Engagement Ring vs Wedding Ring: What’s the Difference?

Last Updated on April 13, 2023 by Juli "Jewels" Church

Wondering about the difference between an engagement ring and a wedding ring?

Perfect! You're in the right place.

In this Learning Jewelry guide, you'll learn:

  • Who were the first to wear wedding bands?
  • Why did men start wearing wedding bands?
  • Why do we wear two rings?
  • wedding-engagement-ring-difference

    Early Wedding Bands

    Wearing rings in general dates all the way to the ancient Egyptians. Rings signified eternity for the Egyptians. It equally represented both the sun and the moon, whom they worshipped. 

    After Alexander the Great took over Egypt, the Greeks adopted the ring tradition. Their rings were made of iron and copper. Plain metal wedding bands were used in marriage ceremonies. There were no sparkly, towering engagement rings. Only one ring was given to each. 

    The plain metal bands evolved into etched or engraved bands, and then by the 2nd century CE, wedding bands were no longer made of iron and copper, but instead with real gold. Of course, all gold bands were yellow gold back then. 

    During the Medieval Times and the Renaissance was when rings were being made with gemstones in them, but not diamonds. Diamonds were actually kinda ugly back then because jewelers didn't know how to cut them for brilliance. So, all jewelry was made with colored gemstones. 

    The  diamond ring was given by Archduke Maximillian of Austria to Mary Burgundy. Diamonds during this time were valued more for their hardness since they weren't that pretty. The ring was made of diamonds in the shape of an M. She was the girl every bachelor wanted, so it was quite the gift to reel her in.

    Why Do We Have Two Rings? 

    Engagement rings and wedding rings became separate pieces during the 12th century by the Christian church. They believed rings were made only for marriage and should not be put on a woman's hand unless he intended to wed her. 

    There's a not a definitive moment where one ring became two, but it's speculated the wedding band was given at the church sanctioned wedding ceremony and was often more plain. The engagement ring was given for betrothal and was more personal than ceremonial.

    Wedding Bands for Men

    It was the Christian church that made men wear wedding rings in an effort to keep them faithful. During WWII soldiers also wore men's wedding bands while they were at war to remind them of what they were fighting for out there. 

    Kinda cute, right?

    The tradition continued through the Korean War and then nearly every married man was wearing a ring.

    Modern Day Engagement Rings

    After the 1940s when diamonds were cut for their brilliance and sparkle, they needed a new way to market them in light of the economic downturn in the 1930s. 

    DeBeers, the world's first diamond suppliers controlled most of the world's diamonds at the time and coined the phrase, "A diamond is forever" in 1947.

    That phrase was in turn followed up in 1953 with Marilyn Monroe's "Diamonds are a girl's best friend."

    Marketing did its job, because by then every girl wanted a diamond and diamonds were the best way to show a girl that she was worth it. 

    These days, most people would agree that was pretty shallow. But, we're not the first to do it. Penguins actually find the smoothest pebble to offer to a potential mate. She must accept the pebble to become his mate. Just ask Huey from movie The Pebble and the Penguin.

    Of course, it doesn't cost poor Huey thousands of dollars or have near the amount of pressure people feel today when searching for the perfect ring set.

    Thankfully, there seems less pressure today with the preference of cheaper diamonds which are lab made, as center stones with younger generations. 

    Engagement Ring vs Wedding Ring

    Engagement Rings 

    In present day, an engagement ring is given to someone to signify their intent to marry them in the future. For most, it's within 5 years, but some people stay engaged for a long time, and there's nothing wrong with that. 

    Your average engagement ring is usually made of diamonds. The ring will have a center stone, which is usually a large stone in comparison to any surrounding small diamonds. Engagement rings tend to also have 4-6 prongs that hold the center diamond in place. 

    The most popular choices in buying engagement ring designs or settings would be the classic solitaire look or the pave diamonds encrusted along the band. Most of the time, the center stone is raised from its band to draw attention and add dimension from other little diamonds. 

    Aside from the traditional look, there are a ton of different engagement ring styles to choose from, like this stunning engagement ring in rose gold below:

    Nieve Diamond Engagement Ring

    Nieve Diamond Engagement Ring from Brilliant Earth

    Wedding Bands

    Your wedding ring, or wedding band is typically made out of either plain metal or with stones. For many women, they tend to choose a pave style wedding band like this one below:

    Most women wear wedding bands that have small diamonds. During my time at Kay's, I'd say that probably 85% of wedding ring sets are white gold.

    Wedding bands were most often made of gold, but are now found in alternative metals. On average, most men prefer a tungsten wedding band to a gold wedding band, while others prefer wearing comfortable silicone wedding rings. Alternative wedding bands are usually made of titanium, tungsten carbide, or stainless steel.

    Less common alternative metals might be ceramic, palladium, or cobalt rings

    Ultimately, the ring setting and style is up to personal preference. However, most people choose an engagement ring with a matching wedding ring. You may buy your engagement ring by itself or you might decide to purchase a bridal set that comes with a sapphire wedding band.

    Check out this matching wedding ring set below:

    Petite Twisted Vine Contoured Diamond Bridal Set

    Princess Cut Petite Twisted Vine Contoured Diamond Bridal Set from Brilliant Earth

    Engagement Ring and Wedding Ring FAQ

    Here are a couple of the most popular questions asked about engagement rings and wedding rings. 

    Which hand do engagement rings go on?

    Normally, when someone proposes with an engagement ring, it goes on the left hand, just as a future wedding band would.

    On your wedding day just before the wedding ceremony, the engagement ring is supposed to be moved to the right hand. In a matching set, the wedding band should be worn closest to your heart, and then the engagement ring would follow. 

    Why are engagement rings and wedding rings worn on the left hand?

    It might surprise you to know not every culture wears rings on the left ring finger or even at all. Most Western countries do, however. Wearing your wedding ring set on the left hand dates all the way back to the Ancient Romans. 

    They believed the fourth finger on the left hand had a vein that ran directly to the heart. They called it Vena Amoris, meaning "vein of love". Since the heart is at the center of the being, it was fitting for the person you'd want to spend the rest of your life with. To this day, the fourth finger is dubbed as the "ring finger". 

    Final Thoughts

    Even though there's a difference between an engagement ring and a wedding band, there's no rule book saying you have to have both.

    Many people choose to just do simple wedding bands and some just have an engagement ring as their wedding ring.

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