by Leslie McLane, Exclusively for Fire Mountain Gems and Beads®
It seems to have started with the Egyptians. Sedges, rushes and reeds were used for making papyrus, but love-struck Egyptians started turning these plants into twisted or braided rings in order to display affection. The circle wasn't just an easy shape to slip on the finger; this shape is the symbol for eternity since it has no beginning or end. The hole in the center was considered a gateway leading the lovers to events in store for them as they began their lives together.
It was quickly discovered while the love may be eternal, the materials weren't. Wedding bands soon included leather, bone or ivory as primary materials. The more expensive the material used, the more love was supposedly given. The value of the ring equaled the wealth of the giver. These materials ended up seeing a shift, around 1500 BC. While metals were pricey so the shift was gradual, metal became the preferred material with its long-lasting qualities. Specifically gold and silver bands in precious metals hit the scene in Rome around 200.
During the Renaissance, a new trend began popping up in rings called poesy rings. These were an engraved band of often sterling silver and then gold at the ceremony with inscriptions of love poems or other expressions of love. Another interesting ring comes from the Middle East where the woman was given a puzzle ring. These were comprised of multiple bands which would form one cohesive band when worn correctly. A similar ring to puzzle rings included the gimmel ring popularized in Europe during the 1500s. Made of two rings rather than three, these bands were worn by the man and woman, and then connected at the wedding to form one ring for the bride.
It was not until Maximilian I of Austria that the first diamond ring was given. As the first recorded account, Archduke Maximilian I proposed to Mary of Burgundy with a band covered in diamonds forming the shape of an "M." More than just diamonds are used in rings today, as many faceted gems add pops of color to prong-set ring bands. Puritans in Colonial America, however, were doing something a little different. Since jewelry was frivolous, thimbles were given as a practical way to propose. Eventually however, the top of the thimble was often removed turning the thimble into a band.
Why the Left Ring Finger?
While not everyone wears their wedding ring on their left ring finger, it is a popular phalange to adorn. There are multiple ideas as to why we use this finger. It is said the Egyptians believed there was a vein running directly from the ring finger to the heart. The Romans adopted this idea and coined the term "vena amoris" or "vein of love."
Another theory stems from the Middle Ages. During the ceremony, an Englishman would first put the ring on his to-be wife's thumb, then pointer and lastly the middle while reciting, "the Father, the Son and the Holy Ghost." After, he would place the ring on her ring finger.
A third, and practical reason, is with most of the world's population being right-handed, this finger receives less chance for wear or injury to the ring. It is the second least-used finger on the left hand, while the pinky is the first. The pinky was not used for the wedding band however, since its small surface would be difficult to try and decorate.