Rings have always been a symbol of love, and, for a while, of ownership. The tradition of engagement and wedding rings dates back hundreds of years, presenting differently depending on different cultural backgrounds. Still, the enduring practice of signifying partnership through rings has remained a staple of modern culture internationally. The current way that we celebrate romantic partnership, through engagement rings, wedding bands and anniversary bands, is somewhat of an amalgamation of many international traditions.
Roman tradition dictated that a woman would wear a ring attached to small keys, indicating her husband’s ownership of her. While the concept of “owning” a partner is outdated and offensive, we still use rings as a way of symbolizing a legal commitment; marriage changes your finances, taxes, and the way you are understood in the eyes of the law in the most general sense. It is something adopted in our modern Western marriage traditions. Great Britain has had a long standing legal tradition regarding marriage as well, including the transferring of lands and property to the spouse.
The finger that the ring is worn on has roots in Egyptian tradition who believed the vein in the ring finger was the only one that connected directly to the heart. This was later explored by the different philosophers who studied humanity and interconnected relationships. While we now have the science to understand more accurately how the human body works, the symbolic connection between the heart and the ring finger has endured centuries later.
There are innumerable versions of the marriage proposal and wedding ceremony, and bits of pieces continue to make their way into the modern versions of these traditions all across the world. One thing that can be found internationally, despite cultural and geological distance and difference, is that when you find someone to share your life with, it is deemed important enough to mark. Whether that is with a ring or not, it is highlighted by the community, the law, or the family, and always has been. There is just something about forming a bond in that way that is huge and transitory, worthy of ritual. Traditions are constantly being reinvented, and the shifting trends in bridal jewelry and planning are constantly reflecting that change. We might not know where we are going (will we ever ditch the misogynist and outdated ‘father giving the bride away to her new owner’ tradition?), but we can always look to our past for some clues.