Engagement vs. Wedding Rings: What’s the Difference?

A woman's hand with a diamond engagement ring and wedding band.

Although some people use the terms “engagement ring” and “wedding ring” interchangeably, the two are not the same. An engagement ring signifies an intent to be married, while a wedding ring is only worn after tying the knot. The history behind the significance of each goes way back, possibly to Ancient Egypt or Ancient Rome.

Traditionally, a woman wears two rings after the marriage ceremony. However, today many settle for just one ring or even none at all. In deciding whether to have one or two rings, you’ll first want to read about the traditional approach to the topic and then choose what’s meaningful to you.

Engagement Rings vs. Wedding Rings

A bride and groom wearing their wedding bands and holding hands.

An engagement ring is traditionally given during a marriage proposal. It usually has one main centerpiece stone, although may have additional stones accompanying it. An engagement ring tells others that the person is “taken” and awaiting to be married. In years past, it also showed the social and financial status of the woman’s significant other. These days, technically no engagement ring is required at all and fewer people are paying attention to the value of the piece.

In the United States, the engagement ring is usually much flashier and more expensive than the wedding ring. The wedding ring can be as simple as a solid metal band. In Europe, sometimes the opposite is true, although a lot of people are picking up on the American trend.

Wedding rings are normally worn by both partners after the ceremony. They symbolize the official bond of marriage, and in some venues they’re a requirement to have for the marriage vows, even if they’re not worn after that day. Today, some men don’t wear any ring at all after the wedding or opt for another piece of jewelry, such as a watch, as a substitute. Likewise, some women choose not to wear anything afterwards, either.

Do Men Wear Engagement Rings?

Although engagement rings are normally worn by the bride-to-be, there’s been a rise in what was coined the “mangagement” ring. More men today are wearing rings as well after a successful proposal. This is quite common in same-sex couples, but also trending because female-led proposals are booming. Hence, some jewelers are creating fancier versions of the traditional male wedding bands for the occasion.

Combining Rings After the Wedding

A groom putting a wedding ring on a bride's hand during a marriage ceremony.

In most places, either or both rings are worn on the fourth finger of the left hand. However, in some Northern and Eastern European countries, they are worn on the fourth finger of the right hand. And in others yet, the engagement ring is worn on one hand and then switched to the other after the marriage ceremony. It may also be combined with a second ring at that point.

When walking down the aisle at the wedding ceremony, neither partner wears a ring. Only after the vows, when the wedding rings or bands are exchanged, is the engagement ring traditionally put back on. So, the appropriate order is the wedding ring first (closer to the hand) and the engagement ring second. If a bride chooses to wear both rings going forward, she may want to consider soldering the rings together. Of course, if the two rings don’t necessarily match or go well together, a bride can choose to wear one or the other, or split the two between both hands.

Do I Need Two Rings?

Although tradition says you should have two rings to wear once married, it’s really up to you what you feel comfortable wearing. Some women claim having two rings is important to distinguish oneself as someone who’s married from someone who’s only engaged. Should you choose to stack both rings, make sure they match not just in style, but in shape. This isn’t just for fashion; if the bands don’t stack well together, they will damage one another over time. When in doubt, ask your jeweler about your options when shopping for a second ring, or if soldering the two might be a good idea.

You can also choose to get a second alternative wedding ring. It may be a good idea if the alternate ring is simpler and therefore more practical for day-to-day use, as some like to save their larger diamonds for special occasions. And if one ring seems more than enough, you don’t need a second ring at all. Some women love their engagement ring so much that they can’t think of adding anything to it. Alternatively, you can keep just the engagement ring and enhance it with added stones or other means.

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