Published: Nov 2010
by Carrie Fox, In the Loupe Editor
from In the Loupe Volume VII
Though the exact origin is unknown, historians primarily believe ancient Egypt started the tradition most like our modern wearing of a wedding band. Archeological discoveries, some dating back more than 3,000 years ago, led them to this conclusion. Imagery on artifacts, such as papyrus scrolls, reveal an ancient culture that exchanged rings braided from reeds and hemp. Through translated hieroglyphics, experts learned how this society viewed the circle as a symbol of endless love between a man and woman. Additionally, Egyptians wore wedding bands on the ring finger of their left hands. They believed this finger held a special vein directly connected to the heart. The concept was passed down to other cultures, and centuries later, it was coined by the Latin term vena amoris or vein of love.
In ancient Rome, there were several types of recognized marriages, categorized by social class. They included Usus, Coemptio, and Confarreatio. Usus was an informal union reserved for the lowest class. It is often compared to today's common law marriage. Coemptio was a marriage that involved purchasing one's bride. While historians believe this was symbolic and not a true sale, fathers were paid for the hands of their daughters. Confarreatio was reserved for the elite class and was the only legal form of marriage at the time. This union was officiated with the groom presenting a ring to his bride. Most rings were made of iron, which led to the tradition of metal wedding rings. Unlike the Egyptians' symbols of love, however, historians believe the Romans viewed these bands as symbols of possession. The wife now belonged to the husband.
Centuries ago in the Middle East, a man would give his wife a puzzle ring. This complex piece of jewelry was several rings, that when worn together correctly, formed one cohesive band. Faithfulness was the idea behind this design. It was believed that if a woman took off her ring, she would not be able to put it back on. Therefore, her husband would know she'd been unfaithful.
The gimmel ring was popular in Europe during the 1500s and 1600s. Somewhat built like a puzzle ring, its design was meant to signify marriage and unity. Typically, it was comprised of two interlocking metal bands. After becoming engaged, a bride and groom-to-be would each wear one. Then at their wedding, the couple would reconnect their bands and form one ring for the bride to wear.
A poesy is a poem or ballad, which makes the name of this style highly appropriate. Very popular during the Renaissance, a poesy ring was an engraved sterling silver band. The inscription was typically a love poem or other expression of love.
In the early days of Colonial America, a groom would give his bride a thimble. Not very exciting! However, it seems that was the point. The trend started with Puritans who felt jewelry was frivolous. The thimble was acceptable because it was a practical item. Many women would eventually remove the tops of their thimbles, making them bands.