We’ve looked into the history of the ring to find out why we continue to wear this token of love
Words by Emma Langman
One wedding tradition that’s followed by almost every bride and groom is the exchanging of rings. It’s at this point in the ceremony that the bond between the two is officially sealed and the couple become newlyweds at last. Long after the celebrations are over and the thank-you notes have been written, husbands and wives around the world still wear their wedding bands as a sign of their commitment to one another.
But while a wedding ring looks pretty, that can’t be the only explanation for why we swap circles of metals in front of our family and friends to mark our transition into a married couple, can it?
There is in fact a history to the ring, starting with the Ancient Egyptians. Gareth Mundie of jewellers Ian Mundie & Son explains: “The Ancient Egyptian civilisation was based along the banks of the River Nile, which was believed to be the bringer of fortune and life. So, reeds from the banks of the river were fashioned into woven band-style rings, believed to be the first wedding bands.” From their first creation, these were a symbol of good luck representing a new life together as a couple, and this idea has continued to evolve through history.
Over the centuries, the Greeks and then the Romans took up the custom of wearing a band to symbolise the joining together of two people. The Romans called it the ‘vena amoris’ – Latin for ‘the vein of love’. That’s why we wear wedding rings on the fourth finger of the left hand, as it’s thought that its vein travels directly to the heart, linking the two together. It’s also thought to be the least used finger in the hand so the ring shouldn’t get too damaged while being worn.
The ring is also a emblem of eternity that translates through many cultures. “The main symbolism of the wedding ring is that, as a circle, it is never-ending,” points out Gareth Mundie. With no beginning and no end, it characterises the joining together of two people to form a new whole with its own history. The hole in the centre of the ring also means something, signifying a gateway leading to the new events you’ll experience together as a married couple.
By the time we reach the Romans in history, the meaning of this symbol was altered to incorporate the idea of ownership. Roman men would ‘claim’ their woman with the giving of a ring. These were made of metal for strength and permanence, and engraved for the first time.
While we’d hope that modern men would never consider themselves owners of their wives, the use of metals in rings has continued through the centuries. Different metals go through cycles of popularity – palladium and platinum are the current favourites for modern wedding bands because of their hard-wearing nature and good looks, while yellow gold has fallen from the top spot. Engraving wedding rings continues to be popular, with couples choosing special messages for each other, their wedding date or simply their initials to give their rings that extra personal touch.
There’s been a change in recent years too, with more grooms happy to wear a wedding band. Wearing jewellery was often seen as a feminine affectation, but during the Second World War an increasing number of men decided to don their ring as a reminder of home. Since then, men’s jewellery has become more fashionable and it’s now much more likely to see a groom keeping his ring firmly on his finger after the big day’s over.