A Diamond… For Your Toe? Wedding & Engagement Ring Customs Around the World

Have you ever wondered why exactly we wear our wedding and engagement rings on the fourth finger of our left hand, and not, say, the first or second? Did you know that only in the last century has it become customary for a man to wear a wedding ring at all? Or that, in some cultures, women are given toe rings, not diamonds, to signify their engagement?

No matter the custom or culture, the act of betrothal and marriage plays a significant role in society. People come together; families are fused, and formed. This is universally true. What is not universal, however, is the process we take to get there, and how we choose to symbolize such a union.

1. It’s commonplace in the United State, England, France and Canada for brides, wives, and husbands to declare their commitment with a ring placed on the fourth finger of the left hand. Why? Tradition would have us believe that it comes down to a vein: One that runs directly to the heart. Sentimental, to be sure, but maybe not so true.

2. The exchange of rings at a wedding ceremony is at once economically and culturally driven. While liturgical marriage texts from Roman Catholic, Jewish, and Church of England doctrine reference the wedding ring, the same symbol stands to prove the groom’s financial stability. Given alongside a coin purse — a dowry, if you will — the ring showed the bride’s family that he was up to the task of providing for his wife.

3. When Romanian couples celebrate 25 years of marriage, new bands are exchanged. These silver bands are not meant to replace the golden rings exchanged during the decades-past wedding ceremony, but to accompany them, to celebrate and honor the life spent, and the life yet to come.

4. Some engagement rings aren’t rings at all. In West Bengal, women wear silver- or gold-plated bangle bracelets. And when women of the Hindu tradition become engaged, they’re given toe rings known as bichiya.
The claddagh, with hands that clasp a heart and crown, finds its origin in ancient Irish legend, and is said to hold mysterious protective powers. The design we’re familiar with today dates to the early 18th century, but this token of love, loyalty and friendship belongs to a class of European fede rings — a term derived from the Italian phrase mani in fede, or “hands joined in faith.”

And one for good luck: In the Nordic tradition, both men and women wear precious metal to symbolize their commitment to one another: often simple gold bands. So, ladies, do as the Norse do, and visit Midtown Jewelers (You’ll find us in Reston, Virginia!). We’ve got the greatest selection of diamonds for you, and bands for him.

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