These days, we don’t put much thought into why we wear our wedding ring on a specific finger. Rather, we only put thought into what kind of ring will be going on that finger.
Most western cultures follow the left-hand-fourth-finger rule, but have you ever wondered why exactly this is? As a billion-dollar industry, the engagement and wedding jewellery business is one of the longest and most successful in history – thanks to the popularity of diamonds and great marketing strategies. But long before the glitz and glam, ancient traditions captured the loving symbolism of the ring.
Origins In Egypt
In ancient Egypt, the circular style of the ring was seen as a powerful symbol of eternity, signifying no beginning or end for eternal life and love. The space in the middle of the ring was said to represent a gateway into another world, which would lead to events known and unknown.
As they were woven from perishable natural material like reeds and sedges, they would deteriorate over time and were the replaced by leather, bone or ivory, depending on the wealth of the person giving the ring.
Roman Era and the Vein of Love
Placing the wedding and engagement rings on the fourth finger, known as the ring finger, was a tradition which began in Roman times, where it was believed that the vena amoris, which means “vein of love”, ran directly from the fourth finger on the left hand to the heart.
Of course, we know now that this is incorrect (cheers, Science), although it is still credited as one of the reasons why we still wear the rings on our fourth finger today. Roman betrothal rings were also seen as a symbol of ownership, with the use of iron rings later on seen to represent strength and permanence.
The Romans later began personalising their rings with engravings (they’re said to be the first people to do so), carving the faces of the married couples onto their gold rings, and later adding the Christian cross when Christianity became the official religion of the Empire.
Ancient Chinese Beliefs
While the Egyptian and Roman traditions are the most well known, ancient Chinese beliefs also existed which presented a romantic theory mixed with practicality.
According to Chinese belief, each finger represents different relationships and generations of a person and their family. The thumb represents the person’s parents, the index finger represents siblings, the middle finger represents the person themselves, the ring finger represents their life partner, and the little finger represents their children.
For the practical aspect, place your fingertips together (each with their corresponding finger) and bend your middle fingers until their tips are facing down and your second knuckles are touching each other. When you try to separate your thumbs they will part easily – this is because they represent your parents, who you are not meant to stay with forever. The same goes for your pinky fingers – as your children will also eventually leave you to start their own families – and your index fingers as your siblings will also have their own lives to lead.
But finally, try separating your ring fingers and you’ll find it impossible to do. This is to represent your life bond with your partner, and the promise you make in marriage to be together forever.
Armans Fine Jewellery is an award-winning, family-owned jewellery boutique based in Sydney CBD. Armans has been specialising in custom-designed diamond engagement rings and other bespoke jewellery since 1986 and uses only the finest precious jewels. Explore their exquisite collection online or in-store.
Sources: Today I Found Out, With These Rings Handmade, Nova 100