Which finger should you wear an engagement and wedding ring on? You might be surprised to find out that there are at least 7 different variations to this custom in Britain and around the world. In this article you’ll get:
- The British ring traditions
- Customs in other countries
- The growing trend of men’s engagement rings
- Which tradition is for you?
Firstly, in the UK, how do people wear wedding and engagement rings?
Engagement rings in Britain
Traditionally in the UK and in Ireland, the man proposes to the woman with an engagement ring. He puts it on to the fourth finger of her left hand, known as ‘the ring finger’.
Promise rings in Britain
Some couples buy a promise ring, previous to an engagement ring. A promise ring can symbolise the couple’s commitment to each other before they have an actual intention to marry. Or it can act as a substitute ring until the couple chooses an official engagement ring. Promise rings are worn on the left hand ring finger, same as engagement rings.
Wedding rings in Britain
After marrying, British women usually wear both the engagement ring and the wedding ring. It’s acceptable to wear the wedding ring alone, although this is less common. Either way, both are always worn on the left ring finger.
In the UK, which ring goes on first?
In the UK, women normally wear their engagement ring ‘on top’ of the wedding ring, meaning that the wedding ring is placed on the finger first. The reason for this is an old British superstition which states that a wedding ring must never be taken off.
During the wedding ceremony the bride puts her engagement ring temporarily on their right hand. This leaves the left hand free for the wedding ring.
When the ceremony is over, the bride slides the engagement ring ‘on top’ of the new wedding band to ‘seal it’ in place.
The history of the British ring-wearing tradition
The UK wedding ring tradition is thought to have come from the ancient Romans. Who, in turn, inherited it from the Egyptians.
In Old Egypt, people held a belief that the vena amoris, or the ‘vein of love’, began in the fourth finger of the left hand and led all the way to the heart. Therefore, they felt this was the ideal place to wear a wedding ring, a symbol of love and commitment.
However, the Egyptians only wore wedding rings and not engagement rings.
So while the British wedding ring tradition goes back to Egypt, the engagement ring tradition is actually attributed to ancient Rome, where it was customary for suitors to give a pre-marriage ring to their brides-to-be in order to seal the commitment to marry them.
Which countries have the same ring tradition as Britain?
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 – wearing their rings on the fourth finger of the left hand.
Elsewhere in the world, Turkey, Jordan, Mexico, Sweden, Finland, Croatia, Slovenia and Romania also share it.
This same tradition also continues in Egypt and Italy – the two countries where the left hand, fourth finger custom was originally forged.
Ring traditions elsewhere in the world - and in different religions
In some countries, it’s customary for the woman to wear the engagement ring on the fourth finger of the right hand.
This is the prevalent custom in many countries, including Russia, India, the Netherlands, Spain, Norway, Denmark, Russia, Bulgaria, Serbia, Lithuania, Greece, Poland, Austria, Hungary and Venezuela.
In these countries, the right hand seems to be the established custom, regardless of religion. The engagement ring is usually put on first, followed by the wedding ring. This is simply for practical reasons, because of the order the rings were given in. However, this custom can vary according to what feels most comfortable to the bride.
In Germany, the fourth fingers of both the right and left hand can be used. As a general rule, the left hand is more prevalent among Protestants, and the right preferred by Catholics.
Modern Jewish couples often place the wedding ring on the right hand’s ring finger during the marriage ceremony and then wear it on the left hand’s ring finger post-ceremony. However, according to the old tradition, and also seen today in some of the more conservative Jewish ceremonies, the index finger or the thumb are used.
Curiously, although not for any religious reasons, in Brazil the ring is also first placed on the right hand’s ring finger then changed to the left hand during the wedding ceremony.
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. But now with Western influence, diamond engagement rings have become much more common.
Engagement rings for men
According to a Huffington Post survey, there has been a 280% increase for saved Pinterest images of men’s engagement rings. In an XO group survey, it was found that 17% of men would like to wear a “man-gagement” ring.
This small but growing trend is partly a sign of growing gender and sexual equality, with the legalisation of same-sex marriage in the UK making men’s engagement rings more sought after.
For the other part, the trend it is celebrity-driven, and therefore most prevalent among the fashion conscious. Celebrities have generally made it more acceptable, or even desirable, for men to wear jewellery, such as diamond earrings.
Ed Sheeran’s engagement ring
One of the most famous celebrity males to wear an engagement ring is Ed Sheeran, who announced his engagement on 19th January 2018.
After he was photographed at the Brit Awards wearing a ring on the fourth finger of his left hand, the media questioned whether it was a wedding ring.
However, he stated he was wearing an engagement ring. Subsequently, on the ITV show ‘Lorraine’, he said, “I never saw why men didn’t wear commitment rings, because it’s the same commitment either way.”
Other male celebs who wear diamond rings
Ed Sheeran is not the first celebrity male to wear an engagement ring. For example, Scarlett Johansson’s first husband, Ryan Reynolds, wore an engagement ring. Singer Michael Bubble also wears one. Some women also say the reason they want their fiancé to wear a ring is to show he is ‘off limits’ – they believe the ring tradition should not only apply to women.
Will the ‘Man-gagement’ ring trend take off?
It will probably be a while before the average man, in Britain at least, is seen wearing a diamond engagement ring. Men’s engagement rings, when seen, tend to be plain bands, diamond bands, Claddagh rings or signet rings – but not solitaire rings, because women still defintiely have the monopoly on the single diamond.