The wedding ring has a long and rich history. The Egyptians are credited for beginning the tradition of the wedding ring around 3,000 BC when an Egyptian Pharaoh gave his beloved a ring as a symbol of his love for her. In Egyptian hieroglyphics, the circle is the symbol of eternity because it has no beginning or end. The earliest wedding rings were made from braided reedy plants like hemp. These primitive rings generally did not last more than a year and had to be replaced often. Later leather, bone and ivory were crafted into rings as tokens of love.
The Romans used rings made of durable iron; however, the symbolism behind the use of the ring was not quite as romantic as the Egyptian’s. To the Romans, the husband used a wedding ring to signify a binding, legal agreement of ownership and the ring was a token of purchase. In the third century, silver and gold replaced iron. Iron tended to rust and gold and silver had more aesthetic beauty. Gold or silver rings also symbolized the groom’s faith that his betrothed was to be trusted with his valuable property.
Early Celtic rings were made of hair. The bride and groom would weave locks of their hair together into a braid and the bride would wear the ring as a token of their commitment to each other.
Puzzle rings, called a Gimmel, were popular engagement/wedding rings in the 15th century. The Gimmel ring consisted of two or more interlocking rings, joined by a pivot, so they could slide together to form one ring (symbolizing the union of two lives). The most popular Gimmel ring depicted two hands and a heart, which symbolized faith, trust or plighted troth. When all three rings were joined, the hands clasped over the heart. This variation of the Gimmel ring was called a Fede (Italian for faith) ring. One part of the ring was given to the bride as her engagement ring, the groom-to-be and the witness of the engagement ceremony kept the second and third parts of the ring. At the marriage ceremony, all three parts would be reunited on the bride’s finger.
The Claddagh ring, a version of a Fede ring, became popular in 17th century Ireland and remains popular to this day. It depicts two hands holding a crowned heart, symbolizing "Let love and friendship reign". The Claddagh ring is considered the traditional Irish wedding band.
During the Renaissance and throughout the 18th century, sterling silver poesy rings were popular wedding bands. Poesy rings were engraved with mottoes or verses, mostly with a religious or romantic overtone.
At the same time poesy rings were popular, the Puritans were renouncing wedding bands, because they considered jewelry frivolous. Colonial Americans often exchanged thimbles during the wedding ceremony, Thimbles were acceptable to the Puritans because they were viewed as a practical item. After the wedding, the women would slice off the bottom of the thimble and created a wedding band.
During the Victorian and Edwardian eras, wedding bands were engraved with intertwined hearts, flowers, intricate leaves and delicate filigree. In the 1920’s and 1930’s, the art deco movement introduced styles focusing on bold colors and geometric shapes and became a popular wedding ring style.
Today, wedding rings can be made of gold, silver, platinum or a combination of two or more metals.