A wedding ring or wedding band consists of a precious metal ring, usually worn on the base of the left ring finger – the fourth finger (with the thumb counted as the first finger) of the left hand. In some parts of the world, it is worn on the right ring finger (i.e. Norway). Such a ring symbolizes marriage: a spouse wears it to indicate a marital commitment to fidelity. The European custom of wearing such a ring has spread widely beyond Europe.
According to some customs, the wedding ring forms the last in a series of gifts, which also may include the engagement ring, traditionally given as a betrothal present, and the promise ring, often given when serious courting begins.
Other more recent traditions, and the jewelry trade, seek to expand the idea of a series of ring-gifts with an eternity ring, which symbolizes the renewal or ongoing nature of a lasting marriage, sometimes given after the birth of a first child; and a trilogy ring (a.k.a. Three-Stone Ring or Past, Present & Future Ring), usually displaying three brilliant-cut round diamonds each, in turn, representing the past, present and future of a relationship.
A European tradition encourages the engraving of the name of one's intended spouse and the date of one's intended marriage on the inside surface of wedding rings, thus strengthening the symbolism and sentimentality of the rings as they become family heirlooms.
Wedding ceremony customs
The best man has a traditional duty of keeping track of a marrying couple's wedding ring(s) and to produce them at the symbolic moment of the giving and receiving of the ring(s) during the traditional marriage ceremony.
In more elaborate weddings, a ring bearer (usually a young boy that is part of the family of the bride or groom) may assist in the ceremonial parading of the ring(s) into the ceremony, often on a special cushion or pillow(s).
Traditionally, at least in some European countries, the wedding ring is the same as the engagement ring and changes its status through engraving and the change of the hand on which to wear it. If the wedding ring is different from the engagement ring, the question whether or not the engagement ring should be worn during the ceremony leaves a few options. The bride may wear it on her left ring finger and have the groom put the wedding band over it. She may also wear it on her right ring finger, although that may surprise the groom. The bride may also continue wearing the rings on different hands after the wedding – this may prevent the engagement ring from scratching and scuffing. Another option is to have the main bridesmaid keep the ring during the ceremony – there are a variety ways to keep it: in a pouch, on a plate, etc. After the ceremony, the ring can be placed back on either the left or the right hand.
Before medical science discovered how the circulatory system functioned, people believed that a vein of blood ran directly from the fourth finger on the left hand to the heart. (This belief allegedly dates to the 3rd century BC in Greece.) Because of the hand-heart connection, people named the putative vein descriptively vena amori, Latin for 'the vein of love'. Due to this tradition, it became acceptable to wear the wedding ring on this finger. By wearing rings on the fourth finger of their left hands, a married couple symbolically declares their eternal love for each other. This has now become a matter of tradition and etiquette. However a reason to wear it right was that left = sinistra, sinister (left = bad; right = good).
In many Western cultures, the wedding ring is worn on the left hand. In some countries such as Germany and Chile, however, it is worn on the right hand. Also in Spain it is worn right, except by Catalan people (left). Orthodox Christians, Eastern Europeans and Jews also traditionally wear the wedding band on the right hand. In The Netherlands, Catholic people wear it left, all others right. But in Austria Catholic people wear it right.
Etiquette frowns severely on the making of sexual overtures to a man or woman wearing a wedding ring.
In the United Kingdom and the United States in past generations, women wore wedding bands much more commonly than men did. Today, both partners often wear wedding rings, but where occupations or professions forbid or discourage the wearing of jewelry (as in the cases of actors, police, military pilots and electrical workers), either marriage partner may not wear a ring. In addition, people often remove wedding rings for comfort or safety. Others may object to the idea of precious metals, or dislike the idea of declaring their legal status through jewelry. Either partner may also wear a wedding ring on a chain around the neck, thus conveying the socially equivalent message to wearing it on a finger.
One interpretation states that the woman wears the wedding ring below the engagement ring, thus making it closer to the heart. Another practice holds that the woman should wear the wedding ring above the engagement ring, thus sealing the atmosphere of the engagement into the marriage. Still others prefer that the wedding ring should be worn alone.
Most religious marital ceremonies accept a band of any material to symbolize the taking of marriage vows, with unusual substitutions permitted in marriages under unusual circumstances. When people cannot obtain or adjust a metal ring of appropriate size, substitutions such as rubber bands may be used.
To make wedding rings, jewelers most commonly use a precious yellow alloy of gold, hardened with copper, tin and bismuth. Platinum and white alloys of gold are also used, although the slightly yellow "white" gold alloys of the past have been largely replaced by a cheaper nickel-gold alloy, covered with a thin plating of rhodium which must be reapplied after some years of wear. Titanium has recently become a popular material for wedding bands, due to its durability, affordability, and gunmetal grey color. Tungsten carbide, often with gold or platinum inlays, is recently being used as well. The least expensive material in common use is nickel silver for those who prefer its appearance or cost. Marrying couples are also beginning to use stainless steel, which is more durable than platinum or gold and can accept a finer finish than titanium. Silver, copper, brass and other corroding metals do not occur as frequently because they stain the skin and because the wedding ring is intended as a symbol of permanence. Aluminum or poisonous metals are almost never used.
Styles, patterns, fashions
A plain gold band is the most popular pattern. Medical personnel commonly wear it because it can be kept very clean. Women usually wear narrow bands, while men wear broader bands.
In France and French-speaking countries, a common pattern consists of three interwoven rings. They stand for "faith, hope and love", where "love" equates to that particular type of perfect disinterested love indicated by the ancient Greek word agape. Provocatively, this pattern slides off quickly, because the rings flow over each other.
Men in Greek, Italian and Anatolian cultures sometimes receive and wear puzzle rings – sets of interlocking metal bands that one must arrange just so in order to form a single ring. Women wryly give them as a test of their man's chastity. Even when the man masters the puzzle, he still cannot remove and replace the ring quickly.
In North America, many married women wear two rings on the same finger: an engagement ring and a plain wedding band. Couples often purchase such rings as a pair of bands designed to fit together.
Engraving Wedding Bands is also becoming very popular in the United States.
"Until death do us part." —common ending words of a Christian wedding vow
"With this ring I thee wed." —from the traditional Church of England marriage-ceremony formula
"With this ring, you are consecrated to me according to the law of Moses and Israel." —translated from the Hebrew words said by the groom at an Orthodox Jewish wedding; said by both bride and groom at a reform wedding
"N., take this ring as a sign of my love and fidelity. In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit." —from the Roman Catholic Rite of Marriage