A symbol of the everlasting love and the perpetual bond that joins a man and a woman in marriage, the wedding ring has a vast and intricate history that few of us know well enough to truly appreciate. Since its first appearance in ancient Egypt nearly 5,000 years ago, the wedding ring has represented several facets of the traditional wedding vows, some of which will be outlined in this section.
The Meaning of the Ring
For the Egyptians and other ancient civilizations around the world, the circle symbolized the idea of eternity. Going on forever with no discernable start or end point, it’s quite easy to see how the circle could have begun to be viewed as and evolved to become not just a physical representation of forever, but also a physical representation of love.
The first Egyptian wedding rings were usually made out of a plant material, most often hemp, grass or reeds, and lasted only a year or so before replacement was necessary. These rings were worn on the third finger of the left hand, as is the custom today, due to a belief that a vein in this appendage ran through the body and directly to the heart. This idea was enthusiastically embraced by the Romans and many other European cultures, who rather appropriately dubbed it the vena amoris, which is Latin for “vein of love.”
Superstitions of Old
As it is with nearly all popular practices, the use of nuptial bands brought with it a variety of frivolous superstitions and stipulations. For the Irish, it was thought to be excruciatingly bad luck to be married with anything less than a gold wedding ring. However, as in all other parts of the world at the time, rings were still made with all sorts of metals despite the teachings and hearty warnings held in the local folklore. Fortunately, for the young European couples that couldn’t afford the more expensive golden bands, they often had rings leant to them by the church-rings which were, of course, immediately returned after the ceremony.
Another widespread myth which still persists today in some cultures is the idea that the wedding ring must fit absolutely perfectly, else it would be detrimental to the entire union. It was believed that a band which was too tight would hint at an oppressive marriage that would be riddled with jealousy, control, and suspicion, while a ring that was too loose would lead to carelessness and perhaps even infidelity for the newlywed pair.
A third common belief held to be true by many even in today’s society is that the ring should not be taken off once it has been placed on the finger during the wedding ceremony. The loss, damage or removal of the band is thought to result in the unfortunate corruption or even failure of the marriage itself, though it is thought that the immediate replacement of the lost ring could alleviate any problems. Alternately, it is believed that it’s safe to remove the ring once a couple has given birth to their first child.
Development Over Time
The first metal wedding rings were extremely awkward in their craft and often very misshapen. Metal rings were rare and frequently inlaid with precious stones, bone, or jade. During this early period of modern jewelry institution, ring crafting was used more as a method of showing off one’s wealth than an expression of sentiment.
The Romans used iron when crafting their wedding bands to embody the strength of the love between a man and his chosen bride. The iron ring was also a sign of ownership, as a woman wearing it was effectively the property of the man who had given it to her. The use of iron, however, meant that rusting was often a problem, as rings would degrade or disintegrate over time.
In the past, silver and gold rings were few and far between (often only appearing on the hands of royalty), but when they were given they were presented as a token of devoted love and viewed as a sign that the groom was willing to trust his wife with even his most priceless treasures. In medieval Europe, gemstones such as rubies and sapphires often adorned the rings to represent the caring heart and endless sky, though the diamond was, even then, still the most valuable and coveted stone of all.
In 17th century England and France, wedding rings were most often silver and covered with engravings on either the outside or inside with verses on love, hope and fidelity. These bands became known in some cultures-particularly in England-as posy or poesy (a term for a “love poem”) rings, and were very popular during this time; Shakespeare made frequent references to them in several of his works, though as gold gained prominence these posy rings were effectively forgotten in favor of the richer, more expensive metal and precious stones. Gold, unlike silver, did not tarnish or corrode easily, and because of its rarity was considered a more potent symbol of affection.
As technology advanced and newer, more workable metals like platinum arrived on the market, design and craftsmanship began to play a heavier role in wedding ring creation. Styles became more delicate and detail-oriented, and the modern idea of a wedding ring as a couple’s symbolic “tie” to one another began to take shape.
Nowadays, wedding rings are given as symbols of eternal love to one’s intended life partner. Wedding rings have evolved from simple loops made of plant material to elaborate and often expensive creations wrought from the hardest metals known to man. We slather them with gemstones, engrave them with intricate detail, and offer them up in whatever size you need. The history of the wedding ring is lengthy and riddled with superstition, but today wedding bands stand as more potent symbols of devotion than ever before.