful diamond eternity band.”
Ghanimian agrees that breaking engagement ring rules makes your choice even more unique.
“There may be traditions, but there are no rules!” Ghanimian says. “Everyone can express their personal preferences individually through wedding jewelry.”
Promise Ring Finger
Unlike engagement and wedding rings, the promise ring is a tradition dating back to the 16th century that’s commonly misunderstood, since the ring used to signify the promise that an engagement would ensue. Now, that’s not always the case, since some couples might not be ready for impending marriage, but want to show their commitment somehow.
Today, a promise ring can have any number of personal meanings; typically it’s a symbol of an exclusive relationship and/or of love.
“The gifting of promise rings has been an age-old tradition , for couples who are in a steady relationship, and symbolizing their newfound love and commitment to each other,” Lawler-Trustey says.
It can also mean the couple has promised to one day get married. Or in the case of purity rings, they may have promised to remain virgins until their wedding day.
Some believe a promise ring is a pre-engagement ring—and while it isn’t always, it can be.
“Many times, engagement rings inspire responses of ‘How did he propose, when’s the date, what are your colors and where are you getting married?’ If you don’t want to jump into the wedding planning process, a couple may choose to go with a promise ring,” Ghanimian says. “It’s a symbol that marriage is where the relationship is headed eventually, when you’re both ready.”
So, on which finger does a promise ring go? There’s no hard and fast rule here. Some couples use the same finger as the engagement and wedding rings—the fourth finger of the left hand—but since this isn’t an official engagement, others opt for a different finger.
If you wear your promise ring on your left hand, once you get married, the tradition is to move the promise ring to your right hand ring finger, Lawler-Trustey says.