Which Finger Is For Engagement Rings?
If one wears a ring on your left hand ring finger, does that automatically mean that you are married, and why do some people wear their engagement rings on their right hands, and on which finger do you wear a promise ring, if indeed you wear one at all?
There are more to rings than meet the eye. Up until now it’s been pretty straight forward – if she or he has a band on their ring finger, left hand, they’re married. A guy who doesn’t sport a wedding band is not necessarily available, you’ll need to probe a little deeper. Neither is a woman, although she’s less likely to be without her wedding band.
And yet, living in a fairly cosmopolitan world, we come across different opinions and different ideas about engagement rings. We thought it interesting to share a few of these as we seek to find the answer to the question:
On which finger do I wear my engagement ring?
There is apparently a saying that goes: ‘the left hand is for thee, the right hand is for me’ – the understanding being that the left hand is traditionally the hand for an engagement ring. So what about right hand rings?
For women, at least, right hand rings are designed differently. They tend to have more of a ‘cocktail’ feel about them – they’re seldom simple gold bands and diamond settings, and tend to be clusters of stones, or one large ‘dress’ stone (not necessarily precious or semi-precious, sometimes just dress jewellery).
But it depends what culture you are from, as to which finger your wedding ring is going to occupy. Whilst the SA, UK and the US wear their engagement rings on the left ring finger, many continental European countries use their right finger. More and more frequently then, as borders come down and people live and travel all over the world, engagement rings appear on people we meet on fingers other than those on which we wear our rings.
And does the wedding band then live in front of or behind the engagement ring? Traditionally the engagement ring rests in front of the wedding band on the ring finger, but again, this is open to interpretation and anything goes. Some people wear them apart, believing that placing two rings alongside one another damages both rings.
FIRSTLY, IN SA, HOW DO PEOPLE WEAR WEDDING AND ENGAGEMENT RINGS?
ENGAGEMENT RINGS IN SOUTH AFICA
Traditionally in SA, the man proposes to the woman with an engagement ring. He will slip the ring onto her fourth left finger, referred to as ‘the ring finger’.
PROMISE RINGS IN SOUTH AFRICA
Some couples buy a promise ring before the actual engagement ring. A promise ring symbolises the couple’s commitment to each other before the intent to marry – or it can act as a substitute ring until the couple chooses an official engagement ring. Promise rings are also worn on the left hand, the same way as engagement rings.
WEDDING BANDS IN SOUTH AFRICA
After marrying, South African women usually wear both the engagement ring and the wedding band. It’s acceptable to wear the wedding band alone, although this is less common. Either way, both are normally worn on the left ring finger.
IN SOUTH AFRICA, WHICH RING GOES ON FIRST?
In SA, women normally wear their engagement ring ‘on top’ of the wedding band, meaning that the wedding band is placed on the finger first. During a wedding ceremony, a bride will often put her engagement ring on her right hand to leave her left ring finger open for the wedding band.
When the ceremony is over, the bride will slider her engagement ring ‘on top’ of the wedding band
THE HISTORY OF THE BRITISH AND SOUTH AFRICAN RING-WEARING TRADITION
Our left hand ring custom was originally inherited from the Romans, who, in turn, inherited it from the Egyptians.
In Old Egypt, people held a belief that the vena amoris, or the ‘vein of love’, began in the fourth finger of the left hand and led all the way to the heart. Therefore, they felt this was the perfect way to encircle the heart with a band in everlasting love.
However, the Egyptians only wore wedding rings and not engagement rings.
So while SA wedding band tradition goes back to Egypt, the ring tradition is in reality attributed to ancient Rome, where it had been customary for suitors to offer a pre-marriage ring to their brides-to-be in order to seal the commitment to marry them.
WHICH COUNTRIES HAVE THE SAME RING TRADITION AS SOUTH AFRICA?
Currently, among the English-speaking countries, USA, Ireland, Canada, Australia and New Zealand follow the same engagement ring custom as people in the South Afirca and Britain – wearing their rings on the fourth finger of the left hand.
Elsewhere in the world, Turkey, Jordan, Mexico, Sweden, Finland, Croatia, Slovenia and Romania also share this custom.
This same tradition also continues in Egypt and Italy – the two countries where the left hand, fourth finger custom was originally forged.
OTHER COUNTRIES AND RELIGIONS:
In some countries, it’s customary for the right ring finger to be used by the bride-to-be.
This is the prevalent custom in many countries, including Russia, India, the Netherlands, Spain, Norway, Denmark, Russia, Bulgaria, Serbia, Lithuania, Greece, Poland, Austria, Hungary and Venezuela.
In these countries, no matter the religion, the right hand ring finger seems to be the established custom. The engagement ring is generally placed on first, followed by a wedding band. This is simply for practical reasons as that is the order in which she received the rings. However, this tradition can vary with whatever feels most comfortable to the bride.
In Germany, the fourth fingers of both the right and left hand can be used. As a general rule, the left hand is more prevalent among Protestants, and the right preferred by Catholics.
Modern Jewish couples will often place the wedding ring on the right hand ring finger during the marriage ceremony and then wear it on the left hand ring finger post-ceremony. However, according to the old tradition, and also seen today in some of the more conservative Jewish ceremonies, the index finger or the thumbs are used.
Curiously, although not for any religious reasons, in Brazil the ring is also first placed on the right hand’s ring finger then changed to the left hand during the wedding ceremony.
Engagement rings are worn in several Islamic countries in West and South Asia, and men usually wear them on the right and women on the left hand.
Wedding rings aren’t seen in many traditional Muslim wedding ceremonies, but if one is worn, it can go either on the right or left hand. In Iran, only a wedding band is worn on the right hand.
Indian culture never traditionally included rings. But now with Western influence, diamond engagement rings became far more common.
MEN’S ENGAGEMENT RINGS
According to a Huffington Post survey, there has been a 280% increase for saved Pinterest images of men’s engagement rings. In an XO group survey, it was established that 17% of men would really like to wear a “man-gagement” ring.
For the other part, the trend it is celebrity-driven, and therefore most prevalent among the fashion conscious. Celebrities have generally made it more acceptable, or even desirable, for men to wear jewellery, such as diamond rings.
ED SHEERAN’S ENGAGEMENT RING
Singer and song-writer, Ed Sheeran, announced this engagement on 19 January 2018 and wears an engagement ring. Media photographed the star at the Brit Awards with a band on his left ring finger, after questioning whether he was married, he stated that is was his engagement ring.
Subsequently, on the ITV show ‘Lorraine’, he said, “I never saw why men didn’t wear commitment rings, because it’s the same commitment either way.”
OTHER MALE CELEBS WHO WEAR DIAMOND RINGS
Ed Sheeran isn’t the only top celebrity male to show off an engagement ring. For example, Scarlett Johansson’s first husband, Ryan Reynolds, wore an engagement ring. Singer Michael Bubble also wears one. Some modern women also say the reason they want their fiancé to wear a ring is to show he is ‘off limits’ – they believe the ring tradition should not only apply to women.
WILL THE ‘MAN-GAGEMENT’ RING TREND TAKE OFF?
It will probably be a while before the average man, in South Africa at least, is seen wearing a diamond engagement ring. Men’s engagement rings, when seen, tend to be plain bands, diamond bands, onyx rings or signet rings – but not solitaire rings, because women still definitely have the monopoly on the single diamond.
IN CONCLUSION: IS THERE A SET RULE ABOUT WHERE TO WEAR YOUR ENGAGEMENT RING?
There’s something very exciting about all these different traditions we’ve outlined above. In an increasingly multicultural and gender-accepting society it has become acceptable, and even fashionable, to borrow exotic wedding and engagement customs from other countries, cultures and lifestyles. So you don’t need to follow any particular rule. Simply do what feels right for you.