Wedding rings are among the most ancient symbols connecting two lovers in one whole. This tradition of exchanging rings was begun by the ancient Egyptians almost 5,000 years ago. The first wedding bands were made out of plants that grew along the Nile. They were given to the admired woman. Every woman with a reed band on her finger was known to be taken and unavailable to other admirers. Eventually bands of leather and bone were made. With the discovery of metals, the first rings of iron appeared. It is interesting to note that the pyramids of some Egyptian pharaohs feature pictures of rings decorated with little stones and other images.
In Rome, when it came to ring making, iron was preferred to copper. It was believed that this metal symbolizes the strength of a man’s love. In Rome, too, the giving and accepting of a ring was thought of as symbolic entering into an engagement that cannot be broken. Later, rings of precious metals such as gold, silver and platinum appeared. They quickly replaced the iron bands, because they do not rust and look more beautiful.
Pope Nicholas I is the beginner of the tradition of a man officially offering marriage to the object of his affections by presenting her with a golden ring. The ritual is first held in 860 AD. According to the Pope, the giving of a golden ring symbolized a financial sacrifice that a man made in the name of love, because gold was an extremely expensive metal.
In the 17th century silver rings became fashionable in France and England. During this period the first engraved bands appeared. The men with a more romantic disposition gave their lovers jewels on which they had engraved entire love poems. A century later, the tradition of engraving the name of the husband on the wedding band was born.
Up to the middle of the 20th century it was thought that wearing wedding rings is required only of the women. However, during the Second World War the number of men wearing wedding rings rose significantly. In the long days of separation, the ring was used to remind them of their loving wife waiting for them at home. The wedding band was also used to show the marital status of the soldier who should remain faithful to his wife no matter how far he is from home.
Romans started the custom of wearing the wedding ring on the fourth finger of the left hand, because ancient Greeks believed this finger to be connected to the heart. According to tradition, orthodox Christians should wear their wedding bands on their right hands. In Europe they are worn on the right hand regardless of the religion. Americans prefer to place this symbol of matrimonial love according to the custom of the Romans. Scandinavian ladies are often wearing three rings on their ring fingers – an engagement ring, a wedding band and a childbirth ring. Some Hebrew wives wear the jewel on their index finger. Even though traditions may differ in the different cultures the results are the same – a universal celebration of love, eternalized by marriage and sealed with a ring.