A short history of the eternal, enduring wedding band
Anna Loucah takes on a trip through ancient cultures as she explores why a simple band is so symbolic, and picks her top four from the history books
March 17, 2020 By Anna Loucah
As a jeweller frequently commissioned to create ‘future heirlooms’, I have long been fascinated by the traditional and cultural importance placed on the precious pieces that we wear. Throughout history, jewellery has been respected as more than simple adornment and, in today’s world, perhaps no piece is thought more symbolic than the wedding ring.
For the couples who come to make their own wedding rings in my studio, the pieces that they complete on the day are certainly more than just a band. Why is it that this often simple shape is imbued with so much significance?
Rings have been worn as symbols of power, respect, and as personal talismans for millennia. Whilst there is no definitive record of the ring being used to represent any kind of union, many believe it began with the ancient Egyptians some 4,000 years ago. During these times, rushes, reeds and papyrus were braided together into rings for the fingers of Egyptian women as a sign of devotion. Some are believed to have marked a bond between families, whilst others were given purely in the name of true love.
Similar traditions also began to emerge in ancient Greece, but it was the Romans who are believed to have first linked the exchanging of rings with a more formal marriage and associated it with a marital dowry and vow of fidelity.
Regardless of the formality of union, the symbolism of the rings’ circular shape – with no beginning or end – was considered representative of commitment and immortal love.
Whilst this representation of eternity is still maintained today, there was also, in ancient times, an equal importance placed on the space within the ring itself. Regarded as somewhat more than a convenient place to put your finger, it was also believed to act as a portal to all that is known and unknown both in this world and the next.
The tradition of the wedding or union ring soon began to spread across Europe and the Middle East with the Byzantines, Christians, Jews, Celts and Moors each adopting their own version.
The cultural specifics of each union may have varied slightly, and the amount and style of ornamentation applied to the rings themselves varied a lot.
History provides us with a wealth of beautifully engraved and exquisitely embellished examples – too vast to be done justice here – so let’s just take a look at a few of my favourites.
Healthy uterus aside, the majority of marriage ceremonies that involve the exchange of rings do place those rings on fingers – with one finger in particular being more popular than the others. While there are some very practical, but decidedly unromantic explanations as to why we most commonly wear our rings on the third finger of the left hand, I’d like to go right back again to ancient Rome and the vena amoris or ‘vein of love’.
Anna Loucah is an award-winning ethical jewellery designer based in London, and founder of Anna Loucah Fine Jewellery
In ancient times, an equal importance placed on the space within the ring itself. Regarded as somewhat more than a convenient place to put your finger, it was also believed to act as a portal to all that is known and unknown both in this world and the next"