Tradition of Wearing a Ring

Right or left hand dilemma by Leon MegeYou are free to choose a hand for your wedding band. The same-hand rule is made up.

Most Americans believe that a wedding band should go on the left hand’s fourth finger. This belief has existed since at least the fifteenth century and it is based on an outdated mix of ethnic, cultural, and religious traditions that have changed many times throughout history. 

According to Western lore, the left hand’s fourth finger is the weakest and cannot be used independently. Male-centric culture still expects women to wear the band on the left hand’s fourth finger to show subjugation to their husbands. The awful residue of such chauvinism is upheld with an urban myth: supposedly a skeleton’s left hand from a seventh-century burial had a gold ring that closely resembled the contemporary wedding band.

Historically, an engagement ring served as a token of financial commitment and a placeholder for virginity. Today, the world embraces the engagement ring as a symbol of love, passion, and closeness between two partners. A wedding ring signifies eternal love, eternal commitment, and ideally, eternal happiness.

The choice should be yours. The preference for the right or left hand is based on ethnic, cultural, and religious traditions that have changed many times throughout history. The prevailing Western belief in wearing the wedding band on the left hand’s fourth finger has existed since at least the fifteenth century.

According to Western lore, the left hand’s fourth finger is the weakest and cannot be used independently. Male-centric culture still expects women to wear the band on the left hand’s fourth finger to show subjugation to their husbands. The awful residue of such chauvinism is upheld with an urban myth: supposedly a skeleton’s left hand from a seventh-century burial had a gold ring that closely resembled the contemporary wedding band.

They do not. A wedding band sitting flush with an engagement ring is hard to recognize as a separate piece of jewelry, defeating its primary purpose as a marriage symbol. A wedding band designed to fit flush is visually an inseparable part of the engagement ring. It makes the engagement ring look thick and lopsided.

Wearing a band that curves around an engagement ring seems convenient, but isn’t. Firstly, a curved wedding band looks silly on its own without the engagement ring next to it. Secondly, the elegance of a fine engagement ring is severely compromised by the addition. The curved border looks awkward and forced, like a car with a mattress tied to its roof.

Even a traditional eternity band can affect the appearance of the center stone. A stone looks smaller next to a large wedding band. We recommend a thin wedding band set low to the finger for most people who refuse to separate the two rings. For pave-set bands, bright-cut pave edges provide additional protection for the stones. Wearing a wedding band and an engagement ring together is not a symbol of everlasting matrimony but a recipe for disaster. Wear each ring on a different hand so they last an eternity.

Wearing both rings next to each other is often explained as “tradition.” In reality, it is a clever marketing ploy by jewelers to sell more rings. Retailers stand to benefit from wear and tear inflicted by this custom. They argue that rings have to match, making consumers wary of getting wedding bands from a competitor unable to match them exactly.

A wedding band, which is an exact twin of the engagement ring, is a common but uninspired choice. It is usually too dainty and insignificant to be worn by itself. The excessive wear and tear both rings inflict on each other works to the jewelers’ advantage. The friction causes the rings to wear each other out, leading to costly repairs, insurance claims, and more sales. The damage that friction causes can manifest itself quickly, sometimes in a matter of a few months when diamonds come in direct contact with each other.

In the United States, United Kingdom, Ireland, Canada, Australia, Mexico, Brazil, Iran, Chile, Italy, France, Sweden, Slovenia, and other Commonwealth nations, a wedding band is generally worn on the left hand. In Germany, Greece, Russia, Spain, India, Colombia, Venezuela, and Poland, a wedding band is worn on the right hand.

Orthodox Christians and Eastern Europeans wear the wedding band on the right hand. In Belgium, the choice of the hand depends on the region of the country. In the Netherlands, Catholics wear the wedding ring on the left hand, all others on the right. In Austria, Catholics grace the right hand, but Old Catholics stubbornly use the left hand.

Jewish couples wear the wedding ring on the left hand, even though it is worn on the right hand during the marriage ceremony. Muslims adopted the tradition of wearing wedding rings from the West. While Muslims usually wear the wedding ring on the right hand, there is no set rule or customs. Male Muslims are allowed to wear a ring made from any material except gold. Platinum rings are allowed. In Scandinavia, a jeweler’s dreamland, women wear three rings: one for engagement, the second for wedding vows, and the third for motherhood.

The Ancient Greeks were known to exchange rings as tokens of love and affection. The Romans turned it into a full-blown betrothal tradition. Placing the wedding ring on the fourth finger of the left hand originated with a romantic but mildly idiotic theory that a secret nerve or vein connects the finger directly to the heart.

A Roman grammarian and philosopher, Ambrosius Theodosius Macrobius, got the idea from an unnamed Egyptian priest who kept insisting that the fourth finger is the most protected. How and where he used his fingers is lost to history. Macrobius went on to promote this “scientific fact” in the social media of the time: the public baths and bathrooms.

Pliny the Elder quotes: “It was the custom to wear rings only on the finger next to the little finger. You saw the statues of Numa and Servius Tullius, didn’t you? Later it became usual to put rings on the finger next to the thumb and even a little finger. Barbarian Gauls and Britons use the middle finger for the purpose. However, in Rome middle finger is the only one excluded. All others fingers are loaded with rings, smaller rings even being separately adapted for the smaller joints of the fingers.”

The prevailing Western custom of wearing the wedding band on the left hand’s fourth finger has existed since the fifteenth century. Isadore of Seville, writing in the early part of the seventh century, declared the fourth finger best suited for a betrothal ring. The Roman Empire likely followed this tradition to its end. The rules governing which side of the body is better suited for engagement and wedding rings have changed many times since Rome fell. Between the 11th and 15th centuries, French ecclesiastical rules placed the nuptial ring on the bride’s right middle finger, except in the rebellious diocese of Liège that bravely used the fourth finger.

Teenage King Edward VI of England had decreed that the left hand’s third finger should be the ring finger. Luckily, he died from a lung infection at fifteen before making up more ridiculous rules. So until the Reformation, the ring sat on the left hand’s third finger. The 1549 edition of the Book of Common Prayer brought dramatic changes. It required all Protestants to wear the wedding ring on their left hand. These Catholics stuck with the ring on the right hand.

The hippies of the Italian Renaissance hung betrothal rings from necklaces or thin cords and even wore them on hats. The 1493 marriage of Pope Alexander VI illegitimate 13-year old daughter Lucrezia Borgia to Giovanni Sforza was well recorded. The record specified that twin gold rings were set with precious stones and placed on the fourth finger of the left hand “whose vein leads to the heart.” Apparently, the vein was blocked soon thereafter because they were divorced in just a few years. Giovanni signed a paper attesting to his impotence, a small price to pay for freedom.

It was not unusual to wear the wedding ring on the thumb during the reign of George I of England (a German who could not speak a word of English) perhaps because enormously big rings were in fashion at the time. During the marriage ceremony, a ring was placed on the right hand’s fourth finger. There were exceptions such as noblemen entering morganatic marriage (marriage between a high noble and a crappy noble or, God forbid, a non-noble) would present his left hand to receive the ring, as in a “left-handed marriage.”

According to Chinese tradition, engagement rings are worn on the middle finger, while wedding rings are worn on opposite hands by the bride and the groom. The bride wears a band on her right hand, while the groom wears his on the left. The Chinese believe that a woman is in charge of the household, so her ring should be on her right hand. The right hand exerts influence according to the custom of “nan zhuo, nu you,” male left, female right.

In ancient Chinese philosophy:

  • The thumb represents parents
  • The index finger represents siblings
  • The middle finger represents yourself
  • The ring finger represents a life partner
  • The little finger represents children

With your hands closed and all your fingertips touching, fold middle fingers since they represent yourself. You can open your thumbs: your parents are not destined to live with you forever. You can open your index fingers: your siblings will leave you to have their own life and family. You can also move the little fingers: your children will settle with a family of their own. But it is impossible to separate the ring fingers because, as husband and wife, you are destined to be together forever.

In the words of Confucius, “it is harder to wiggle out of marriage than wander into it.” 摆脱婚姻比徘徊更难

There is no ideal solution, but there are a few possible compromises:
– Welding both rings together. The Frankenring does eliminate friction but makes the ring less elegant. The solution to soften the aesthetic blow is to separate them with a small gap (about 0.3 mm wide). The rings are connected with tiny, nearly invisible pins but appear to be independent.

– Curving the wedding band around the engagement ring. Move your melting clocks, Salvador Dali, for here comes “the melting ring.” The so-called “shadow bands” can be hard to find at high-end jewelers, but plenty are sold on the far side of the shopping mall. Look for a small store right between “Jack’s Closeouts” and “Going Out of Business” outlets.

– Using a spacer. A spacer can be a plain thin metal band sitting between the engagement ring and wedding band. Also, a spacer can fit the engagement ring precisely in a lock-and-key fashion while its other side is straight.

– Placing the setting on the top of the shank instead of fitting into it. That raises the center stone and eliminates the gallery.

– Adding tongue and groove connections, which are essentially small hooks to lock both rings and prevent them from grinding each other.

Engagement ring styles have evolved significantly from the past. Contemporary bridal rings are lighter, more delicate, and often set with many very small stones called pave.

Use extra care during the wear to avoid bumping your precious rings into hard surfaces.
Regularly clean the rings by gently brushing them in soupy lukewarm water.
Visit your jeweler at least once a year to clean, dry, and check for loose stones using professional equipment.
By minimizing direct contact between engagement and wedding rings, you can avoid irreversible damage caused by friction.

Uniformed bands stacked together are usually immune from damage. As long as the bands are similar in height and have smooth sides, they are OK to stack. Your jeweler can easily polish off minor scratches and dents on your next visit. A band with an engraving on its sides should be exempt from stacking if you want to keep the engraving from disappearing.

Both rings will eventually damage each other. The extent and speed at which the damage manifests itself depend on many circumstances.
The most dramatic damage occurs when there is direct contact between the gemstones or diamonds of both rings. It is also the costliest damage.

Metal-to-metal wear will slowly burnish the metal and could lead to parts snapping or cracking. In the case of a stone-to-metal contact, the stones always prevail. Delicate prongs or beads are also very vulnerable, and it does not take long for them to weaken to the point when they can no longer hold stones in place. This usually causes pave stones to fall out.

The speed with which the damage occurs depends on how tight both rings are sitting on the finger. When both rings adhere to the finger well, there is less movement, so the damaging friction works very slow.

Even when both rings fit tightly, they oscillate during normal wear, causing them to grind each other. These subtle but constant vibrations are harmful.
Even engagement rings modified to fit flush with wedding bands are susceptible to damage. They shift up and down because the finger’s soft tissues cannot keep them in place all the time.

Usually, damage manifests itself in two ways:

A wedding band chews through the engagement ring basket, prongs, and gallery, on occasion carving a space for itself that can look like it is done on purpose.
The engagement ring rips off the top of the wedding band, which causes pave stones to fall out.
We strongly advise wearing engagement and wedding rings on two different hands to preserve their precious uniqueness and beauty. Of course, it’s OK to join both rings together for special occasions, but continuous wear will inevitably wreck at least one.

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