Symbolism of the Engagement Ring – How Is It Different to Wedding Rings?

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Engagement rings have become a staple feature in most relationships, representing a major milestone in a couple’s journey together. Today, they’re viewed as a meaningful symbol of commitment, but that’s not how they started out.

Let’s take a closer look at the symbolism of engagement rings, and how you can make them even more meaningful.

Symbolism of Engagement Rings

Beautiful couple ring diamond

For most people, an engagement ring is the first concrete symbol of their relationship. It reflects an agreement and an understanding of an impending marriage. As such, the engagement ring is a beautiful reminder of love, companionship, commitment, and a promise to be together.

Wedding rings, on the other hand, signify that final commitment and symbolize marriage. In comparison with wedding rings, engagement rings tend to have intricate designs and high value, typically being the most expensive piece of jewelry a person owns. Although an engagement ring is not a must, the trend of gifting engagement rings has become popular these days.

The meaning of engagement rings come from its shape, the gemstones chosen for it (if any) and customization that many couples choose to include.

Floating setting engagement ring
  • The circle shape of the ring signifies an equal relationship, with no end and no beginning. This represents everlasting love that goes beyond this life. The shape also represents how everything is connected to create a perfect whole.
  • The space in the middle of the ring is often viewed as symbolizing a doorway to a new life together.
  • The design of the ring can add another layer of symbolism to the ring. For example, a three stone engagement ring symbolizes the past, present and future stages of a couple’s journey together.
  • Gemstones come with their own symbolism (discussed below). The gemstones you choose can make your ring more meaningful, such as birthstones.
  • The finger traditionally reserved for the engagement ring (ring finger of the left hand) was believed to have a vein that ran directly to the heart. This was called the vena amoris and many believed that wearing the engagement ring on that finger signified love as a connection to one’s heart.
  • Personalizing an engagement ring is popular today, as many couples choose to add a special quote, engraving or meaningful symbol to the engagement ring.

The Evolution of the Engagement Ring

Proposal black girl diamond
  • Rome

The origins of the engagement ring can be traced back to ancient Rome. While engagement rings are considered romantic and a major step in any relationship today, they didn’t start out quite like that. In the start, engagement rings were simply a sign that the woman was unavailable and belonged to a man.

According to historians, Roman women wore engagement rings of copper, iron, ivory, or bone, to signify their obedience and allegiance to their betrothed. In these initial stages, engagement rings were only worn only by women, and was part of their bride price.

In the second century BC, Roman women were gifted two engagement rings. One was an iron ring to be worn at home, and the other, a gold one to wear in public. The ring was worn on the ring finger of the left hand because the Romans believed that this finger contained a vein that led to the heart – the vena amoris.

  • Europe

The first records of gifting a diamond engagement ring can be traced back to the imperial court of Vienna in 1477, when Archduke Maximilian of Austria gifted a diamond ring to his betrothal Mary of Burgundy. This act by the Archduke influenced the aristocracy of Europe and prompted them to present engagement rings to their loved ones.

  • United States

The United States witnessed a downfall in the popularity of engagement rings after World War One and the Great Depression. Youngsters were slowly losing interest in buying engagement rings as they were seen as expensive and unnecessary.

This drastically changed in 1938, when De Beers began advertising and marketing diamond engagement rings. Their genius marketing campaign declared that diamond rings were the greatest gift to be given to a prospective spouse and introduced the idea that ‘diamonds are forever’. This marketing campaign was very successful and the sales in engagement rings shot up. Today it’s a multi-billion-dollar industry.

While traditionally women have always worn engagement rings, recently engagement rings for men, or “management rings”, have become a trend.

Significance of Engagement Rings in Religion

  • Christianity

In Christianity, engagement rings symbolize love and commitment between two individuals who have agreed to come together.  Christians follow the tradition of wearing the engagement ring on the left finger of the left hand, which was initially practiced by the Romans. While some Christian women wear both the engagement and the wedding ring on the left finger, others wear the engagement ring on the left and the wedding ring on the right.

  • Judaism

In Judaism, wedding bands are an essential part of nuptial formalities, but engagement rings are not very prevalent. However, this tradition is slowly changing because younger Jewish couples have taken to engagement rings. In Judaism, both engagement and wedding rings are made of gold without any engravings or precious stones.

  • Islam

Engagement rings are not common in Islam. However, younger Muslim couples are increasingly choosing to have an engagement ring.

  • Buddhism

In Buddhism, weddings are not celebrated in a religious way. Therefore, there are no special traditions to mark an engagement or a wedding. However, the religion is open to new, emerging trends, and therefore, there is a recent upsurge in younger Buddhist couples exchanging both engagement and wedding rings.

Styles of Engagement Rings

Engagement ring settings
Styles of Engagement Rings

Engagement rings are usually more stylish and elaborate than wedding rings and are embedded with diamonds and precious stones. Wedding rings are much simpler and are often heirlooms that have been passed down through generations. Engagement rings can complement the style of the wedding ring, so that the bride can wear both together.

  • Solitaire: The solitaire ring has one single valuable stone, typically a diamond. While typically used as engagement rings, some choose to wear them as wedding rings. A solitaire wedding ring is valued for its simplicity and elegance.
  • Cluster: The cluster ring has many small stones set together. They are the perfect choice for those who need an affordable sparkling ring.
  • Cathedral: Cathedral rings have arches of metal to hold the stone. These arches are like those of a cathedral and firmly hold the stone.
  • Halo Ring: The halo ring has one centre stone and smaller stones embedded in its band. The ring sparkles and shines with light passing through its many stones.
  • Bezel: In the bezel setting, the stone of the ring is surrounded by a metal rim. The bezel design is perfect for those who have a very active lifestyle because the ring is firmly secured.
  • Tension: In the Tension setting, the stone is held in the centre by compression, and looks like its floating between the metal or within the band. The Tension setting is an excellent option for those who want a modern and elegant design.
  • Channel: In the Channel setting, the band has a channel into which small stones are embedded. The Channel setting is ideal for those who want a sparkly ring at an affordable price.
  • Flush: In a Flush setting, the diamond is placed into a drilled hole in the band. The flush setting is perfect for those who want a flashy and durable ring.
  • Three-stone Setting: In the three-stone setting, there are three stones placed together, of the same or different sizes. The three-stone setting is a perfect design for those who want their ring to have a symbolic meaning, as it stands for past, present, and future.
  • Infinity Setting: Infinity rings are shaped like the infinity symbol, as the band of the ring has a horizontal 8 shape. Infinity rings are a preferred choice for those who want a symbolic ring that stands for eternal love.

Symbolism of Engagement Ring with Gemstones

Engagement rings are usually embedded with one or several precious gems, which add beauty and sparkle to the design. While diamonds are the most popular gemstone for engagement rings, there are endless options out there, coming in a variety of colors, shapes and sizes. Each gemstone is associated with certain concepts and significance, making them symbolic. When choosing a gemstone, some couples consider the symbolism of the stone to add more meaning to their engagement ring. 

Gemstone engagement ring symbolism
Symbolism of Engagement Ring with Gemstones

Here are some of the most popular gemstones for engagement rings:

Diamonds

  • Diamonds are the most popular choice for engagement rings.
  • They are desired for their beauty, everlasting sparkle, and durability.

Sapphire

  • Sapphire is also known as the gemstone of royalty. The most common sapphires are blue, but they come in a wide range of colors.
  • Sapphires are hard stones making them not only beautiful but durable as well.

Emerald

  • Emeralds are also known as the jewel of kings. Each emerald is unique, and they come in stunning shades of green.
  • They are not as hard as diamonds or sapphires, but with special care they can last for a long time.

Rubies

  • Rubies are a dark red or a deep pink stone.  The most desired ruby color is the Pigeon blood red.
  • Rubies are rare gems that have the hardness and durability of sapphires. They are often paired with diamonds.

Pearls

  • Pearl rings are desired for their luster and shine. There are several types of pearls such as saltwater pearls, freshwater pearls, and cultured pearls.
  • They are an ideal option for those who want a quaint, simple, and affordable ring. They are not particularly durable but can last a long time if they are well cared for.

Aquamarine

  • Aquamarine rings have a brilliant shade of green blue. They are a great alternative for diamonds.
  • These stones cannot withstand too much wear and tear but can be durable with proper care and polishing.

In Brief

Engagement rings are becoming popular around the world, as young couples find ways to meaningfully express their commitment to each other. There are numerous ways to add symbolism and meaning to your engagement ring by including gemstones and personalizing your ring design. For most people, engagement rings are among the most important piece of jewelry they own, along with their wedding rings.

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