This summer, I was lucky enough to work remotely from Denmark for six weeks since my partner is a Danish citizen. During this trip, I had a gut feeling he would pop the question — partly because we had talked about it, and mostly because I knew he’d want to make that romantic gesture in his home country. On the last Monday we were in the country, he finally dropped to one knee and surprised me in the most romantic way. Of course, I said ‘yes’ — but what I didn’t expect was an exciting conversation surrounding the question: "What hand does the engagement ring go on?"
As an American, I always assumed the engagement and wedding ring belong on the left hand, but in Denmark, typically, women wear engagement rings on the left, and then move it over to the right once they’re wed. Men always wear their bands on the right hand after their wedding day. We aren’t precisely sure which custom we will follow once we say "I do," but it is fascinating to learn about these customs. Here, your guide to the origins, history and traditions of what hand the engagement ring goes on.
The Origins of How to Wear Wedding Rings and Engagement Rings
Like many stories from a long time ago, wedding rings' origins are murky and unclear since much of the ancient documentation didn’t make it through the countries of evolution. However, according to Toni Zehrer, the senior vice president and chief merchandising officer for Signet Jewelers, some research indicates rings were derived from Ancient Egypt, dating back thousands of years. During this period, she says Egyptian ouroboros rings portrayed a serpent swallowing its tail, which was their symbol of eternity. “They believed the ring, or eternal circle, is symbolic of the eternal love and nature of a marriage and the open center was said to be a portal for the couple to explore life together,” she explains.
However, once Alexander the Great conquered the Egyptians, he continued the tradition and used it as a symbol of devotion, with Eros and Cupid as the stars. “When the Ancient Romans conquered Greece, they too adopted this tradition and utilized iron and copper rings in wedding ceremonies. Wedding rings began to evolve to show off wealth and be more customized by incorporating different metals, such as gold, and precious gemstones, like diamonds, that are symbolic,” she shared.
However, the marriage proposal wasn’t part of the ritual until the Middle Ages. And believe it or not, it wasn’t until the 20th century in North America that couples started giving one another rings. Up until then, it was mostly about the wife wearing a band, and husbands were often ring-less. What caused this shift? According to ring expert Tiina Smith, the founder of Tiina Smith Jewelry, the United States began the tradition in the 1940s, when soldiers leaving for war wanted something to remind them of waiting for them back home.
Also, up until the last one hundred years, rings were a symbol of ownership — something modern-day feminists would snuff at. As Rosy Nuboer, the romance planning manager at the Hyatt Regency Aruba Resort Spa and Casino, explains, weddings were seen as a security deposit of a promise or a contract between a couple and their families. “Weddings now represent the official bond of marriage, and wedding rings are by the couples for the rest of their lives,” she explains. “Wedding rings symbolize a beginning of a journey together filled with wonder, surprises, laughter, tears, celebration, grief and joy. These rings reflect the warmth of the two lives that flow through the rings that are joined in one unbroken circle.”
The Left vs. Right Debate: What Finger Does the Engagement Ring and Wedding Band Go On?
Believe it or not, there is historical documentation of wedding rings being worn on different fingers, including the index finger and thumb, according to Smith. However, today, it’s most commonly worn on the fourth finger of the left hand, depending on where you’re located in the world. (Hence why we call said digit the ‘ring finger’ or 'wedding ring finger'.)
For those in Western cultures, the left hand is considered the correct spot for a wedding band, based on the theory around the ‘vena amoris’, or the vein of love. Nuboer explains that people believe this nerve connects the ring finger of the left hand directly to the heart, symbolizing a close connection to eternal love, devotion, trust and loyalty. This belief could date back to the ancient Egyptians themselves, according to Kaeleigh Testwuide, the owner and founder of The Diamond Reserve.
However, today, in many Eastern cultures, Testwuide says the right hand is where people choose to display their wedding band. This also includes certain countries in Europe, like Denmark, Norway, Italy, Spain, and so on. “This dates back to Ancient Rome where it was believed the left hand was not reliable and some cultures in India saw it as unclean,” she explains.
So where should you wear it? Wherever you want to — and whatever feels comfortable for you and your partner. As proprietress for the Historic Mankin Mansion and wedding ring expert, Paula Ramirez explains, there are endless reasons why some cultures or individuals choose left over right. “Many choose to wear their ring on their right hand simply due to personal preference. Some LGBTQIA+ couples also choose their right ring finger for their wedding band, as this is what was considered a sign of commitment before same-sex marriage was legalized,” she explains.
Traditionally, the wedding band goes on the ring finger of the left hand closest to the heart, so below the engagement ring. On your wedding day, you might opt to switch your engagement ring to your right hand before walking down the aisle. That way, your wedding band can be easily placed on your left ring finger during the ceremony and later, your engagement ring can be placed on top of the stack.
As a symbol of your commitment to one another, the goal is to be unified on how you sport this piece of jewelry. There is no right way to do it; it’s really left to you to decide as a team — no pun intended.