Wedding ring history

Today the wedding ring, or wedding band, is an accepted and recognised symbol of marriage in nearly every part of the world. The often golden band that rests on the fourth finger of the left hand is an instantly recognisable image that is, for many, the physical representation of the weddings vows. It is the physical manifestation of two people's undying love for one another and the eternal bond that they share.

The wedding ring has been part of human civilisation for a very long time with different variations cropping up throughout the millennia as the idea spread across the globe and people put their own personal spin on the idea. Even today, wedding rings can differ widely from one country to the next.

It is generally accepted that the first historical evidence of wedding rings come from the Ancient Egyptians. There are records that show a band of some sort placed on the fourth finger of the left hand of a man's wife. These early bands were not made of metal, but were probably crafted from weaving reeds, grass or other plants. These rings would eventually break, but a replacement could be made. In other parts of the world, though much later in history, the hair of the two lovers were braided together to form the ring.

The Romans were also known for having wedding bands though they used more practical and available iron. Nothing fancy about that, but at least it lasted (rust aside). It is actually from the Egyptians, Romans and Greeks that people believe the idea of the fourth finger comes from. They believed that the fourth finger of the left hand contained an artery that lead straight to the heart. The vena amoris. Today we know that it's not true, but it is a rather romantic notion.

In Rome, the iron band that was placed on a woman's finger effectively made her that man's property and she usually had little choice in the matter. In the Far and Middle East where men were, perhaps, a little more romantic, they had a different kind of ring. The puzzle ring was a set of hoops that, when assembled correctly, formed a ring.

As quaint as it sounds, this device had a practical, though some would say sinister, purpose. It ensured the wife's fidelity as she would have to remove her ring if she wanted to cheat on her husband. Since he was the only one who knew how the ring fit together, the wife could easily be caught out. Of course, they underestimated the intelligence of women, and most of these rings could be worked out with a little time and patience – but they tried.

A few centuries later, during the 14th or 15th century, royals started setting stones in the rings they gave to their wives. This practice moved towards engagement rings after a while, instead, keeping the wedding ring as a band with only minimal adornment.

In the colonial era, the Puritans who colonised America believed that any adornment was wasteful and, even worse, sinful. Instead of presenting his wife-to-be with a ring, the Puritan man would present her with a thimble as a token of his love. Despite their best efforts, the thoughtful ladies of the time removed the bottom of the thimble after the marriage to turn it into a ring of sorts.

Up until the 20th century, women were the only ones who wore wedding rings. Men were not required to and didn't even consider it. After all, the ring was, supposedly, meant as a message to other men that the lady was spoken for. No one could expect a man to do the same, now could they? But things changed during World War II.

Millions of men, taken from their families and homes, started wearing rings as a way of reminding them of their family and wives back home. This tradition carried over, to a small degree in the following years. During the Korean War, some decades later, the practice increased again. Today, it is customary for men to wear a wedding ring as well.

Rings were made from grass, hair and twigs. Later they were made from metals like bronze, copper and iron. As mining techniques increased and the economy of the world became more egalitarian, gold became, and still is, the most common metal to make rings from. These days the tradition is changing and rings made from platinum or even titanium are becoming quite common.

The wedding ring has come a long way. Sure there are still people who do not follow the practice, but most people in the world use the ring as a symbol of the eternal bond between two people. Whether it's made from gold, silver, platinum, titanium, wood or any other material that means something to the couple, it is the idea behind the eternal circle that counts the most.

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