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A wedding ring or wedding band is a finger ring, often made of metal, indicating that its wearer is married. Depending on the culture, the ring is typically worn on the base of the left or the right ring finger.
The earliest examples of wedding rings were found in ancient Egypt. The Western traditions of wedding rings can be traced back to ancient Rome and Greece and adopted by Christendom in Europe in the Middle Ages.
A wedding ring can come in many forms, traditionally made of gold or some other precious metal. Many people wear their wedding rings day and night, causing an indentation in the skin that remains visible even when the ring is taken off. Another indication of their cultural importance is that wedding rings are among the few items permitted to be worn by prison inmates and visitors.
It is widely believed that the first examples of wedding rings were found in ancient Egypt. Relics dating back as far as 6,000 years ago, including papyrus scrolls, show us evidence of braided rings of hemp or reeds being exchanged among a wedded couple. Egypt viewed the circle as a symbol of eternity, and the ring served to signify the never-ending love between the couple. This was also the origin of the practice of wearing the wedding ring on the ring finger of the left hand, which the Egyptians believed to house a special vein that was connected directly to the heart, otherwise also known as Vena amoris.
The Western traditions of wedding rings can be traced back to ancient Rome and Greece first associated with dowry and later with a pledge of fidelity. The modern exchange of rings originated in Europe in Middle Age as part of Christendom. In the United States, wedding rings were initially worn only by wives, but became customary for both husbands and wives during the 20th century.
Historical ring styles
During the 16th and 17th centuries, European husbands would bestow a gimmel ring upon their wives. Similar to the puzzle ring, they consisted of two interlocking bands. The bride and groom would each wear one of these bands after their engagement, and the two bands would be reunited at the wedding ceremony. The wife would then wear the combined ring.
This was a style of ring that was popular during the Renaissance. It came in the form of a band of sterling silver, inscribed with a poem or "poesy" therefore its name.
Other ring styles
There are many other historical ring styles throughout different cultures. For example, see the picture below of the Byzantine era ring depicting Christ. Also, there are puzzle rings representing an old custom from the Middle East. This ring was made up of several pieces that would join together in a cohesive band when worn correctly. The object of this ring was to be very difficult to put on properly so that, if the wife took off her wedding ring, her husband would know.
In 1942 British wartime restrictions on the manufacture of jewellery resulted in "utility" wedding rings which were limited to a mass of no more than two pennyweights, slightly more than 3 grams, and were made from 9-carat gold rather than the traditional 22.
The rings were Hallmarked by the Regional Assayer Office which guaranteed the gold content of the ring, with a special Utility Mark next to the year mark inside the band, which looks like either a capital U with the bottom curve missing, or two parentheses "( )" with a bit of space between them. This extra mark guaranteed that the ring followed all the gold content and weight restrictions in force at the time.
The double-ring ceremony
The double-ring ceremony, or use of wedding rings for both partners, is a 20th-century American innovation but has been used elsewhere before. The US jewelry industry started a marketing campaign aimed at encouraging this practice in the late 19th century. In the 1920s, ad campaigns tried introducing a male engagement ring, but it failed due to the necessity that its advertising campaigns make secret appeals to women. Marketing lessons of the 1920s, changing economic times, and the workplace impact of World War II led to a more successful marketing campaign for male and female wedding bands, and by the late 1940s, double-ring ceremonies made up 80% of all weddings, as opposed to 15% before the Great Depression. Rising expectations of equality between the sexes in nearly all spheres of life during the 20th century cemented the trend, and double-ring ceremonies remain preponderant in the US in the 21st century, causing some orthodox religious authorities to struggle to harmonize their single-ring traditions with couples' desire for a double-ring ceremony.
Outside the US, it is still common to find single-ring weddings with just the bride wearing the wedding ring. In several European countries, like the Nordic countries, it is normal to use plain engagement rings of the same kind for both sexes, and typically, an additional, more precious, bejeweled wedding ring is given to the bride. In the nuptials, the groom's ring becomes a wedding ring, too, and can be put on anew by the bride as a part of the ceremony with marriage vows. The engagement is typically a matter of agreement between the two, where rings are chosen together. Both engagement and wedding rings are worn on the left hand, the bride having both rings together. Occasionally, the groom gets a separate wedding ring. In Germany and Austria, both parties use engagement rings worn on the left hand. At the nuptials, a wedding ring is put on the right hand, as in several east European countries, like Russia, Bulgaria, and Poland. This can be a new ring for the bride, or both, or reusing the engagement rings. Any engagement rings can then remain on the left hand or be moved to the right hand. Also in Brazil, Mexico, Spain, and the Netherlands, both sexes wear engagement rings, where the groom's ring often becomes a wedding ring at the nuptials used in the ring exchange ceremony.
Compositions and styles
In Western countries, wedding rings are often made of rose, white or yellow gold, platinum, palladium or argentium silver, more recently, silicone. The perpetuity of noble metals is thought to symbolize the steadfastness of the marriage bond. Common engravings on the inside of the ring include the name of one's spouse, or of both spouses, and/or date of the wedding, and possibly a phrase of special meaning. In many countries the engagement rings are plain while the bride's wedding ring typically has jewels.
According to some customs, the ring forms the last in a series of gifts, which also may include the engagement ring, traditionally given as a betrothal present. This custom was practised in Ancient Rome and is possibly much older. In modern egalitarian societies both parties often contribute to the purchase of engagement and wedding rings, choosing them together, as a modern woman is ever less of a dependent subject of the father to be handed over to dependency on a husband. In some countries the wedding ring is traditionally a gift from someone else to help a young couple.
Wedding ceremony customs
In several traditions, the best man or maid of honour has 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 (who is often part of the family of the bride or groom) may assist in the ceremonial parading of the rings into the ceremony, sometimes on a special cushion.
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 set given to 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 now a betrothal ceremony is the initial part of the wedding service. In many families an informal blessing is now performed by the betrothed ones' parents in a family dinner that formalizes 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 crowning.
Historically, the wedding ring was connected to the exchange of valuables at the moment of the wedding rather than a symbol of eternal love and devotion, a sign of "earnest money". According to the 1549 edition of the Book of Common Prayer: 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. 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 economic 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'.
After marriage, the ring is worn on the hand it had been placed on during the ceremony. By wearing rings on the fourth finger, a married couple symbolically declares their eternal love for each other. This has become a matter of tradition and etiquette. Many people wear their wedding rings day and night. When needed because of hygiene or to avoid damage, it is common to wear the rings on a necklace instead.
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 fourth finger of the left hand along with the original (usually gold) wedding ring.
Wedding ceremonies that reference rings
- Church of England (1662 Book of Common Prayer): "With this ring I thee wed, with my body I thee worship, and with all my worldly goods I thee endow: In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost. Amen."
- Jewish: "You are consecrated to me with this ring according to the law of Moses and Israel."—said in Hebrew by the groom at an Orthodox Jewish wedding and by both the bride and groom at a Reform Jewish wedding.
- Roman Catholic: "N., take this ring as a sign of my love and fidelity. In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit."
- Eastern Orthodox: In the Eastern Orthodox Service of Betrothal, the Priest makes the Sign of the Cross with rings over the bridegroom's head while saying three times "The servant of God (Groom) is betrothed to the handmaid of God (Bride), in the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen". This is then followed by another three times over the bride's head with the names reversed, after which the rings are exchanged three times (either by the priest or by the best man). The Priest asks God "to bless this putting on of rings with a heavenly blessing and that an Angel of the Lord will go before these Your servants, all the days of their life." In Eastern Orthodox tradition the wedding ring is worn on the right hand rather than the left.
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