I have made some edits to this post and am reposting.
When I got engaged about four years ago, I posted photographs of our plain gold bands on social media, and almost everyone who was not Swedish thought we had married. That made me think of engagement and wedding ring traditions around the world.
- In the UK, men from the upper classes traditionally do not wear wedding rings. This became quite a big discussion when Prince Harry recently married. He is the first man in the royal family to wear a wedding ring – his is in platinum – on his left ring finger. Prince Charles does, however, wear a thin gold band under the pinkie ring on his left hand.
- I think the size of the engagement diamond is of more importance in the US than other countries in which I have lived (Ireland, England, Sweden, South Africa). There seems to be an element of ring shaming if the stone is not large. What do you think?
- When I was in Germany some years ago, I asked someone why they had two identical gold wedding bands on their left hand ring finger. They told me it was the tradition for widows and widowers to wear their late spouse’s rings together with their own. Could anyone tell me if this is still true?
- It seems that in parts of Europe, especially in German-speaking regions, as well as in Bulgaria, Cyprus, Denmark, Greece, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania, North Macedonia, Norway, Poland, Russia, Serbia, Spain, Turkey, and Ukraine, the wedding ring is worn on the ring finger of the right hand. In the Netherlands, Catholics wear their wedding rings on the left hand, while most other people wear them on the right.
- When I first came to Sweden, both men and women wore a single plain gold band on their left ring finger if engaged, and two matching bands if they were married. This later changed more to plain bands if engaged and a second, diamond ring for the woman if married. Of late though, I notice more traditional diamond engagement rings. In fact, there was a discussion when the royals marrying now all chose to have ‘American-style’ diamond engagement rings for the women only, and matching gold rings for the couple when married.
- An Irish Claddagh is worn on the left or right hand with the crown towards the heart or the heart towards the heart depending on whether you are friends, single, in a relationship, engaged, or married.
- Some countries in Europe seem to go for more coloured stones (sapphires, rubies, emeralds) in their engagement rings than in the UK and US.
- The trend seems to be moving away from white gold to yellow or rose gold for wedding rings, although my favourite jewellery store says that white gold is still the biggest seller. I like silver jewellery but generally avoid white gold because it often needs more maintenance.
- Catholic nuns wear wedding rings on their right hand
- Birthstone engagement rings were more common than diamond rings in Victorian times.
- The De Beers mining company changed the way we thought about engagement diamonds by means of huge campaigns saying a diamond engagement ring should cost 3 months’ salary. Diamonds themselves – unless they are of really good quality – don’t keep value the same way gold does.
Do any of my readers come from a country with special engagement traditions? I would love to learn all about them! I have had a traditional diamond engagement ring in the past but I have always liked the simple functionality of a plain gold band. I was always worried about banging and losing the stone and used to hate leaving it in for 10 days every few years to have the setting checked and tightened. My partner asked if I would prefer a diamond but I wanted something plain, so we had matching gold bands custom-made from ethically sourced recovered gold. They have inscriptions inside. When we married three years ago, my wedding ring was a matching band with a sprinkling of diamonds. I wear them 24/7 though I have no superstitions about taking them off. When I grew up it was thought to be bad luck to remove your ring after your partner had placed it on your finger.
In Estonia, wedding ring is worn on the right hand as per German (Lutheran?) tradition. Engagement rings are a rather recent thing and are usually worn on the left hand and often not worn any more after getting married. Engagement ring can have any gemstone or no stones at all. Wedding bands are normally matching plain bands.
Thank you so much for this!
Hi Janet. I write you from Italy.
I suggest you to give a look to the sardinian engagement ring.
I think it’s fantastic.
It’s name is “maninfide”.
Thank you very much for this suggestions!
Old Riga is superb, and it’s so exciting to see you mention it!
My Dad’s side of the family is from Latvia, and they wear their rings on their right hand. I don’t think there is any superstition or belief to it – just cultural preference.
Congratulations on your engagement!! I am so happy for you!! I love that you went on holiday to get engaged and to such a unique place as Riga. I got engaged on a unique trip too – in Malta with my toes a few inches from the Mediterranean Sea.
Having been raised just outside Manhattan, NY I can relate to the “ring shame”… Through the years I have seen rings with huge low-quality diamonds, and I’ve seen both wedding rings and engagement rings on one finger with multiple diamonds around the band on each ring!
I wear both my engagement ring and wedding ring on my left hand.. When my mother passed this past spring I put on her wedding band on my right hand. It’s a very thin platinum band with beautiful script engraving inside the band, making it even more special for me to wear.
Thanks for all this fascinating information. I wish I could compile all these stories into a blog post! Your mother’s wedding band sounds so very very special.
Jan-Olof and I got engaged in McDonalds one night after a book release party. So he decided to organise a weekend trip away for us to have a proper engagement, where we could do whatever we wanted and exchange rings in privacy. It was just what we wanted. We travelled on one of the huge ferries that crosses the Baltic Sea, the Estella. I love crossings so was so excited
McDonalds?!!!! That is amazing!!! Riga sounds and looks amazing!!
I travel a lot for work and I have noticed that in Spain, Germany, Poland, Russia, Austria and Bulgaria, people wear their wedding ring on the right hand.
I have also found an explanation as for why we usually wear the wedding ring on the 4th finger. Do you have any idea?
Traditional belief established that this vein ran directly from the fourth finger of the left hand to the heart. This theory has been cited in western cultures as one of the reasons the engagement ring and/or wedding ring was placed on the fourth finger, or “ring finger”.
That’s one of the reasons I found. There are others and I’d like to know if people know them or not.
I come from Estonia and it used to be that the wedding ring was worn in the right hand. Only widows wore their wedding ring in the left hand.
No idea why it was like that and I think this might be changing now. I haven’t really checked where my married Estonian friends were their rings.
In Belgium (where I got married) the wedding ring is worn in left hand.
My wedding ring is in the right hand and I think my husband’s too – I think he just followed me as he didn’t care much.
This is really interesting, particularly the part about where the wedding ring are worn. Thank you for this!
I wish you much happiness, Janet, to you and your fiance.
The Christian Orthodox wear their ring on the left hand when engaged, and on the right hand when married. That’s probably why you notice a difference between countries. I think there is a symbolism as to the right side being the Holy side (think of Christ on the Cross, He forgave the thief on His right side). A little exaggerated if you ask me, but oh well…
As in everything, trends play a major role in the size and colour of the band. My mother got married in the early 60’s and she and my father had rather thick bands of warm gold, she told me that was in fashion at the time. Band size is rather slim right now in Greece and I other colours as well, cooler gold, platinum, etc.
I believe the custom of wearing a wedding band goes back to Ancient Egypt. And if I’m not mistaken, it was the Christian Church who more or less established the rules of a simple band with no ornaments to symbolize purity. The ring shape (circle) symbolizes eternity.
As for the engagement ring, things used to be pretty simple in Greece up to I’d say the early 00’s. People chose their ring according to their taste, though it wasn’t absolutely necessary to get an engagement ring. With the explosion of social media, and the influence of socialites who flash their money, more people seem to imitate the American way: buy a big bling ring to show off. (Though that’s not as annoying as the kneeling down to propose that seems to gain popularity here).
No real ring shaming though. Unless you count the nouveaux-riches who want to shame and be shamed, but they’ll use any item for that purpose. Also, people won’t care much if someone didn’t get or don’t wear their engagement ring.
Traditionally there is a private semi-formal ceremony for engagements in Greece, with a family gathering and a priest performing a short service at home, in which he gives the blessing to the couple and also blesses the rings. But that tends to be viewed as more old-fashioned as time goes buy, and usually the ceremony of engagement is incorporated to the ceremony of wedding.
I’ve heard about widowers wearing their dead spouse’s ring as well. I don’t know if it’s country-specific, but I find very endearing.
But I have noticed that many people over 60 stop wearing their band because their hands get bigger, and they can’t be bothered to have a jeweler expand their ring. Or maybe they got tired of wearing it and look for an excuse not to 🙂
[I’m sorry if my answer got posted twice, I think my computer is toying with my patience these days]
Thank you for this! And thank everyone so much for the detailed replies. I find these different customs so interesting and I am particularly surprised by how common wearing both rings when your spouse dies is.
Congratulations on your engagement!
Here in France women wear diamond engagement rings and a matching gold band once married, both on the left hand. Some women prefer ruby or emerald rings (sapphire is considered as being too “cheap” for that occasion). Men don’t get a ring for their engagement but depending on how much traditional the family is, he usually gets a really nice watch (matching the price of the diamond ring) or any other present that he’ll be able to keep.
We do wear our husband/wife wedding ring next to our own ring if they pass away.
In aristocratic families it happens that men don’t wear their wedding ring (as in the UK). They only wear a signet ring.
Congratulations on your engagement Janet!
Congratulations on your engagement, Janet!
Thank you very very much Sharon!