If you like it then you shoulda put a ring on it…Posted by: Ashley Birch
Zoe Lewis, jeweller and gemmologist at PA Jewellery, examines the tradition and lasting appeal of wedding rings
The exchanging of rings is an integral part of the wedding ceremony and one of the most important parts of the big day, but where does this tradition come from and why do we wear them?
The first evidence dates back at least 5,000 years to Ancient Egypt, where the rings were made from braided reeds, the complete circle representing eternity. The rings quickly degraded so reeds were soon replaced by more durable materials such as leather and bone. In the Roman Empire, iron was a common choice although wealthier people used gold; the ring was an important part of the marriage contract between families.
It was worn on the fourth finger of the bride’s left hand, still the traditional ring finger, because it was believed that a vein known as the ‘Vena Amoris’ ran directly from this finger to the heart. Although disproved by science, this romantic notion is still often cited as a reason for wearing the wedding ring in this position.
The tradition became absorbed into the Christian marriage ceremony during the Middle Ages. Over the centuries more precious metals were used and designs increased in complexity with valuable materials acting as a demonstration of wealth. Gemstones were added to the designs, special messages engraved and detailed scrollwork and patterns carved into the bands.
Only in the twentieth century did it become commonplace for men to wear wedding rings. During World War II, soldiers who were away fighting overseas chose to wear a ring as a comforting reminder of their loving families back home. Subsequently, jewellery for men became more fashionable and it is now so expected that when Prince William chose not to have a wedding ring, it made the news!
Wartime economising was also one of the reasons why plain bands became popular. Additionally, more simple designs enabled people to wear their ring all the time, and as women were increasingly receiving engagement rings, the wedding ring did not need to be so ornate. The yellow gold D-shape band became the default choice for most of the twentieth century.
Nowadays, the range of options available for wedding rings is enormous and many people are personalising their choice. Precious metals such as gold and platinum are still most common, but alternatives like titanium are increasingly popular.
A huge array of patterns and finishes are available, with or without diamonds or other gemstones. Many brides are choosing to match their engagement ring with a wedding band handmade to fit or a design that echoes the shape, profile and style of the existing ring.
We have certainly come a long way since the braided reeds of the Ancient Egyptians, but the meaning remains very much the same.
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