What is the Difference Between Engagement Rings and Wedding Rings?

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  • Originally Written By: wiseGEEK Writer
  • Revised By: Wanda Marie Thibodeaux
  • Edited By: O. Wallace
  • Last Modified Date: 19 July 2019
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Engagement rings are different from wedding rings primarily in that they are worn before a legal or symbolic marriage ceremony. They are often bought before the wedding rings as well, although some people choose matching sets that are purchased together. Engagement rings tend to be flashier and more expensive than wedding rings. Both rings have a number of associated meanings, including commitment to one's partner, and people usually wear them together on the same finger.

Basic Meaning and History

In ancient times, people often used simple braided grass rings for weddings, and these rings were supposed to bring the spirit of the partner under control. By the 2nd century, it became customary for grooms to give a gold ring to their brides to celebrate during the engagement period, but following the wedding, grooms provided wives with iron rings. These symbolized that the legal agreement between the partners was binding and that grooms had ownership over their wives. Individuals who shun the use of engagement and wedding rings today often do so because they believe the rings still symbolize ownership of another person.


The modern person who wears an engagement ring has agreed to marry someone else. The ring is a way of non-verbally stating commitment to one's partner, although this commitment does not necessarily equate to sexual exclusivity. The commitment, like the ring, is not supposed to have a beginning or end. Someone who puts on a wedding ring expresses the same commitment, but the ring signifies that the wearer has been legally tied to his or her partner and, generally, that a wedding ceremony also has taken place.

The more elaborate an engagement ring is, the more people associate the buyer with financial stability. People often want this trait in their partners and look for evidence of solid finances before they commit to marriage. A lavish ring is also often associated with extreme love and devotion, so some people may equate the design of the ring with the worth the buyer believes the recipient holds. These associations mean that most people expect the buyer to "go all out" for the engagement ring and then be more conservative with the wedding ring, which can put less well-to-do buyers in an awkward social and romantic position.

Location of Wear

In most cases, people wear both engagement rings and wedding rings on the ring finger (the fourth finger starting with the thumb) of the left hand. Before the wedding, the engagement ring is worn alone, and the rings are worn together after the marriage ceremony. It is most common to wear the wedding ring below the engagement ring, closer to the hand. The tradition of using the left ring finger to display engagement and wedding rings originates in the ancient belief that this finger was connected to a vein that reached directly to the wearer's heart.

It's up to the individual couple to decide if the engagement ring should be worn during the actual wedding ceremony. Many people choose to move the ring to the right hand before the ceremony or to remove it completely until after the wedding. This gives the wedding ring the chance to be in the spotlight for the day, and the engagement ring can be returned to its place after the celebrations are complete.


Engagement rings tend to be more elaborate in design than wedding rings, so many people opt for simple platinum or gold bands to accompany the flashier engagement piece. As a result, other people often assume that, when only one ring is worn, an elaborate band signifies the wearer is engaged and a simpler band means the wearer is already married. Wedding rings sold in sets sometimes are design treasures in their own right, however, and might include precious stones such as diamonds that accentuate the engagement ring. Trying to judge a person’s current marital status based on the design of a ring alone, therefore, does not always work.

Diamonds are the most common precious stone used in engagement rings, but any gem can be included. Some people choose to go with a less common stone, such as a ruby or emerald, that better reflects their own tastes and unique personalities. Especially when diamonds are used, a single, larger stone is typically the focal point of the ring, although several smaller gems may also be included.


When shopping for engagement and wedding rings, individuals have the option of purchasing each ring separately or together as a set. The only real consideration a shopper should keep in mind if buying the engagement and wedding rings separately is to look for rings that match in style and design. If someone falls in love with a wedding or engagement ring that truly doesn’t have a good match, he or she can pay a jeweler to design the second ring.

It has been suggested by some wedding "experts" that a person should spend two to three months' salary on an engagement ring, but many people find this amount to be excessive. A more reasonable number would be about 10% of the buyer's salary or what does not put undue strain on the person's finances.

Buying engagement and wedding rings together as a set is not necessarily cheaper than purchasing each ring separately, but it is often more convenient for the buyer to get both rings at once. The risk of such a purchase is that, should the buyer’s partner decline the offer of engagement and marriage, the buyer is left with two rings to reuse or sell. Many people believe that reusing an engagement or wedding ring with another, later partner is in poor taste, because new partners typically associate the rings with the originally intended recipient. Selling a set of engagement and wedding rings can be difficult, however, because buyers have to like the style of both the rings, and because the asking price for two rings can be too high for some consumers.


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Discuss this Article

Post 4

I didn't know this until recently but I heard that the practice of giving engagement rings dates back all the way to ancient Roman times, but that it wasn't until recently that diamond engagement rings came into the picture. And this is said to be a result of heavy marketing by diamond companies.

Post 3

@ Babalaas- Another popular ring design is a Damascus steel band. Damascus steel rings look similar to Mokume Gane rings, but they are often cheaper, and only blend the different shades of silver and gray. The patterns though are just as intricate, if not more so.

Modern Damascus billets are created by combining steel alloy with a softer metal to create a wavy pattern. The metallurgist creates the pattern by heating the metals, folding them, pounding them and repeating the process.

True oriental Damascus steel only used Wootz steel, but this process has been mostly lost in time. There are many more options for people looking for wedding bands or engagement rings. Jewelers are like artists, and many specialize in unique jewelry making techniques; offering something for everyone’s taste.

Post 2

Many alternative designs for wedding bands are available. Mokume Gane and Wood Inlay have become popular contemporary options for wedding bands.

Mokume Gane is an ancient Japanese technique that fuses different layers of precious metals together that are the jeweler carves into ornate jewelry. The finished product has a pattern that looks like wood grain, but the layers are actually different color metals like rose gold, palladium, platinum, iron, yellow gold, and silver. Mokume Game literally translates to wood eye metal.

Wood inlay rings often use sustainably harvested hardwoods, like Hawaiian Koa, which the jeweler will inlay into a recycled metal band. The inlay patterns are often quite intricate, and the rings are surprisingly durable.

Post 1

In some cultures the engagement ring will be worn on the fourth finger of the right hand. The wedding band alone, or together with the engagement ring will be worn on the fourth finger of the left hand after marriage.

It is automatically known, when you see a ring on the right hand that the young lady is engaged.

If she is not engaged she can wear a ring with any kind of stone on her left hand. That ring would have no particular meaning, it is simply an adornment, the same as wearing a bracelet or earrings.

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