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Engagement Ring vs Wedding Ring—What’s the Difference?

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Are wedding bells in your future? If you’re thinking about tying the knot with your special someone, one of the first steps is choosing the perfect rings. But you may have questions about the difference between engagement rings and wedding rings. From symbolism and style to price and placement, several key differences exist between these two ring types. Keep reading to learn more about these special symbols of love and commitment.

 

What is an Engagement Ring?

An engagement ring is a finger ring presented by a partner to their prospective spouse during a marriage proposal. It symbolizes the promise to marry and is traditionally worn on the fourth finger (ring finger) of the left hand until the wedding ceremony.

It is believed that the engagement ring tradition started from a Roman custom where wives wore rings attached to small keys, indicating their husbands’ ownership. Roman brides were also known to be given two rings—a gold ring to be worn in public and an iron ring to be worn around the house. Incorporating diamonds in engagement rings began in 1477 when Archduke Maximillian of Austria commissioned the first diamond engagement ring for his future wife, Mary of Burgundy.

While the “classic” single-stone solitaire ring is still popular, engagement rings today embrace a wide range of designs, featuring gemstones of all colors, multiple stones in elaborate settings and unique styles to match the wearer’s taste. For instance, when Ben Affleck and Jennifer Lopez got engaged (for the second time!) in 2022, the accompanying ring was a stunning green diamond on a silver band.

 

What is a Wedding Ring?

A wedding ring, also sometimes called a wedding band, is a finger ring traditionally worn by married people. Typically made from metal, like gold, platinum or tungsten carbide, wedding rings come in a variety of styles from plain bands to those adorned with diamonds or gemstones. They are exchanged by two people during a wedding ceremony as a public symbol of marital commitment. Wedding rings are then typically worn on the ring finger of the left hand, although some cultures have different traditions.

While cave dwellers were rumored to have marked their unions by wearing bands of woven grass on their arms and legs, it was the Egyptian pharaohs who first used circular finger rings, with no beginning or end, to symbolize eternity. Find the full history of the wedding ring here.

 

What’s the Difference Between an Engagement Ring and a Wedding Ring?

While both rings serve as a symbol of love and commitment between a couple, there are several factors that set them apart.

  • Symbolism: An engagement ring signifies a promise to get married, while a wedding ring represents the actual union of the couple after the ceremony.
  • Timing: Engagement rings are presented during or around the time of a marriage proposal, while wedding rings are traditionally exchanged during the wedding ceremony itself.
  • Design: Engagement rings often (but not always!) feature a central gemstone, most commonly a diamond. Wedding bands are typically simpler in design - either plain or with subtle embellishments.
  • Wearing: Traditionally, both engagement rings and wedding rings are worn on the ring finger of the left hand. However, some people choose to stop wearing their engagement ring once married, wear it only on special occasions or on their right hand, or wear the two rings stacked together on the left ring finger all the time.
  • Pricing: Another significant difference between an engagement ring and a wedding ring is the price. Engagement rings tend to be more expensive than wedding bands. Even more elaborate wedding bands, such as those with inlaid diamonds or other gemstones, tend to have a total carat weight less than that of an engagement ring, making them less expensive.

 

How to Wear Engagement and Wedding Rings

While you can certainly wear your rings any way that is appealing and comfortable to you, here's a breakdown of how engagement and wedding rings are typically worn throughout the engagement and wedding process:

 

Before the Wedding:

  • Engagement Ring: This is worn on the left-hand ring finger of the person who receives the proposal and is a symbol of the commitment to marry.

 

During the Wedding Ceremony:

  • Engagement Ring: Traditionally, the person who receives the engagement ring removes it before receiving the wedding band. This removal can be done beforehand and kept safe, or it can be taken off during the ceremony. This symbolizes letting go of the "promise" stage and entering the married state.
  • Wedding Band: During the ceremony, both partners will typically swap wedding bands during the exchange of vows. Prior to the swap, the rings may be worn on their right hand or held by a family member or member of the wedding party. The wedding band is traditionally placed on the recipient’s left hand ring finger by the spouse-to-be.

 

After the Wedding:

  • Engagement Ring: Some people choose to wear both rings stacked together on the left ring finger. Others might choose to wear their engagement ring on a different finger, such as the fourth finger of their right hand, or keep it safe for special occasions.
  • Wedding Band: This is typically worn every day on the left ring finger, closest to the hand, as a symbol of their ongoing marriage. Check out How to Wear a Wedding Ring for full details.

 

Dispelling Four Common Engagement and Wedding Ring Myths

 

Myth #1: Engagement rings are always received at the time of a marriage proposal.

When Future First Lady Jackie Kennedy was photographed sans ring following her engagement announcement to John F. Kennedy in 1953, she told reporters, “I haven’t one yet. Jack and I have looked at dozens of them. Some I didn’t like, and others weren’t the right type.” Ultimately, Jackie’s future father-in-law, Kennedy patriarch Joseph Kennedy, picked out the ring, showing that an engagement can be official without a ring.

Jackie’s iconic “toi et moi” engagement ring, (meaning “you and me” in French) consisted of a 2.88-carat diamond and a 2.84-carat emerald, disproving another common misunderstanding that an engagement ring’s gemstones must always be diamonds.

 

Myth #2: Unique and elaborate rings are reserved for brides and brides-to-be.

Many men opt for a simple, smooth metal ring at the time of marriage. Others venture out to find a ring that’s unique and personal to them, selecting interesting materials like hammered metal, wood, meteorite or carbon fiber. Or, in the case of one of Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson’s wedding rings, you might choose bull horn and Tyrannosaurus rex bone! Additionally, while it may not be common practice, some grooms-to-be also choose to wear an engagement ring leading up to the wedding.

 

Myth #3: The engagement ring must cost two months' salary.

There's no set price tag on love or commitment. The cost of an engagement ring should be based on your budget and priorities. While some choose to spend a significant amount, a meaningful and thoughtful ring, regardless of price, can be just as valuable. Visit Engagement Ring Shopping Guide to learn more.

 

Myth #4: Wedding rings must always match.

Some couples choose matching bands; however, it's perfectly fine to have different styles. Your wedding rings should reflect your individual tastes and personalities. Select a ring that feels comfortable and meaningful to each of you.

Whether you’ve just begun your wedding planning or are already in your honeymoon phase, it’s always smart to insure your valuable symbols of love. Individuals looking for jewelry insurance are often under the misconception that insuring their jewelry through a homeowners insurance policy is the best option. And while home insurance companies may be experts at insuring homes, it’s recommended you protect your jewelry with jewelry insurance experts. Check your rate by clicking the button below.

 

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About Jewelers Mutual Group

Jewelers Mutual was founded in 1913 by a group of Wisconsin jewelers to meet their unique insurance needs. Later, consumers began putting their trust in Jewelers Mutual to protect their jewelry and the special memories each piece holds. Today, Jewelers Mutual continues to support and move the industry forward by listening to jewelers and consumers and offering products and services to meet their evolving needs. Beyond insurance, Jewelers Mutual’s powerful suite of innovative solutions and digital technology offerings help jewelers strengthen and grow their businesses, mitigate risk, and bring them closer to their customers. The Group insurers’ strong financial position is reflected in their 37 consecutive “A+ Superior” ratings from AM Best Company, as of November 2023. Policyholders of the Group insurers are members of Jewelers Mutual Holding Company. Jewelers Mutual is headquartered in Neenah, Wisconsin, with other Group offices in Dallas, Texas and Miami, Florida. To learn more, visit JewelersMutual.com.