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Wearing Engagement and Wedding Rings on Which Finger?

Which finger should you wear your engagement ring and wedding ring?

“REALLY? You wear your engagement ring that way?” On a recent visit from London to Spain, one of our Personal Shoppers was astonished to discover that women there wear their engagement rings on the fourth finger of the right hand, and not the left, like we’re used to in the United Kingdom.

After researching the topic, we discovered there are at least 7 different variations on how people wear engagement and wedding rings.

In this article, we’re going to first take a look at the British ring wearing traditions, then see what other people in different countries or religions do. Finally, we’ll learn why men’s engagement rings are such a hot topic of conversation right now.

How do we wear rings in Britain?

Traditionally in the UK and in Ireland, the man proposes to the woman with an engagement ring, which he slips onto the fourth finger of her left-hand, also known as ‘the ring finger’.

Some couples also buy a promise ring before an engagement ring. A promise ring usually symbolises the couple’s commitment to each other before the engagement, or it can act as a substitute ring until the bride and groom choose the official engagement ring together. Promise rings are worn on the left ring finger, in the same way as engagement rings.

After marrying, British women usually wear both the engagement ring and the wedding ring on the same finger. It’s also acceptable to wear the wedding ring alone, without the engagement ring, although this is less common. Either way, both are always worn on the fourth-left ring finger.

In the UK, a woman’s wedding ring is worn above the wedding ring, meaning that it’s put on first, and then the wedding band follows it. This is because many people believe that a wedding ring should never be taken off.

Therefore it’s common to see brides temporarily put their engagement ring on their right finger during their wedding ceremony. This leaves the left ring finger free for slipping on the wedding ring.  When the ceremony is over, the bride then places her engagement ring ‘on top’ of her new wedding band.

The engagement and wedding rings of Queen Elizabeth II

The engagement and wedding rings of Queen Elizabeth II

The British tradition started thousands of years ago

The UK wedding ring tradition is thought to have come from the ancient Romans, who in turn had inherited the custom from the Egyptians.

In Old Egypt, people held a belief  that the fourth finger of the left hand was where the vena amoris, or the ‘vein of love’, began. This vein was supposed to lead all the way to the heart, therefore making the fourth finger of the left hand the optimal place to wear a ring as a symbol of lasting love and commitment.

However, the Egyptians only wore wedding rings and not engagement rings. So the British engagement ring tradition is actually only attributed to Rome, where it was customary for suitors to give a pre-marriage promise ring to their brides-to-be, in order to seal the commitment to marry them.

Which countries share the British ring tradition?

Currently, among the English speaking countries, USA, Ireland, South Africa, Canada, Australia and New Zealand follow the same engagement ring custom as people in the UK.

Elsewhere in the world, Turkey, Jordan, Mexico, Sweden, Finland, Croatia, Slovenia and Romania also share it. The same traditions also still continue in Egypt and Italy, where they were originally invented.

Matching engagement and wedding ring set, also known as a 'bridal set'

Matching engagement and wedding ring set, also known as a ‘bridal set’

Elsewhere in the world

As our colleague discovered in Spain, in some countries it is customary for the woman to wear the engagement ring on the fourth finger of the right hand. While there doesn’t seem to be a clear historical explanation for this (please tell us in the comments below if you know why), the right-handed ring finger is a prevalent custom in many countries, including Russia, India, the Netherlands, Spain, Norway, Denmark, Russia, Bulgaria, Serbia, Lithuania, Greece, Poland, Austria, Hungary and Venezuela.

In the above countries the right hand seems to be the established custom regardless of religion. What’s more, the engagement ring is usually put on first, followed by the wedding ring. This is for practical reasons, simply because of the order the rings were given in, but can vary according to what feels most comfortable to the bride, the size of the diamonds on each ring, or what the couple thinks looks best.

In Germanyboth the right hand and left hand are used, although the left hand is much more prevalent among Protestants and the right is preferred by Catholics.

Modern Jewish couples often place the wedding ring on the right hand during the marriage ceremony and then wear it on the left hand post-ceremony. However, according to older traditions, and now during more conservative Jewish ceremonies, the index finger or even the thumb are used.

Thai wedding ring ceremony

Changing the ring from the right to the left hand is also a tradition in Brazil.

Engagement rings are worn in several Islamic countries in South Asia and West Asia, and men usually wear them on the right and women on the left hand. Wedding ring are not used in traditional Muslim wedding ceremonies, but if one is worn, it can go either on the left or the right ring finger. In Iran, the wedding band is more common and goes on the right.

Indian culture never traditionally included rings either, but now with western influence, diamond engagement rings have become much more common.

So what’s all the fuss about ‘mangagement’ rings?

According to a 2015 Huffington Post survey, about 5% of men now wear engagement rings. Partly, this trend is a sign of growing gender and sexual equality, and fashion trends have also made it more acceptable for men get to wear jewellery. Some couples say they also want to show the man is ‘off limits’, not just the woman. Other men simply like the look of luxurious jewellery.

However, women still have the monopoly on the single diamond. Men’s engagement rings tend to be plain bands, diamond bands, claddagh rings or signet rings, and not solitaire rings, which are still regarded as the traditional engagement jewellery for women.

Men's half eternity ring with yellow gold and pavé set diamonds

Men’s ring with pavé set diamonds

Although during the recent year the press has lightheartedly called celebrity men’s engagement rings ‘mangagement rings’, men’s diamond engagement bands have become a real ‘thing’. Two famous men who wear them include Scarlett Johansson’s husband Ryan Reynolds and singer Michael Bubble.

What’s perhaps most exciting about all of this, is that in an increasingly multicultural society it’s becoming hip to borrow exotic engagement and marriage traditions from other countries. So you don’t need to follow any particular rule when choosing which finger you want to wear your rings on – just do what feels right for you.

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