Especially in Western cultures, an engagement ring is a ring indicating that the person wearing it is engaged to be married. In the United Kingdom, and North America, engagement rings are traditionally worn only by women, and rings can feature gemstones. In other cultures men and women wear matching rings. In some cultures, engagement rings are also used as wedding rings.
Conventionally, the woman's ring is presented as a betrothal gift by a man to his prospective spouse while he proposes marriage or directly after she accepts his marriage proposal. It represents a formal agreement to future marriage. Rings can be bought by the man, the couple together, or by each partner for the other.
In North America and the United Kingdom, it is customarily worn on the left hand ring finger. This custom may have its origins in an ancient Egyptian myth that the finger contained a vein leading directly to the heart, or it may simply be due to the fact that the heart lies slightly to the left side of the body. Conversely, in Poland and Ukraine, it is customary for the ring to be worn on the right hand. In Germany, the ring is worn on the left hand while engaged, but moved to the right hand when married. Similar traditions purportedly date to classical times, dating back from an early usage reportedly referring to the fourth finger of the left hand as containing the vena amoris or "vein of love".
Before agreeing to marry, a couple may choose to buy and wear pre-engagement rings, also called promise rings. After marrying, the couple may wear both engagement rings and wedding rings, or just their wedding rings, as they prefer. Some brides have their engagement and wedding rings permanently soldered together after marriage.
Betrothal rings were used during Roman times, but weren't generally revived in the Western world until the 13th century. The first well-documented use of a diamond ring to signify engagement was by the Archduke Maximilian of Austria in imperial court of Vienna in 1477, upon his betrothal to Mary of Burgundy.
Before the 20th century, other types of betrothal gifts were common. Before the end of the 19th century, the bride-to-be frequently received a sewing thimble rather than a engagement ring. This practice was particularly common among religious groups that shunned jewelry. Engagement rings didn't become standard in the West until the end of the 19th century, and diamond rings didn't become common until the 1930s. Now, 80% of American women are offered a diamond ring to signify engagement.
Full article ▸