Getting engaged and then married are two big milestones that deserve plenty of celebration. Congratulations ! You’re likely looking for rings right now, but you’re not really sure if you should stick to tradition and go for two rings, or have your engagement ring be your wedding ring too. You may also be wondering if men wear engagement rings at all.
Today we’re taking an honest look at engagement rings, wedding rings, and comparing the two so you know what you’re getting into.
Engagement rings vs wedding rings
Engagement rings typically have a center stone (usually diamond) while wedding rings are a plain gold band. Because of this, engagement rings tend to be more expensive than wedding rings. An engagement ring is a sign that the couple has decided to marry and will soon start planning their ceremony, while a wedding ring is a sign that the couple has already married.
Traditionally wedding bands are exchanged during the religious ceremony but you can wear them even if you just do a civil union. In the end, the key difference between an engagement and a wedding ring is that one signifies the promise to marry sometime soon, while the other is a sign of a marriage that already took place and an outward symbol of the couple’s commitment to one another.
There are various deviations from tradition and just because your rings are not gold, or you have no rings, does not mean that you are not engaged or married. It’s more of a social expectation thing, than a requirement. In the end, it’s entirely up to the couple what they do. So now let’s take a look at each ring type.
1. Engagement rings come before the wedding
An engagement ring is more like a promise ring than anything else. Or rather it’s the middle ground between a promise ring and a wedding ring. When you get engaged, you promise to one another to marry sometime in the near future. Most couples plan their wedding ceremony roughly a year after their engagement, though this is not set in stone.
These rings are generally offered by the man to the woman, and it has a mixed symbolism and it all has very deep roots. First, it means that the woman is ‘taken’ and will no longer be entertaining other possible suitors. This is a holdover from older times when the time between and engagement and wedding was short (a few months) and a woman, especially a wealthy one, had several men vying for her attention.
Nowadays most couples are already exclusive when getting engaged, but the idea of ‘I am to be wed and will remain faithful’ is implied by the ring. Men do not usually wear engagement rings, but they are starting to opt for a ring as well, even if it does not look like the woman’s engagement ring.
Read also: How Should A Wedding Ring Fit ?
Second, the meaning of the diamond engagement ring is that the man has worked hard and bought the woman a beautiful gem as a token of his love. This is a vestige of the famous DeBeers campaign, even if engagement rings did not feature a diamond before this campaign. Through a successful campaign and a bit of social pressure, nearly all engagement rings are now expected to have a diamond, though you can easily deviate from this.
For example both Princess Diana and Duchess Kate Middleton received an engagement ring with a sapphire center stone and a diamond halo.
2. Wedding rings signify the actual union of the couple
When it comes time to walk down the aisle and go through with the wedding ceremony, the wedding rings are a key piece. They are an outward sign of the couple’s union, the fact that they are now a family, and share their life. Wedding bands or rings are also traditionally a sign that they’re married before God, so no mortal can come between them.
Nowadays there are plenty of couples who wear a wedding ring or band without having a religious ceremony, since they believe in the symbol of togetherness and family that the wedding rings stand for.
You may wear your engagement ring as a wedding ring, too. This means you’ll be wearing a single ring, and your partner will need another ring to wear as a wedding ring.
As a timeline, the engagement ring comes first, then the wedding ring. Then, if the couple decides to do so, another ring may come after 10 years as an anniversary gift, and it is usually an eternity ring.
3. Engagement rings typically have a center stone
A key feature of engagement rings is their center stone, or specifically that they have a stone at all. Traditionally an engagement ring had any sort of gemstone, as long as there was something of value on it. In the past century or so, the default gemstone has been a diamond, either alone or surrounded by other, smaller diamonds.
There are engagement rings without a center stone, engagement rings with a very large one, and engagement rings that have stones all around. In the end, it’s the intent behind the ring that makes it an engagement ring. There is a proposal and there needs to be a ‘yes’ in there for the ring to be a promise to be wed.
Wedding bands are usually plain, or do not feature a gemstone. They are plain, or engraved, or made of different colored metals, but most don’t have a gemstone on them. However you can find wedding bands that have a small gem, or a row of small gems. These are more modern versions and you’re more likely to find these in a wedding set that has matching rings and engagement rings.
4. Wedding rings tend to be more affordable than engagement rings
A wedding ring is typically plain, or if it has any gems they’re very small. By comparison engagement rings feature a center stone, usually 1 carat, and usually a diamond at that. There are plenty other engagement rings with side stones, stones going down the sides, all-around pave stones, and all kinds of intricate patterns.
The point is, engagement rings, on average, feature way more stones than a wedding ring. And because of this, they’re often much more expensive than a wedding ring, even if the wedding ring has a small diamond on it.
What can get expensive with wedding rings is the metal they’re made of. The thicker and wider the band, the more metal you have. Platinum is more expensive and denser than gold, so you will pay at least double for a platinum wedding ring of the same size as a gold one.
Do you need both rings ?
You do not need both a wedding ring and an engagement ring, though they are both expected by peers. However if you as a couple decide to only have one ring, you can also do that and no one will really have a say in it.
The traditional look is a wedding ring and an engagement ring, stacked on top of each other on the left hand ring finger.
Do engagement rings come in pairs ?
Engagement rings do not come in pairs, but you can go ring shopping for both of you at the same time. You’re bound to find a set of rings that match fairly well. Or, you could commission your jeweler to make two custom engagement rings for you.
Generally men don’t wear engagement rings, but Tiffany & Co. has launched a men’s engagement ring line a few years ago. This is a sign that there are enough men asking for an engagement ring that there will soon be more on offer.
Do engagement rings come with wedding bands ?
Some engagement rings come with wedding bands, and some come in a 3 piece matching his & hers set. The typical engagement ring shopping experience only entails buying the engagement ring, and them later matching the wedding ring. But you can also get a set that matches from the beginning.
Tips on choosing & wearing your wedding set
When you’re looking for your engagement ring and wedding ring, there’s a few things you need to keep in mind, This will make your ring shopping experience go smoothly, and it’s not something you will have to do again (hopefully).
Browse styles online, but make sure you go to a few physical stores
Buying jewelry online is easy, stress-free, but there is one catch. Even if you decide together on 2-3 styles you like, you may not like them as much in person. Seeing a photo of the ring is one thing, actually trying it on is another.
For example maybe you love the idea if wide wedding bands, like 7 mm ones. But when you go to a jewelry shop and try one on, you realize it’s actually pretty big and would like a smaller one. Or you like a simple, plain band but when you try it on you think it looks a bit plain.
Our point is that you should browse online, yes, but also go and try a few styles. See how they fit in with your engagement ring. See how the color looks against your skin. See if the band isn’t too thick or if you got your size right.
Take your budget and lifestyle into account
Your perfect wedding and engagement ring may be very extravagant, but do you have the money and lifestyle for them ? These are rings you will be wearing for the rest of your life, to work, to bed, in the shower, in the pool, hiking, cooking, picking up the kids, etc.
Do you have the kind of lifestyle where wearing a very large stone (diamond or not) is feasible ? Will it snag everything ? Are your hands often covered ? Do you tend to lose things ? Are your hands often dirty or you do a lot of manual labor ?
Big rings and big stones often get in the way, despite their sparkle. We’re not saying you should buy the tiniest diamond. We’re saying you need to think very well about what you do every day, and how the stone should be set so it doesn’t get in the way.
Make sure both rings are comfortable together
If you’re wearing your rings together, be sure they fit nicely on your finger. If they get too wide and reach all the way to your knuckle you’ll have a harder time doing your everyday work.
Consider your engagement ring when choosing the wedding band
Think of the shape and style of your engagement ring when choosing the wedding band. If your engagement ring has an unusual shape on top, the wedding band needs to accommodate that shape. If your engagement ring is odd but set very high, it may accommodate most wedding bands.
I’m the main author for jewelrymaterialguide.com. I started this site after we did tons of research before our wedding and noticed that there is information about rings, jewelry, and so on that is really hard to find on the internet.