The Symbolism of Your Engagement Ring
When you’re ready to make a lifetime commitment to the person you love, an engagement ring shows the world the depth of your affection and devotion. The act of proposing and the subsequent enthusiastic “Yes!” make your intentions clear as a couple, and the engagement ring is a visible symbol that both of you have made the decision to spend the rest of your lives together.
For many people, an engagement ring is the most meaningful gift they will ever give or receive. Beyond the significance of having an engagement ring, each component of the ring has centuries of symbolism behind it as well. Finding just the right engagement ring means knowing what the ring means as a general statement and what your specific ring says about both of you as a couple.
The Shape of Your Engagement Ring
Your engagement ring band curves in a gentle circle around your finger to create a visible symbol of unending love. With no beginning and no end, the band goes on forever, just as your own love transcends time to connect the two of you in ways that words can’t express. While classic engagement bands are crafted into a smooth circle, you can also find bands imbued with symbolism that is personal to both you and your beloved. Engagement ring settings with a Celtic motif or vintage floral patterns still reflect that circular design, but they also say something about your own heritage or personal history.
Some specific settings have their own symbolism beyond the basic circular band design. For example, a three-stone engagement ring symbolizes the past, present and future of your relationship. You might opt to emphasize this extra meaning by choosing different stones to show a progression of love throughout your lives or by going with a single theme across all the stones to indicate an unbreakable commitment throughout your lifetimes. A twisted setting on an engagement ring reflects the intertwining of your lives as you become a married couple as well as two individuals, and the infinity symbol depicted on the setting represents an unconditional love with no beginning or end.
Stone Shape Meanings
The center stone of your engagement ring tells a story all its own. A traditional diamond engagement ring includes a round solitaire set on a slim band of yellow or white gold, but you can opt for a different shape to give your ring another layer of meaning. Some meanings ascribed to different diamond shapes include:
- Round: Classic elegance and tradition
- Princess: Romantic, flirty and adventurous
- Cushion: Traditional and dependable
- Oval: Creative, daring and individualistic
- Pear: Adaptable, devoted and fun
- Heart: Romantic love and deep affection
Mixing and matching different stone shapes adds depth to the overall meaning of your engagement ring. Consider options such as a central round diamond flanked by two pear-shaped gemstones or an oval center stone surrounded by smaller round or square diamonds.
Historical Meanings of Engagement Rings
Historically, engagement rings were a show of wealth and ownership. They indicated a promise of marriage that could bring a woman safety and security in a world where women were considered the property of their husbands or fathers. During some eras, the engagement ring was a legal promise, and breaking an engagement after giving or accepting a ring was considered a breach of contract that the intended bride or groom could sue the other person for breaking.
In modern times, this meaning has been abandoned in favor of a more enlightened and equitable view with both members of a couple standing on equal footing as partners in a relationship based on love and mutual commitment. The engagement ring shows that you have chosen each other as lifetime partners and lets others know that you have found the love of your life. Once you pair your engagement ring with a wedding band, you show the world that the ceremony has taken place.
As a society’s understanding of relationships and marriages evolves, the rules for engagement rings have also changed — it’s no longer strictly the case that a ring is presented from a man to a woman. Sometimes, both members of a couple wear engagement rings, and some couples prefer to choose engagement rings together instead of presenting the ring as a surprise. Feel free to create your own traditions around the choosing and presentation of an engagement ring so you can bring your own symbolism to this piece of jewelry that you’ll wear for the rest of your life.
Diamonds in Engagement Rings
One of the first diamond engagement rings in history was given in celebration of the betrothal of Mary of Burgundy to Archduke Maximilian of Austria, the future head of the Hapsburg Empire in 1477. These royal beginnings heralded a new trend among wealthy noble families, but they weren’t for everyone. At the time, diamonds were so rare and precious that only the wealthiest suitors could afford them. By the 18th century, the discovery of diamond mines in South Africa began to bring diamond engagement rings into popular fashion, and this trend accelerated in the 20th century until most brides-to-be walked into their wedding day with an engagement ring on their finger.
When it comes to stone choice, diamonds remain the most popular option. The long-lasting, near-impervious nature of a diamond reflects the unending commitment to your relationship. Diamonds are, after all, the hardest gemstone available and are almost impossible to crack or break during everyday wear. Clarity and color make a difference as well because a clear white diamond symbolizes purity of love, and the sparkle of your diamond shows off how bright your future together will be.
Alternative Engagement Rings and Gemstone Meanings
While diamonds are still the most common choice for an engagement ring, there are other gemstone options to consider. In fact, some of the most famous people in the world have chosen alternatives to the classic diamond solitaire. Prince William of England proposed to his wife Kate Middleton with the oval sapphire engagement ring that once belonged to his mother, Princess Diana.
Engagement rings featuring a birthstone at the center may have personal meaning, and moissanite, white sapphires or lab-created diamonds might be alternatives if you want the look of a diamond without the cost or complications of a mined diamond.
If you’re considering an alternative gemstone or want to add a few colored stones to the setting for your diamond, some colors and types of stone have symbolism of their own. Here are some symbolic meanings behind different stones you might consider for your engagement ring:
- Emerald: Success in marriage
- Blue sapphire: Loyalty and honesty
- Aquamarine: Courage and good communication
- Citrine: Happiness and prosperity
- Opal: Passion and loyalty
- Garnet: Unconditional love and protection
- Blue topaz: Calm, tranquil everlasting love
- Moonstone: Eternal commitment
- Pink sapphire: Trust and sincerity
- Ruby: Passionate love
- Tanzanite: Magical, fantastical love
Personalized Inscriptions and Custom Engagement Rings
In addition to the classic symbolism inherent in an engagement ring, you can bring your own meaning to your ring with personalized touches that reflect your unique relationship. An inscription on the inside of the band can add an extra layer of meaning to your ring. For a ring unlike any other, you can design your own engagement ring and have the exact stones and setting you want.
Wearing Your Engagement Ring on the Left Hand
Where you wear your engagement ring has as much meaning as the ring itself. In ancient Rome, the fourth finger on the left hand was believed to have a vein leading straight to the heart called the “vena amoris.” This belief led to the tradition of wearing engagement rings and wedding bands on that finger. In some cultures, people wear their wedding or engagement rings on the right hand, but the left hand is the traditional hand for these rings in the USA, Canada, England and other countries with ties back to ancient Rome.
No matter what style of engagement ring you choose, the overall meaning remains the same. You have found the person who you plan to spend the rest of your life with, and your love and commitment, reflected in your engagement ring, will become part of your life story as a couple.