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The History of Wedding Rings

Jewelry shopping can be intimidating. That’s why we started Ask HOLDEN, our blog where we answer your FAQs, break down scary industry lingo, and guide you in finding the perfect piece of jewelry.

The History of Wedding Rings

We know that as a wedding ring company we’re a little biased when we say “but wedding rings are so interesting!” But…Trust us. They are! Ring wearing, while now almost exclusively a symbol of devotion to one’s partner (or soon-to-be spouse), actually has roots in ancient times - and had nothing to do with love at all (at least at first).

Ouroboros

The ancient Egyptian pharaohs (as far as we have evidence) were the first to wear rings. The rings depicted a snake devouring its own tail (what in Greek was called an ouroboros, literally - “tail devourer”). The ouroboros represented the eternal cycle of destruction and rebirth - which was an especially significant motif in Egyptian culture as it was tied directly to the annual flooding of the Nile which was vital for maintaining the fertility of the surrounding farmland.

As time wore on, Egyptians of all social classes exchanged rings made out of braided reeds and hemp as a symbol of their undying love and devotion to one another (again, circle=eternity). These rings would be worn on the fourth finger of the individual’s left hand as it was believed that there was a vein that ran directly from the finger to the heart. The Romans would later refer to this as the “vena amoris,” or “vein of love.” As we know now, there is no love vein, but the sentiment and tradition still carry on.

When the Greeks (led by Alexander the Great) conquered the Egyptians, the Greeks adopted the Egyptian tradition of ring exchanging. Rather than exchange rings made of reeds and hemp, the Greeks opted for materials such as iron and copper (and, later, gold during the 2nd century). The rings of the wives were often engraved with images of keys as a way to recognize the wife’s newfound control over her family’s household. This style of ring was known as a signet ring (which is still popular today).

Eros Signet Ring

When the Roman Empire conquered Greece, Roman jewelry makers began carving images of Eros (or Cupid) into the signet rings to show the couple’s love and devotion to one another. Sometimes, the couple’s portrait was even engraved into the ring.

The actual engraving that was carved into the ring is known as an intaglio (but the engraving itself can be anything). At first, the intaglios were carved from the metal of the ring and later on, when rings were set with precious gems in the Middle Ages, the intaglios were carved onto the gemstones themselves.

Fede Ring

Wedding rings became more and more lavish as time wore on. The Fede ring - which depicted two clasping hands - became increasingly popular.

The Gimmel Ring

Then came the Gimmel ring. In some cases, this ring paid homage to the Fede rings - as both rings depicted two interlocking hands, but what primarily distinguished the Gimmel ring was that it was made up of two separate, interlocking pieces. During a couple’s engagement, each partner would wear one of the two rings. Once the couple was officially wed, the bride would wear both rings on her finger.

Claddagh Ring

The Gimmel Ring inspired what became known as the Claddagh Ring. While similar in style to the Gimmel ring, the Claddagh ring depicted two hands joined together by a heart (rather than two hands clasping the other) and was made up of three distinct, interlocking bands.

Posy Ring

Another ring that rose to popularity during this time is known as the poesy ring - it was a simple band that was engraved with poetry (very much a Lord of the Rings style ring).

In Colonial America, the evolution of rings paused. Puritans believed any type of jewelry to be frivolous. Instead of gifting rings, husbands presented their wives with thimbles for sewing clothes and textiles. At some point, individuals would saw off the top of their thimbles to create their own simple band. Simple wedding bands became the norm for a long time and continued on into the early 1900s.

Women had consistently worn wedding bands throughout the centuries, but wedding rings for men were not always in fashion. It wasn’t until the beginning of the 20th century that it became once again popular for men to wear wedding bands. It served as a reminder of their wives and families when they were fighting overseas during WWII. 

Now, we're in an exciting point in wedding ring history because wedding and engagement rings are becoming popular for ALL genders and partners. Remember, wedding rings themselves don't actually have a gender - and you shouldn't let "fashion" dictate whether or not you want to wear a ring or not to commemorate your wedding or your engagement. RINGS FOR ALL! 

Want to read more? Check out some of our other blog posts:

AAPI Owned Wedding Businesses

Put a Ring On It: What the Placement of Your Ring Symbolizes

To Have and To Holden: Joseph and William's Unexpected Romance

Questions? Give us a shout at help@hiholden.com or a ring (pun intended) at 917.719.3634.