Are you newly engaged, or hoping to be? Perhaps you’re thinking about popping the question soon? Wherever you are in your journey to the altar, you’ll need to know the difference between wedding rings vs. engagement rings before you can share the happy news!
Engagement rings are the showstoppers of the fine jewelry world. They’re the game changers, the movers and the shakers, that friend you have who lights up the room and makes every dull Friday night a new adventure.
Wedding rings, by contrast, are usually a bit simpler but can look just as stunning. They are the jewelry equivalent of the friend you have who’s a little on the quieter side but will always, always pick up the phone when you call at three in the morning with your latest existential crisis.
Of course, engagement rings and wedding rings can also have different meanings if you’re sticking to the traditions. (More on that later.)
Whether you want to have both of these rings in your life is a very personal choice, and there’s no real right or wrong answer. Your lifestyle, budget, and traditional or contemporary values will all play a part in deciding if a matching set of rings is right for you, or if you’d rather keep things simple and wear just one.
Differences Between Wedding Rings and Engagement Rings
To begin with, let’s establish what engagement rings and wedding rings actually are.
An engagement ring is a physical symbol of love and devotion between two partners, but also a formal agreement. By offering or accepting an engagement ring, a couple enters into an unspoken contract to stay together for the long haul. It also gives the recipient a visual way to communicate their status as “newly engaged”.
An engagement ring is traditionally given by one partner to another at the moment of proposal, but some couples will enter into an engagement and buy the engagement ring soon after, so that they can search for the perfect ring together.
Most engagement rings these days are diamond — either a single diamond on its own called a solitaire, or enhanced by smaller diamonds or other gemstones in a range of styles. However, there’s a rising trend for colored gemstone engagement rings. For example, the durability of rubies and sapphires makes them a popular choice, and they are only one point below diamonds on the hardness scale. Unique vintage rings and art deco designs are also having a style *moment*.
A wedding ring (also called a wedding band) is worn from the moment a couple is officially married. Although a couple will often buy their wedding rings months in advance, they don’t normally exchange them until their actual wedding day when the rings are placed on the left ring finger during the wedding ceremony.
Wedding bands are usually simpler in design and are either worn together with the engagement ring as a complementary set, or on their own.
The wedding band traditionally symbolizes life-long love and fidelity. Today, wedding rings are commonly worn by both partners to signify their status as married.
Most wedding bands are made from gold or platinum, which are the most traditional and the best materials to stand up to the ravages of day-to-day wear, but innovative new jewelers are now making wedding rings from cobalt, carbon and tungsten. You can even find unique designs for men’s rings made from things like meteorite, dinosaur bone, and whiskey barrels!
Although women have always worn rings to symbolize marriage, men’s wedding bands are a relatively modern development (more on that in a little bit).
Where Did the Tradition of Wedding Rings Originate?
The earliest wedding rings were worn by early Egyptians, Romans, and Greeks, who recognized the circular shape of the ring as a symbol of eternity. Early wedding bands were made from iron, bone, and later silver and gold. For centuries ladies wore rings to symbolize their loyalty and their status as a married woman.
An engagement ring, especially a valuable one, also gave women some security in the ever-changing playing field of the heart. Until the early twentieth century in the United States, if a man broke off an engagement the jilted woman was legally entitled to keep the ring and sue the rogue for “breach of promise”.
Men didn’t typically wear wedding rings until World War II, when many men became separated from their wives and needed something to remember them by. The De Beers diamond campaign in the 1930s and 40s — which, fortuitously, coincided with the easing of many of the “breach of promise” laws of that time — solidified the place of luxury wedding and engagement rings in our cultural consciousness.
Cost of a Wedding Ring vs Engagement Ring
For most couples, an engagement ring is likely to be one of the biggest investments as they begin their new life together. The average spent on engagement rings last year was around $5000. The starting price for a modest engagement ring of decent quality is around $500, and this can go up to $50,000 or more for an heirloom showstopper. For many women, their engagement ring will be the most valuable piece in their collection for years to come.
Wedding bands tend to be more modestly priced due to the materials used. The most traditional wedding rings are high quality but unadorned, and these start around $300 up to about $1000 for respected brand names. Some women prefer more ornate and personalized styles set with diamonds or other gemstones, but these can also be quite affordable compared to engagement rings as the stones are usually much smaller. Even if a diamond band has 1ct worth of petite diamonds sparkling around the perimeter of your finger, it will still cost significantly less than a single 1ct diamond solitaire. Special details like engraving can also affect the price.
Who Buys the Wedding Rings?
Traditionally, wedding bands were gifts exchanged by the couple — the bride’s family would pay for the gentleman’s ring, and the groom would pay for the bride’s. Now, though, modern couples will often split the cost together. Going to a jewelry store to pick out a set you both love can be a great bonding experience as well as good practice for sharing financial responsibility.
Do you Need Both a Wedding Ring and an Engagement Ring?
A matching engagement ring and band set, also called a bridal set, can be absolutely stunning. The contemporary jewelry market has limitless styles on offer to appeal to any bride. Some sets fit together like a puzzle, creating a seamless larger ring; others are made in complementary styles designed to contrast and set off each piece’s best features. You can even get stacking sets that feature one central engagement ring flanked by two or more thinner bands for a truly unique, modern look.
However, forgoing one of the rings allows a bit more financial flexibility if you want to invest more in your single signature piece. For instance, passing on a wedding band and wearing your engagement ring on its own means that you can take what you would have spent on your wedding ring and put that towards a larger or higher quality diamond. Or, if you’re happy just wearing your wedding band as your style symbol of marital bliss, you can put the budget for your engagement ring towards that perfect dress or honeymoon retreat.
Keep in mind that streamlining to just one ring also means one less piece of jewelry to keep cleaned and maintained. If you have an active lifestyle or work with your hands, you may also find that a single more durable band ring might work better for your lifestyle.
When shopping for rings with your partner, think about what sort of life you’ll be living.
- Need a ring that will stand up to a lot of wear and tear?
- Want to start your new life with a high-quality investment piece, or do you have other things you’d like to put that money towards?
- Want to be part of a long tradition, or walk a path that’s uniquely yours?
In the end, it’s a very personal choice if you want to follow traditional values and wear your engagement ring and wedding ring side by side (wedding ring always on the inside, closest to your heart!), or if one signature piece is the right move for you.
Diamonds Are a Girl’s Best Friend!
Deciding on the piece (or pieces) of jewelry you’re going to wear for the rest of your married life is a big deal. That ring on your finger is going to see you through good times and bad, just like the person who gave it to you.
Whether you have always dreamed of a diamond engagement ring or you want a simple plain band, the perfect wedding set is whichever one you love seeing on your fourth finger!
We all know that the person walking that path beside you is what really matters — but it’s nice to have something that brings a little flutter of happiness when you look down at your hands too.
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