From cavemen to cultural norms, discover the secrets, myths and historical gems that make wedding rings – the diamond ring of a lifetime.
From rings of hemp and bamboo, to rings on the toe and bangles of iron – what is a ‘traditional’ wedding ring? The answer all depends on where you live. In most western marriage ceremonies, a wedding ring is made from a precious metal such as gold or platinum and may feature precious gem stones. But that hasn’t always been the case. In years past, it wasn’t bands that were exchanged during the ceremony, rather something far more tangible… money. According to the prayer book of Edward VI: after the words ‘with this ring I thee wed’ follow the words ‘This gold and silver I give thee’, at which point the groom would hand a leather purse filled with gold and silver coins to the bride.
In some regions of India, the ‘wedding band’ is actually a toe ring that a woman wears during the ceremony. In West Bengal, a bangle made from iron (loha) is worn by women in lieu of a wedding band.
In France, a common practice is to exchange a wedding band that features three interwoven rings. The three rings stand for ‘faith’, ‘hope’ and ‘love’. In Turkey, the wedding band is a puzzling issue (literally). The bands are composed of interlocking metal bands that have to be arranged in a certain order to form a single ring. Turkish men would give this ‘puzzle’to their bride to solve as a test of her monogamy. If she couldn’t solve the puzzle it meant she had ‘strayed’ (in other words, her mind was elsewhere).
Throughout the ages, the exchange of rings has signified the marking of a union. While the marriage was meant to last forever – the rings were a different matter. Early rings were made from hemp or bamboo but didn’t exactly come with a lifetime warranty. Man, ever inventive, then turned to ivory or bone to fashion a more durable ring.
It was the Romans that introduced the idea of making a ring from a metal, namely brass or copper. The act of giving and accepting the ring was also considered legally binding, tieing the woman as the property of the man. Feminism wasn’t a strong movement apparently in Roman times.
Gold or silver rings were given on occasions as a way for the bridegroom to show he trusted his missus with valuable property. Those who really wanted to show they had ‘full faith’ in their bride would shape the ring as a key which would be presented to the new Mrs when her mister carried her in his arms across the threshold of her new home.
Wedding bands though aren’t just about ‘sealing the deal’ or ‘buying your missus’ – some cultures believed they could tell the future and bring on bad (or good) luck.
The Irish believed that the ring would bring ill-fortune to the couple if it wasn’t made from gold. Other superstitions held that if the ring was too tight – it indicated one of the couple would suffer from overwhelming jealousy. On the other hand, if the ring was too loose it meant the couple were in danger of splitting up.