Valentine's Day might well see some men popping THE question to their lady loves. Did you ever wonder how the custom of engagement and wedding rings ever started?

Betrothal rings go back to Roman times. The gimmel ring sometimes called the fede (hand in hand) ring were associated with betrothal and weddings. Later on, Italian Renaissance jewelers made many of these. The gimmel ring has two hoops - each half may well have been worn by the betrothed couple which were joined at some point of the wedding ceremony much like today when the groom places the ring on the bride's finger. Fede rings may also have been used to pledge a contract or brotherhood.

The Roman custom of such pledge rings was adopted by early Christians as wedding rings. The ring was worn on the third finger as it was believed that a vein there connected directly with the heart. The vein was called vena amoris, Latin for vein of love. The actual ritual of placing the ring on the bride's finger in the wedding ceremony goes back to the 11th century. Did you know that in medieval times, the wedding ceremony took place at the church door?

In 1549, the "Book of Common Prayer" of Edward VI specified that the ring should be placed on the third finger of the left hand. Even after that clarification, brides continued to wear their rings on other fingers and even on the right hand. Today, many Western cultures do wear their rings on the left hand but there are exceptions in countries such as Germany, Norway, Bulgaria, Chile and India where the right hand dominates.

My friend who belongs to the Eastern Orthodox church wears her ring on her right hand because that is the hand which is used to make promises and oaths. It is also the hand that they believe acknowledges the presence of God through the sign of the cross. This stems from the fact that most people are right-handed.

No one really knows when plain gold bands came to be used as wedding rings. When Mary Tudor married Philip II of Spain in 1554, someone noted she wore "a plain hoope of gold without any stone in it because maydens were so maried in olde times". But many brides preferred (even today) gem-set wedding rings.

Until 1947, women chose a variety of gemstones for their engagement and wedding rings. That year, the De Beers company launched their "A Diamond is Forever" campaign to boost flagging diamond sales. The promotion was so successful that today, 4 out of 5 engagement rings are now set with diamonds.

Photo Credit : NatsPhoto on Stockxchng.


Ernle Bradford (1967) Four Centuries of European Jewelry. Spring Books.

Hugh Tait. (1986) Jewelry : 7000 years. Harry N Abrams Publishers