When a couple is getting married, the wedding rings are usually an afterthought – or at best, just one more item on a checklist.
The engagement ring is the big ticket item. It’s the jewelry that brides dream about, and that grooms have to find a way to finance over time. On the other hand, simple wedding bands are easy to find online, relatively inexpensive, and rarely “shown off” to family and friends.
For that reason, plain gold bands are by far the most common western wedding rings, with millions of them sold every year. But they’re certainly not the only popular style. A number of brides have chosen to either “go modern,” with intricate designs or jewels added to the ring (often to match their engagement ring) or “go vintage” with throwback designs which make the ring look like an heirloom, even if it’s not.
In many cultures, the jewelry exchanged when a couple is married doesn’t just symbolize a union between bride and groom; it also connects them with their peoples’ history. That is why modern ceremonies often include the exchange of rings designed to honor the couple’s ethnic or religious traditions.
Here’s a brief look at the history of Western wedding rings, and the most common ones seen today.
History of The Wedding Rings
The tradition of a bride wearing a ring to show her marital status started in Greece, in the early centuries of the common era. It was first worn on the index finger, then switched to the third finger because Greek tradition dictated that there was a “vein of love” connected directly between that finger and the heart. Eventually it became traditional to wear the ring on the fourth finger.
The first use of golden rings is credited to the Romans, who considered use of the metal a demonstration of eternal love. Two clasped hands were often included in the design of these early Roman wedding rings, sometimes holding a key (to the groom’s heart).
Pope Nicolas I was responsible for making the gold ring universal. In 860 he decreed that one must be given to every bride married in the Catholic Church; an expensive metal was required because he deemed that the financial sacrifice would demonstrate the depth of the groom’s commitment. In the 1500s it became more common for men to also wear wedding rings, although the “double ring ceremony” didn’t become universal until the middle of the 20th century.
The Traditional Gold Band
Without question, the most common Western wedding ring is the humble gold band. There are a number of variations, though, by which a couple can make the “ordinary” wedding band uniquely their own.
First, there’s the ring’s thickness, color and material. The most popular sizes run from 2 millimeters to 5 millimeters; the size of the couples’ fingers often guide this choice. The bands are usually available in white, yellow or rose gold, and while platinum is obviously not gold, it’s become a very common (although more expensive) alternative for many brides and grooms.
The most popular Western method of personalizing a traditional ring is by having inscriptions engraved on the inside surface; this custom was first seen in Medieval Europe but has become even more common today. A majority of couples choose to inscribe their initials, as in “JD to JS” (which could stand for John Doe to Jane Smith) along with the date of the wedding. However, some choose heartfelt messages like “I Love You” or “Here Is My Heart, Guard It Well,” inscriptions with religious significance such as “Our Unity Is Christ,” the Latin “Dues Nos Iunxit” (God Joined Us) or the Hebrew “Ani L’dodi V’dodi Li” (I Am My Beloved And My Beloved Is Mine), or complete Biblical verses. There are even couples who decide to use playful inscriptions, such as “Property of JD” or a private nickname.
Modern And Vintage
Hundreds of jewelers and designers have taken the traditional gold wedding band and put their own modern spin on it, and these sleek Western wedding rings are becoming almost as common as the ordinary bands which spawned them. The designs range from minimalist to ornate; some feature diamonds, other precious stones, or colored bands of jewels, while others are striking because of their unusual carved, brushed or patterned looks. Many are custom-created to match the bride’s diamond engagement ring; in fact, a growing trend for women is to choose matching sets of engagement and wedding rings at the same time. The number of available variations is almost infinite.
Another trend is toward vintage styles. These ornate creations are usually new, but appear to have been crafted in the early 1900s, the 19th century, or even the Victorian era. As you would expect, both the modern and vintage twists on wedding bands will usually cost quite a bit more than a plain gold ring.
A Meaningful Appreciation Of Heritage
A resurgence in the use of traditional Western wedding ring designs has led many couples to choose the types of bands their ancestors once wore. Some of the most popular:
Claddagh Rings – these meaningful Irish rings date back to the 1700s, and are now worn by both
unmarried and married individuals. They have two hands clenched together, a crown and heart in the design. When single, the wearer points the heart away from them; at the wedding ceremony, the ring is turned around so that the point of the heart faces the wearer, showing that they are now “taken.”
Fede Rings – fede is Italian for “faith,” and while these rings were based on a early Roman idea, they first gained popularity throughout Europe during medieval times and the Renaissance. They are made of gold bands which resemble clasped hands, and the bands can be separated into two rings. During the engagement period, a man and woman each wears one of the rings, and at the ceremony they’re reassembled on the bride’s hand as her wedding ring.
Gimmal Rings – similar to fede rings, and first seen in Germany and England in the 16th century, gimmal rings are interlocking gold bands worn individually by bride and groom before the wedding and joined when the couple is wed. There is sometimes a third ring, which can be worn by the bride’s mother or another member of the bridal party until the ceremony.
Jewish Wedding Bands – these are actually the simplest of all Western wedding rings. When tradition is rigidly followed, they’re a plain gold band with no stones or inscriptions whatsoever, symbolizing the absolute purity of the marriage.