Wedding ring traditions from around the world

Wedding ring traditions from around the world

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Is there such thing as the perfect wedding ring? Take a look into the history and cultural significance of wedding rings from a wide range of cultures and religions.

Is there such a thing as the wedding ring?
Marriage is something we find in almost every culture around the world. Although the union between two people who love each other is central to each marriage, each culture has its own traditions. For example, there are wedding clothes, colour themes, blessing rituals and wedding food traditions. There are also smaller cultural differences. One of the best known of these is the wearing of a wedding ring. Although the wedding ring is seen as one of the most universal symbols in the world and carries the same symbolic significance almost everywhere, how the ring is made and worn varies throughout the world.

Wedding ring traditions from around the worldWedding ring traditions from around the worldWedding ring traditions from around the world

Latin American ring / Native American ring / Celtic ring


History of the wedding ring

Let's first look at the history of this very special ring. Although Egypt is regarded as the birthplace of the modern wedding ring, the tradition was actually adopted as long ago as Neanderthal times. Neanderthals used to tie twigs, grass and rushes around the bride's wrists or ankles and regarded this not only as a sign of loyalty and friendship, but also believed that by doing so the wife's soul would remain intact and that she would live longer.

The Egyptians

Wedding ring traditions from around the world
Rings made of ivory, hemp and bone.

Several hundred years later, the Egyptians began making rings from bone, leather, ivory and hemp. Some time later, they discovered that metal could also be used to make rings, and as such, it was known as ring money. When a woman received this ring, she would at all times have a claim on her husband's possessions.


Wedding ring traditions from around the world
Roman key ring

The Romans
In Roman times the wedding ring took on a more romantic meaning. Not only did married women have a right to their husbands' worldly possessions, the wedding ring also served as a sign that the wife had unlocked her husband's heart. In order to symbolise this, a key was often part of the wedding ring.


Asia
A somewhat less romantic significance was attached to wedding rings in the early Asian world where the wedding ring was regarded as the seal of a legal contract. The marriage was sealed with a puzzle wedding ring, which immediately fell apart when taken off. An unfaithful wife would be found out at once if she took off her wedding ring during her husband's long absence.

Wedding ring traditions from around the world
Asian puzzle ring


Over the years the wedding ring developed even further into the ring that we know today. For example, in medieval times, rings were made almost exclusively of gold and this period saw the more frequent addition of gemstones. It was only from the 1940s onwards that mounting a diamond on a wedding ring became fashionable.

Wedding ring for the husband

It was also in the 20th century that we saw the emergence of the wedding ring for men. Previously, only wives had worn wedding rings but during the World War II, wedding rings for men really caught on. The idea behind this was that men would carry their love with them in times when they weren't sure they would ever see their wives again. Although nowadays this idea no longer applies to the same extent, the majority of western men still wear a wedding ring.

In today's globalised world, you might be forgiven for thinking that we would adopt each other's traditions more and more and that consequently, wedding rings would be worn the same way and symbolise the same things. However, the fact that borders are shifting doesn't mean that culture is being forgotten.

Catholicism
Contrary to what we often see in films, the wedding ring is not always worn on the left hand. In several countries where Catholicism is dominant, people actually wear their wedding ring on their right hand.

For example, Dutch Catholics wear their ring on their left hand, but Austrian Catholics wear theirs on their right hand; and in Belgium it varies according to which region you live in. One of the reasons for wearing your wedding ring on your right hand is that the left is regarded by some as ‘evil'. In fact, the Latin word for left is ‘sinister', which now has negative and dark connotations.

Protestants

Although followers of the Protestant faith often wear their ring on their right hand, not all of them do so. The romantic idea behind wearing the ring around your left ring finger is that it's closer to your heart, which is why many people opt to do so.

Asian countries

The gold content varies across the world too. Asian countries and countries in the Far East are much more used to purchasing pure yellow gold, which means 18 and 22 carat gold is regarded as the norm. The origins of this can be found partly in religion, whereas in India, gold is linked to superiority, beauty and attractiveness. According to tradition, the more gold the bride is given, the happier she will be. Higher gold content is also considered to be more long lasting so, by investing in long-lasting jewellery, you are directly investing in a long-lasting marriage.

Western countries

This way of thinking is apparently not shared worldwide as most Western countries regard 14 carat gold as the norm. In the USA, 10 carat gold is sold and in Germany we even see 9 carat gold. Dutch law states that anything less than 14 carat gold may not even be called gold. Even so, 9 carat gold is becoming increasingly popular. The country of origin plays a major part in the choice of gold content. People from countries where pure gold is the norm often consider 14 or 9 carat gold to be low budget. On the other hand, people who are used to lighter gold actually find pure 22 carat gold too showy and fake.

Russian and French wedding rings
Anyone thinking that we have mentioned all the differences between countries and cultures is mistaken. There is also a wide variety of ring designs. Russian and French wedding rings, for example, often consist of three multi-coloured, interwoven bands.

Wedding ring traditions from around the world
Celtic rings with a Claddagh design


Celtic Rings

The rings in Celtic countries are often engraved with a Claddagh design, which symbolises marital fidelity.

England and America
In England and America, rings are often worn as sets: First you have the engagement ring, then the smooth wedding ring and finally the ‘eternity ring', which is traditionally given on the occasion of the first wedding anniversary or the birth of the first child.

Native American tribes

The wedding rings that differ most from Western designs are the ones worn by the many Native American tribes that still live in North America. Traditionally, they still use the materials and symbols that have powerful links to their own culture. For example, the rings are almost always made of silver and are decorated with semi-precious stones or natural materials such as turquoise, red coral and shells.

Wedding ring traditions from around the world Wedding ring traditions from around the world

Traditional Indian rings / Native American ring 


So as we see, there is no such a thing as the wedding ring. The origins and cultures behind wedding rings are not the only things you should take into consideration when choosing a ring; there's also the important matter of your own personal taste. There are plenty to choose from, but which will suit you? Let yourself be inspired by the many options that different cultures and countries have passed down to us over the years.



Circles / Expatica

If you have trouble deciding, you can always get assistance from one of the Circles' advisors. Circles is based in Zwijndrecht near Rotterdam in the Netherlands.

 

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6 Comments To This Article

  • sneha posted:

    on 30th March 2016, 21:43:18 - Reply

    The circle of the wedding ring is also a symbol of eternity. The circle has no beginning or end and is, therefore, a symbol of infinity.
  • Sarah posted:

    on 2nd November 2015, 03:59:40 - Reply

    It's a very interesting article about wedding rings. Thanks!

  • Shari D. posted:

    on 31st March 2014, 10:02:52 - Reply

    Gitte - "Dexter" is the Latin root word for "dexterity" implying that one is skilled and able to work well with the right hand to which it applies.
  • Diima posted:

    on 2nd April 2013, 16:48:24 - Reply

    Another missing information is the existance of cultures in several regions where rings are not even considered.
    Also, in not so ancient times rings were worn only by women since the significance was only to show that she is already taken; apparently men were free do say what they want...that is interesting :-)
  • mskadin posted:

    on 22nd March 2013, 18:00:37 - Reply

    Interesting and some what missing information.
    What about Jews and Muslim they also wear wedding rings and the Buddist do they wear one
  • Gitte posted:

    on 13th March 2013, 11:44:43 - Reply

    if Sinister has dark connotations, how about Dexter? :)