Wedding ring or wedding band is a metal ring indicating the wearer is married. Depending on the local culture, it is worn on the base of the right or the left ring finger (see post-wedding customs below). The custom of wearing such a ring has spread widely beyond its origin in Europe.

Traditional Customs

Pre Wedding Customs:

According to some customs, the wedding ring forms the last in a series of gifts, which also may include the engagement ring, traditionally given as a betrothal present. This tradition was already in use in Ancient Rome and is possibly much older. Other more recent traditions, encouraged by the jewelry trade, seek to expand the idea of a series of ring-gifts with the pre-engagement ring, often given when serious courting begins, and the eternity ring, which symbolizes the renewal or ongoing nature of a lasting marriage, sometimes given after the birth of a first child; and a trilogy ring, usually displaying three brilliant-cut round diamonds each, in turn, representing the past, present and future of a relationship.

A European tradition encourages the engraving of the name of one’s intended spouse and the date of one’s intended marriage on the inside surface of wedding rings, thus strengthening the symbolism and sentimentality of the rings as they become family heirlooms.

Among Eastern Orthodox and Eastern Catholic Christians, the exchange of rings is not technically part of the wedding service, but rather are exchanged at the betrothal. It is always a two-ring her by the priest or by the best man. The orthodox Christian Church of Greece has recently stopped performing betrothal blessings separately, as these were often non-committing, and a betrothal ceremony is the initial part of the wedding service anyway. In many families an informal blessing is now performed by the betrothed ones’ parents in a family dinner that formalises the betrothal. The ceremony of betrothal is now possibly performed immediately before the wedding (or “crowning” as it is more properly called), and the actual symbolic act of marriage is not the exchange of rings, but the public proclamation of marriage by an authority figure or leader.

A ubiquitous custom, the future bridegroom gives his future bride a jewelled ring (most commonly set with a diamond) upon proposing to her. After the wedding the wedding band is worn on the ring finger, closest to the hand, and the engagement ring is worn in front of it. The rings usually match and sometimes interlock or are fused together to form one ring. In some cultures, or among those committed to not supporting the violence surrounding the diamond trade, some other piece or set of jewellery, such as a bracelet, brooch, earrings, necklace, tiara or, rarely, a whole parure, may be used.

Wedding Ceremony Customs:

Various Style Wedding Bands

In several traditions, the best man or best woman may have the duty of keeping track of a couple’s wedding rings and to produce them at the symbolic moment of the giving and receiving of the rings during the traditional marriage ceremony. In more elaborate weddings, a ring bearer (usually a young boy that is part of the family of the bride or groom) may assist in the ceremonial parading of the rings into the ceremony, often on a special cushion.

In older times, the wedding rings were not only a sign of love, but were also linked to the bestowal of ‘earnest money’. According to the prayer book of Edward VI: after the words ‘with this ring I thee wed’ follow the words ‘This gold and silver I give thee’, at which point the groom was supposed to hand a leather purse filled with gold and silver coins to the bride.

Historically, the wedding ring was rather connected to the exchange of valuables at the moment of the wedding rather than a symbol of eternal love and devotion. It is a relic of the times when marriage was a contract between families, not individual lovers. Both families were then eager to ensure the economical safety of the young couple. Sometimes it went as far as being a conditional exchange as this old (and today outdated) German formula shows: ‘I give you this ring as a sign of the marriage which has been promised between us, provided your father gives with you a marriage portion of 1000 Reichsthalers’.

In some European countries, the wedding ring is the same as the engagement ring and changes its status through engraving and the change of the hand on which to wear it. If the wedding ring is different from the engagement ring, the question whether or not the engagement ring should be worn during the ceremony leaves a few options. The bride may wear it on her left ring finger and have the groom put the wedding band over it. She may also wear it on her right ring finger. The bride may also continue wearing the rings on different hands after the wedding – this may prevent the engagement ring from scratching and scuffing. Another option is to have the main bridesmaid keep the ring during the ceremony – there are a variety of ways to keep it: in a pouch, on a plate, etc. After the ceremony, the ring can be placed back on either the left or the right hand. The finger is always the ring finger, but there are cultural differences whether the wedding ring is worn on the left hand or the right hand.

The right hand is the traditional hand for vows or oaths. It is raised when such an oath is given, so the wedding ring would here show the sincerety of the oath. A traditional reason to wear the wedding ring on the right hand stems from Roman custom and biblical references. The Latin word for left is “sinister”, which in addition to this sense also has the same senses as the English word. The Latin word for right is “dexter”, a word that evolved into “dexterity”. Hence, the left hand had a negative connotation and the right a good one. For the same reason, an oath is sworn while raising the right hand. The left hand is also used for cultures that believe in the vena amoris or “vein of love” that is believed to be found in the left ring finger.

Post-wedding Customs:

After marriage, the ring is worn on the hand it had been placed on during the ceremony. By wearing rings on the fourth finger of their left hands, a married couple symbolically declares their eternal love for each other. This has now become a matter of tradition and etiquette in these countries. However, the most widely accepted explanation is that because the majority of people are right-handed, wearing the ring on the left hand makes it less likely to be damaged or lost during everyday activities.

Some cultures exchange additional rings: In some parts of India, Hindus may use a toe ring or bichiya which is worn instead of a ring on a finger; although this is only for women, and increasingly worn along with a finger ring. In the eastern parts of India, primarily West Bengal, an iron bangle, or ‘loha’ is worn by women. Increasingly, this bangle is given a gold or silver coating to improve its appearance. In Romania spouses celebrate their silver wedding anniversary (25 years of marriage) by exchanging silver wedding rings, which are worn on the 4th finger of the left hand along with the original (usually gold) wedding ring.

The wedding ring may occasionally be removed for comfort or safety. It is not uncommon for those who have professions that forbid the wearing of jewelry, such as police officers, or electrical workers. In some jurisdictons, those in the food service industry may be required to remove all jewelry while handling ready to eat food, including wedding rings, unless they are simple, smooth rings. Physicians are also known to prefer smooth, simple designs, some may even autoclave their rings on a regular basis. Many times these people say they wear a “ring around their heart” not around their finger. Some will wear it on a chain around their neck to compensate for the inability to wear it.

Post Funeral:

Legally, a marriage ends with the death of either spouse (unless written otherwise into the vows with a prenuptial agreement about death and remarriage), but conventions (and perceived symbolism) around the wearing of wedding rings after a spouse’s death vary considerably. Traditions include the surviving spouse continuing their own wedding ring after their spouse’s death, sometimes on the ring finger of the other hand; removing their wedding ring at their spouse’s funeral; and taking charge of, and wearing (sometimes on the same finger as their own), their late spouse’s ring. The length of time and way in which a surviving spouse wears their ring is not dictated by a common custom, but varies by family tradition and choice of the surviving spouse. It is unusual, but not unknown, to wear both rings on the ring finger after remarriage.

In Europe and in the United States in past generations, women wore wedding bands much more commonly than men did. Today, both partners often wear wedding rings, though for safety, personal comfort, or work-related reasons, a spouse may remove it from time to time. Others may object to the idea of precious metals, or dislike the idea of declaring their legal status through jewelry. Either partner may also wear a wedding ring on a chain around the neck.

The double-ring ceremony, or use of wedding rings for both partners, is a relatively recent innovation. The American jewellery industry started a marketing campaign aimed at encouraging this practice in the late 19th century. Learning from marketing lessons of the 1920s, changing economic times, and the impact of World War II, led to a more successful marketing campaign, and by the late 1940s, double-ring ceremonies made up for 80% of all weddings, as opposed to 15% before the Great Depression.

One interpretation states that the woman wears the wedding ring below the engagement ring, thus making it closer to the heart. Another practice holds that the woman should wear the wedding ring above the engagement ring, thus sealing the atmosphere of the engagement into the marriage. Still others prefer that the wedding ring should be worn alone. Further, modern ring sets in the United States are often marketed as a three-piece set, including the man’s wedding band, the woman’s engagement ring, and a slender band that is mounted to the engagement ring before the wedding, converting it into a single, permanent wedding ring.

Information Courtesy of Wikipedia Free Encyclopedia http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wedding_ring.