When did Wedding Rings Start?

September 6, 2020
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At Stewart Kuper Jewelers, we think it’s important to recognize the legacy and history of the wedding ring. The wedding ring is imbued with sentiment and meaning, but how did it start? And how has it changed? The history of the wedding ring being traced to the present can help us better appreciate the long and fascinating tradition of wedding rings, in all the various forms they have taken over the centuries.     

Latin for “the vein of love”, the vena amoris was a superstition of the ancient Egyptians that there was a vein in the fourth finger of the left hand that connected directly to the heart. Nearly 5000 years ago the fourth finger (or as we call it now the “ring finger”) would have had a band around it that represented to these ancient people a belief in the eternal nature of the promise that they were making. This circle, made of woven reeds or braided papyrus, would’ve echoed the unending love and fidelity of the couple; an ancient precursor to the modern wedding ring. The vena amoris was a bond of love, and when paired with a circle of woven reeds (or braided papyrus) worn around the “love finger”, it was also a heartfelt pledge.

Egyptian Pyramids during Sunset

pyramids at sunset     

The Roman Influence

The Romans continued the tradition of rings as tokens of love, but with adaptations of their own. While it was common to fashion rings from bone or ivory, the appeal of metalworking to construct rings was on the rise in early Rome. The Romans would use metals such as iron for their betrothal rings, and even more common, they would use the signet rings of their house as their pledge. Silver or gold rings were not at all yet too common, and in the rare instances those precious metals were used, it was only by the very wealthy and at the discretion of the man as a sign of faith in his wife-to-be. The Romans were among the first people to tie a ring to the idea of marriage. What became popular was for a betrothed couple to have depictions of themselves engraved onto the rings, and later when Christianity became a prominent force in the Empire, Christ was depicted on the ring as well. An image of Christ engraved between the couple was thought to bless the union.    

Colosseum, Italy

Coliseum, Italy 

 The Middle Ages

   At the turn of the 13th century, Fede rings came back in fashion nine centuries after their invention. Nowadays a well-known version of the Fede ring is the Irish Claddagh, which has had lasting popularity since its initial design in the16th century. The motif of a Fede is of clasping hands, hands which meet in either love, betrothal, or in friendship. The word Fede itself comes from the Italian phrase “mani in fede”, which translates to “hands held in faith”, and art from these times highlights the role of a wedding ring in the sacred rite of marriage. Posie rings were also in fashion, and these simpler bands would frequently have engravings etched on them, lines from poetry or verse such as “love me and leave me not”, or “two bodies, one heart”. The inscription on Posie rings were frequently written on the inside of the band itself, keeping the token words close and private.         

 The Renaissance

The years spanning the renaissance naturally gave way to innovation in technology and imbued wedding rings with a refreshing burst of creative energy that paved the way for wedding rings as we know them today. The Posie ring was refined, the engravings more detailed, and the lettering finer. Gimmel rings rose to popularity during this time, these striking puzzle-like pieces of jewelry consisting of two bands, that would only be reunited at the wedding ceremony. The groom-to-be would wear one band until the ceremony, at which time he would reattach his band to his soon-to-be wife’s, solidifying their bond and the union. Gimmel rings became more and more complex as new goldsmithing techniques permitted additional layers of intricacy to the designs; design motifs often in demand were the use of Fede hands, red hearts, or forget-me-not flowers.      

The Modern Wedding Ring

The influence of the wedding ring spans the centuries. Ideas on love and matrimony and how that is best represented in jewelry are naturally affected by both the cultures and the technology of their respective eras. Whether a bond is being made in ancient Egypt with delicately woven reeds, or with an interlocked puzzle of the engraved rings of the Renaissance, rings have long been a token of esteem. The modern wedding ring featuring diamonds is of a relatively recent design, taking off in popularity only within the last century. Stylish and contemporary designs, currently en vogue, may one day seem as antiquated as a simple Roman iron band does to us now. Our wedding ring selection at Stewart Kuper Jewelers runs the gamut, allowing you to pay homage to the simplicity of the Posie, or to observe more modern traditions in finding a stunning diamond band. We’d love to help you choose the rings that best represent tokens of your love.