What’s the Difference: Engagement Ring Versus Wedding Ring

They symbolize love and commitment. They represent a couple’s promises to each other. The endless circle of a ring eloquently represents eternal love. But engagement rings and wedding rings aren’t the same. What is the difference between engagement and wedding rings? An engagement ring is a proposal: a ring given when two people decide to marry. A wedding ring is a symbol of marriage vows exchanged at the ceremony. 

Traditionally, engagement rings have one major gem, which either stands alone or is surrounded by additional smaller gems. An engagement ring is usually given during the proposal or early in the engagement. By contrast, a wedding ring is traditionally a diamond or metal band that you receive when you exchange vows during the wedding ceremony and wear from then on.

Here is the history, etiquette and traditions about engagement rings versus wedding rings and how they are changing today so you can decide which ones you want to wear or give to celebrate your marriage.


What Are Engagement Rings?

Engagement rings began as betrothal rings, security for the dowry and a symbol of a contract to marry. Today engagement rings are much more romantic. They are a symbol of a promise of forever. Whether or not there is a formal proposal, with one of the couple getting down on one knee to ask “Will you marry me” or the couple decides together that they are ready to tie the knot, the engagement ring is the public symbol of that pledge to wed.

Today most engagements are announced with a picture of the engagement ring on social media. But a ring isn’t necessary for a proposal or engagement. Sometimes couples become engaged without a ring or with a stand-in ring like a ring pop. That allows them to shop together for an engagement ring later. Also becoming more common: an informal agreement that the couple will become engaged soon with ring shopping together and a formal proposal later.

The most popular choice for an engagement ring is a diamond set in gold or platinum. Today, lab-grown diamond engagement rings are a popular option because many couples prefer to minimize the environmental impact of such a deeply personal ring. 

Popular engagement ring styles include solitaire engagement rings, pave band engagement rings, halo engagement rings, and three stone engagement rings. But those are just the beginning of engagement ring options. You can choose any gem you want or no gem at all. Do consider the durability and quality of a ring that says “forever.” You want it to be just as beautiful for decades to come.

It used to be that one of the major differences between engagement and wedding rings is that engagement rings were worn by women and wedding rings were worn by both women and men. Today however that’s no longer true. Both men and women can wear engagement rings and women also propose to their partners, with or without an engagement ring. You or your partner-to-be can decide to give a marriage-proposal ring at any time. One charming new tradition is the “propose back.” The partner who was asked to marry also proposes.

Men’s engagement rings often look very similar to men’s wedding bands. Which goes to show you that the most important difference between engagement rings versus wedding rings isn’t about the ring at all: it’s about why and when it is given. In other words what is an engagement vs wedding ring is all about what they mean, not what they are.


What are Wedding Rings?

Wedding rings are exchanged during a wedding to serve as a physical symbol of the marriage vows. What piece of jewelry is more meaningful than wedding rings? While engagement rings signify a promise, wedding rings symbolize the fulfillment of that promise, the marriage itself. “With this ring I thee wed.”

The meaning of wedding rings is enduring love and the joining of two into one. The marriage vows and exchange of rings are virtually the same around the word. As the couple promises to love each other for the rest of their lives, the unending circles of the wedding rings symbolize eternity.

The symbolism of rings goes back millennia. Some ancient Egyptian and Greek rings are in the form of an Ouroboros, the snake eating its tail that symbolizes infinity. The Egyptians believed that the bond of marriage was so strong it could not be interrupted by death. The wedding band not only connects you to your partner, it also connects you to the generations before you that celebrated the marriage ceremony.

Once plain gold bands, today a wedding ring can be any style ring, from a plain band to a diamond or gemstone ring or any other ring design you like. Your wedding ring should reflect your style, your personality and your aesthetic. Through the years, you’ll appreciate the richness of the design and the way it catches the light, whether it gleams from polished metal or sparkles from gems. If you choose a lab-grown diamond engagement ring, you may want to choose a sustainably grown diamond wedding ring too.

Gold or platinum is the traditional metal choice but today new metals from titanium to steel and tungsten carbide ceramic are also popular, especially for men’s wedding bands. Because of the symbolism of the wedding ring, we don’t recommend a metal that tarnishes like silver or copper. Or a soft material like silicone that will wear away.

One similarity of engagement rings and wedding rings is that they are both worn on the same finger: the fourth finger of the left hand, next to the pinkie. This is popularly known as the “ring finger.” The reason why this finger was selected is that the ancient Romans believed that a vein in this finger, the Vena Amoris or vein of love, went directly to the heart. Wearing a ring on that finger would connect a couple’s hearts through their rings. 

In some countries, including Germany, Spain, Poland, Austria, India, Norway, and Russia, wedding rings are worn on the right hand.

If you intend to wear both an engagement ring and wedding ring, they are traditionally stacked on the ring finger, with the wedding ring closest to the heart. During the wedding ceremony, you move your engagement ring to your right hand so your partner can place the wedding ring on your ring finger. After the ceremony, you move the engagement ring back onto your ring finger. 

Although you can match your wedding ring to your partner’s wedding ring, it’s more common today for each partner to choose the design they like best. You don’t have to match your rings if you don’t want to.


New Traditions of Engagement Rings vs Wedding Rings

Of course, you should decide what rings you want to wear and what finger you want to wear them on. Do you need both an engagement ring and a wedding band? 

Absolutely not! You can wear one ring rather than a wedding ring and an engagement ring. In fact, fabulous wedding rings or eternity rings with diamonds all the way around the finger are becoming more popular as a great way to combine engagement ring and wedding ring into one. 

If you are choosing between an engagement versus wedding ring, you can combine them into one ring. You don’t have to explain the difference between an engagement ring vs wedding ring to everyone. It may make sense to invest your whole budget into one ring that you really love then split it into two rings.

If you want two rings but you’d rather not stack two rings on one finger, you can also wear them on opposite hands. After all, both of your hands are married, not just one.

Instead of a separate engagement ring and wedding band, you can choose a two-part bridal set that is designed to nest together perfectly.

And who says you have to stop at two rings? Today, ring stacks with bands on both sides are a great way to celebrate an anniversary or the birth of a child or a holiday. Designers have created a beautiful selection of tiara rings that easily nest in a larger stack.

Ultimately there’s no right or wrong answer when it comes to choosing, designing, or wearing engagement versus wedding rings. You can wear none, one, two, three, or even more rings—just make sure that the rings you choose to wear to symbolize your love and marriage will have enduring meaning for you for many years to come.

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