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.
- A look at the British ring-wearing tradition
- Customs in other countries and religions
- The growing trend of men’s engagement rings
- How to decide which tradition is for you
How do people wear wedding and 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’.
Some couples buy a promise ring previous to an engagement ring.
A promise ring may symbolise the couple’s commitment to each other. Or it can act as a substitute ring until the couple chooses an official engagement ring.
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.
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.
Which ring goes on first in the UK?
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 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. They had inherited it 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 ideal 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 while the British wedding ring tradition goes back to Egypt, the engagement ring tradition is actually attributed to Rome.
In Rome, 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.
A newly engaged woman wears her ring on the left
Which countries share the same 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.
Elsewhere in the world, Turkey, Jordan, Mexico, Sweden, Finland, Croatia, Slovenia and Romania also share it.
The same tradition also continues in Egypt and Italy, the two countries where this custom was originally forged.
A couple wearing their rings on the left
3. Elsewhere in the world & different religions
In some countries, it’s customary for the woman to wear the engagement ring on the fourth finger of the right hand.
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 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 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.
German bride wears engagement ring on right
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 Islāmic 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.
Thai wedding ceremony, bride wears western style engagement ring on left hand
Men’s engagement rings
According to a 2018 Huffington Post survey, there has been a 280% increase for saved Pinterest images of men’s engagement rings. In 2015, an XO group survey found that 17% of men would like to wear a “man-gagement” ring.
A sign of the times?
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
The most recent UK celebrity male 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 by any means 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.
The ‘mangagement’ ring trend in the UK
It will probably be a while before the average British man is seen wearing a diamond engagement ring.
Men’s engagement rings tend to be either plain bands, diamond studded bands, Claddagh rings or signet rings.
But not solitaire rings – women still have the monopoly on the single diamond.
A man wearing his engagement ring and wedding rings on the right ring finger
In conclusion: How should you wear YOUR engagement and wedding ring?
There’s something very exciting about all these different traditions we’ve outlined above. In an increasingly multicultural and gender-accepting society it has become acceptable, and even fashionable, to borrow exotic wedding and engagement customs from other countries, cultures and lifestyles. So you don’t need to follow any particular rule. Simply do what feels right for you.
Also see men’s diamond rings.
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