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What is the Significance of a Wedding Band?

Throughout history, the ring has been used to symbolize the bond of marriage. Although it wasn’t until the mid-20th century that both men and women started wearing rings (before that it was only women), they have long been used to show that a person is no longer on the market (so to speak). But there are actually quite a few points of significance concerning the giving and receiving of wedding bands. Here’s a little rundown of what that ring on your finger really means.

Historically speaking, there were certain monetary considerations tied up in marriages. Women generally had to be given over into marriage with a dowry (a sum of money or goods like livestock). This was to counter the increased expenditures of her new husband due to having another mouth to feed (or several, once children started to be born), but it was also to give the couple a fresh start in life. In addition, a woman came with their own contributions, mainly in the form of a hope chest which she would have filled with needlework and other valuables from the time she was a child. Interestingly, the ring was not only given as a symbol that a woman was no longer available for courtship, but also as an item of value that could one day be added to a daughter’s dowry to make her more desirable.

But that was just business. These days, the ring is more a symbol of love than wealth (although wedding bands are made from precious metals, giving them inherent monetary value). During WWII, men and women began exchanging rings, probably so that soldiers going off to war would have something to remind them of their love awaiting their return. Of course, the jewelry industry probably supported this move, although there is no evidence that they were responsible for starting it.

Finally, there is the unbroken circle to consider. Even ancient cultures considered a circle to be symbolic of eternity and strength, both aspects of a strong marriage. And while the wedding band did not necessarily stem from religion, many religious ceremonies now include wedding bands simply because the circle holds special significance within their dogma. For the happy couple exchanging rings, these metal bands can be considered to signify commitment, longevity, prosperity, and any number of other positive influences on the relationship. In truth, the value of a wedding band has a lot more to do with what the individual endows it with, rather than what history and culture have to say on the matter.

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What Does a Promise Ring Really Mean?

You may have heard of this phenomenon of men giving promise rings. They’re not engagement rings (and they’re not worn on the third finger of the left hand), and yet, they are supposed to symbolize the intention to marry, or at least to become engaged (at some point). In short, they’re a pre-engagement ring, if that makes any sense. But what does it really mean when you receive such a promise?

Not to rain on your parade, but all it really says is that your man isn’t serious about getting married yet. You’ve probably been talking about marriage. Maybe you’ve been together for a while and you’ve started to actually hear your biological clock ticking (possibly making you a little pushy on the topic of marriage). Perhaps you’ve even hinted that your relationship “isn’t working out”, hoping that he’ll get the clue. Or maybe you simply feel that he’s the one, despite the fact that you’ve only been together a short while. The truth is that he’s probably giving you this ring in order to appease you without actually having to propose. A promise ring may hint at a future, but an engagement ring is a bold declaration of the intention to commit.

Of course, there could be other factors. Perhaps he simply doesn’t have the money to give you the engagement ring and wedding that he thinks you deserve. Wouldn’t it be nice if that were actually the case? Or maybe he really does love you, but just isn’t quite ready to commit (although he is beginning to think along those lines). It may also be part of his religion, given to symbolize his commitment to you and only you, or a promise to practice abstinence until the wedding. There are all kinds of reasons one might give a promise ring, but generally, you can bet that it has to do with a certain amount of hesitation to actually propose.

On the other hand, you do get a nice piece of jewelry out of the deal that you have no obligation to return if the relationship doesn’t pan out (whereas an engagement ring you would almost certainly want to give back). And at least he’s starting to think along the lines of marriage (even if he is putting off the engagement to some degree). So take him at his word, wear his promise on your right hand, and consider this as evidence that he’s starting to crack (meaning it’s time to push a little harder!).

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Engagement Ring Symbolism

You’re probably aware of the fact that an engagement ring is a symbol of the willingness to commit to spending your life with the person you give it to. It is a material manifestation of the love and devotion you feel for that special lady in your life; in short, it’s a promise in the form of a glittery gift. But it can also denote wealth and status for the woman wearing it, as well as her personal style. And originally, the engagement ring may have come into the marriage from the bride’s family, as part of her dowry rather than a gift from her betrothed (and it doubled as her wedding band in most cases, especially since the groom didn’t necessarily sport a ring). But an engagement ring is so much more than the sum of its parts. When you deconstruct it and look at the individual pieces, you’ll see that they have their own inherent symbolism.

Let’s start with the band, which is most often in the shape of a circle (yeah, there are some weirdo ones out there that are square, hexagonal, octagonal, or even triangular, but they don’t tend to fit very well). The circle is indeed functional, fitting well on the finger, but it also carries a heavy symbolism. It has been used to indicate eternity, perfection, and completion (as in the perfect and everlasting love that is supposed to result from marital union). But the material the band is made from may also have significance. The metal used will not only speak to a certain era (since trends change) but also the value of the piece. Silver is relatively inexpensive while gold and white gold cost more. And platinum, which is the most expensive, is also the toughest, withstanding both tarnish and damage for the most part.

Then there is the stone used in the ring. Most commonly it is a diamond (or multiple diamonds) and this is not accidental. Not only are diamonds instantly recognizable as holding monetary value (since they are only found in relatively limited supply); they are also the hardest natural substance on Earth, making them virtually indestructible (except for flaws). In fact, most diamonds are cut and polished with tools made from other diamonds. They symbolize longevity and strength, which every marriage can benefit from.

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The Symbolism of a Diamond

You have probably heard a number of phrases associated with the diamond. Diamonds are forever. Diamonds are a girl’s best friend. She’s a diamond in the rough. These are all used to define what makes this rare stone so special and desirable. But what do these phrases mean? What is it about this gemstone that prompts people to beg, borrow, and steal just to get one? What makes it worth more than any other rock that comes from the crust of our planet? In short, what does the hardest substance on Earth symbolize?

Diamonds can actually symbolize a number of different things. They are first and foremost considered a symbol of love. The diamond engagement ring (both in being offered and accepted) represents a promise between two people to spend the rest of their lives together, making it an enduring symbol of romance and longevity. It is also a gift that is given to show love. Can you imagine offering diamonds to an acquaintance or someone you didn’t know well? Of course not! It is an item given only to those in our lives we are most intimate with.

It is also a symbol of wealth. Any royal family worth its salt has a collection of large, rare, and extremely valuable diamonds (see Great Britain and Russia for good examples). Diamonds are neither cheap nor abundant, so owning one (or many) can be seen as a symbol of status and wealth. In addition, it has often been the case throughout history that even when an economy fails, sending their currency into a spiral of worthlessness, diamonds are still considered a valuable commodity that can be traded for goods and services (consider how many people used diamonds as a way to secure passage out of Europe during World War II).

Finally, diamonds are a symbol of timelessness, although this more to do with their physical attributes than anything else. They are not only rare and bewitching (who can stop themselves from appreciating the brilliant sparkle of a well-cut diamond?), they also possess the quality of being the hardest natural substance known to man. In fact, Mohs harness scale used diamonds as a way to rate every other natural substance. So it’s no surprise that these practically indestructible stones have become the symbol of enduring love, power, and wealth to all who possess them. And as far as we know, diamonds really might last forever.