With this Ring

Peo­ple have ex­changed wed­ding bands as to­kens of their life­long union for cen­turies and we look back at the his­tory be­hind this sym­bolic keep­sake

Hong Kong Tatler Weddings - - CONTENTS - BY Annie Dar­ling

Peo­ple have ex­changed wed­ding bands as to­kens of their life­long union for cen­turies and we look back at the his­tory be­hind this sym­bolic keep­sake

A wed­ding ring is an emo­tion­ally loaded pur­chase. For most of us, it’s more than just jew­ellery: it’s a sym­bol of eter­nal ro­mance, as well as the life­long com­mit­ment we’re plan­ning to make. It’s recog­nis­able in just about ev­ery cul­ture and has rep­re­sented the cir­cle of life for cen­turies. But what’s less known is that this hum­ble ac­ces­sory has fan­tas­ti­cal ori­gins.

The wed­ding ring’s his­tory can be traced all the way back to the An­cient Egyp­tians, who be­lieved in the vena amoris, mean­ing “vein of love,” the­o­ris­ing that the heart’s blood sup­ply ran di­rectly to the third fin­ger of the left hand. Since then, wed­ding rings have been worn on the third fin­ger, now com­monly re­ferred to as the “ring fin­ger”—although some cul­tures choose to wear wed­ding rings on the right be­cause that’s the hand typ­i­cally used for mak­ing sa­cred oaths and vows.

The so-called Wed­ding Ring of Eng­land, for ex­am­ple, which was cre­ated for the coronation of Wil­liam IV in 1831, was placed on the third fin­ger of the sov­er­eign’s right hand by the arch­bishop as a sym­bol of “kingly dig­nity,” says the Royal Col­lec­tion Trust. It was last worn by El­iz­a­beth II dur­ing her mar­riage to the na­tion in 1953.

A sec­ond coronation ring, in­spired by Wil­liam IV’s, was made for Queen Vic­to­ria in 1838, fea­tur­ing an oc­tag­o­nal step-cut sap­phire open-set in gold and over­laid with five ru­bies form­ing a cross. The royal gold­smiths, un­aware that the coronation ring was worn on the third fin­ger of the right hand, made the ring for the Queen’s lit­tle fin­ger. The Arch­bishop forced it on, and she had to soak her hand in iced water af­ter the cer­e­mony.

Ac­cord­ing to the Ge­mo­log­i­cal In­sti­tute of Amer­ica, women in An­cient Rome car­ried on the tra­di­tion set by the Egyp­tians of wear­ing wed­ding rings to “ei­ther sig­nify a busi­ness con­tract or to af­firm mu­tual love and obe­di­ence.” The American Gem So­ci­ety, mean­while, writes that that the wed­ding ring was fur­ther es­tab­lished by a Ro­man tra­di­tion in which wives wore hand­crafted rings made from cop­per and iron, among other ma­te­ri­als, that were at­tached to small keys to in­di­cate their hus­bands’ own­er­ship. Mov­ing on (thank­fully)…

Gold be­trothal rings were even found un­der­neath the pumice of Pom­peii 2,000 years af­ter Mount Ve­su­vius buried the Ro­man town in smoul­der­ing ash, de­spite gold and sil­ver be­ing used only by the ex­tremely wealthy. But fast-for­ward to the 20th cen­tury and wed­ding bands were over­shad­owed by a new-found ex­cite­ment for en­gage­ment rings, which were pop­u­larised by copy­writer Frances Gerety when, in 1947, she coined the phrase “A Di­a­mond is For­ever” for a De Beers jew­ellery cam­paign.

A plain wed­ding band worn along­side a di­a­mond en­gage­ment ring con­tin­ues to be the most com­mon choice for brides, while men’s wed­ding jew­ellery is still a rel­a­tively new trend. Jewellers tried to pop­u­larise wed­ding bands for bride­grooms in the 1920s, but they only be­came main­stream in the mid-20th cen­tury, when sol­diers fight­ing over­seas dur­ing World War II wore them as a com­fort­ing re­minder of their wives and fam­i­lies back home.

To­day, cou­ples are be­gin­ning to move to­wards unique styles and non-tra­di­tional stones. Jac­que­line Kennedy’s emer­ald by Van Cleef & Ar­pels, for ex­am­ple, and Kate Mid­dle­ton’s blue sap­phire ring, fash­ioned from the late Princess Diana’s en­gage­ment ring, are ex­am­ples of how women want their wed­ding jew­ellery to have per­son­al­ity.

Others are per­suaded by eco-friendly and fair-mined op­tions, and even re­cy­cled di­a­monds. One thing’s for cer­tain: the wed­ding ring is deeply rooted in a rich his­tory that spans cen­turies, and it will con­tinue to evolve as we do.

Clock­wise from left: Kate Mid­dle­ton’s en­gage­ment ring; coronation rings from the UK’s Crown Jew­els; Jac­que­line Kennedy’s en­gage­ment ring by Van Cleef & Ar­pels; an ad from De Beers’ “A Di­a­mond is For­ever” cam­paign from 1958

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