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What Is An Engagement Ring? - Definition & Symbolism

Engagement Ring Meaning: What Is an Engagement Ring?

Contrary to popular belief, the “traditional wedding” is not that old. Everything we associate with traditional weddings in Western cultures—the white dress, veil, engagement ring, matching bridesmaids, flowers, and multi-tiered cake—became the trend after 1840, all thanks to one trendsetter.

Queen Victoria’s wedding to Prince Albert was basically the biggest celebrity news of the decade. Her wedding was dramatic, remarkable, unique, and cutting-edge. People thought it was so cool that it inspired other weddings for centuries; even today.

So if the traditional wedding isn’t that old, what is the symbolism of engagement rings? What does an engagement ring have to look like in order to be considered an engagement ring? In our guide, we’ll answer all of these questions and more.

What is an Engagement Ring?

The engagement ring definition denotes a ring that is offered by a partner to their prospective spouse as part of their proposal to marry them. It represents a formal agreement for future marriage.

The engagement ring isn’t usually part of the marriage ceremony. When the ceremony is over, traditionally the bride usually puts the engagement ring on, wearing it outside of the wedding ring.

What Does an Engagement Ring Look Like?

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Typically, people think of engagement rings as a metal band (usually white gold, sterling silver, yellow gold or platinum) with a large diamond on it, or multiple diamonds, or other gemstones.

There are some unfortunate stories out there where people have mistaken a ring they receive as a gift for a wedding ring; they expected a marriage proposal when that wasn’t the intention, creating an awkward situation. This raises the question - what characteristics allow you to tell an engagement ring apart from other rings?

The “traditional” engagement ring has a solitaire diamond on it or several diamonds that are centered in a clump in the middle of the finger. “Nontraditional” engagement rings have a colored gemstone as the center stone, such as a ruby, sapphire, amethyst, etc.

Traditional Engagement Ring Appearance

It’s kind of funny that diamonds are the tradition because diamond engagement rings didn’t become a popular “thing” until the 1940s. Queen Victoria is the inspiration behind the traditional wedding, but her engagement ring was a gold snake ring with an emerald on its head and rubies for eyes.

So if the “traditional engagement ring” is a coiled snake, why don’t we see them on fingers everywhere? Clever marketing made diamonds desirable, and people loved the look of diamonds’ brilliance so much that they made it the tradition for generations.

To answer the question, what does an engagement ring look like? The answer is, there is no rule dictating that an engagement ring has to have a certain design, metal, gemstone, or price tag. You could make a bread-tie engagement ring if you wanted to, but that kind of defeats the purpose.

Typically, engagement rings are made of a precious metal (white gold is the most popular currently) and a precious or semi-precious gemstone. It can have diamonds, rubies, tsavorite, etc. and it will still “look like” an engagement ring if the gemstone is the central design.

Nontraditional Engagement Ring Appearance

What is a nontraditional engagement ring? A “nontraditional” engagement ring describes a ring that veers away from the traditional diamond engagement ring, which featured yellow gold and white diamond(s).

Today, yellow gold engagement rings are considered an antique or vintage look. The modern traditional wedding ring is usually white gold, sterling silver, or platinum, and features white diamonds.

A nontraditional engagement ring may have the following:

  • Colored gemstones
  • Diamond alternatives (white sapphire, moissanite, etc)
  • Colored diamonds (canary yellow, pink, blue, brown, black, etc)
  • Modern diamond shapes and cuts (such as the heart shape)
    • Round Cut
    • Princess Cut
    • Cushion Cut
    • Oval Cut
    • Emerald Cut
    • Pear Cut
    • Marquise Cut
    • Black Diamond
  • Engagement rings with multiple diamonds
  • Rose gold band or alternative metal
  • Personalized engraving

Today, personalized unique engagement rings are becoming more popular. In a sense, the nontraditional engagement ring is becoming a modern tradition. It wouldn’t be surprising if in a few decades, the old "traditional engagement ring” may be considered nontraditional.


engagement ring

Unlike an engagement ring’s appearance, the engagement ring's meaning has a straightforward message. The meaning of an engagement ring is to signify the intent of marriage.

How long after proposal do you wait to get married? On average, couples wait 13 months to get married after proposing an engagement ring. This can be much shorter, or years longer. There’s no set rule.

Engagement Ring vs. Promise Ring Meaning

An engagement ring indicates a desire to get married; a promise ring indicates a “promise.” This promise can be many things—a promise to get engaged (younger couples often do this), a promise to remain loyal to each other, or a promise to fulfill something, such as remaining sober or maintaining a friendship.

If you’re going to offer a promise ring to someone, you might want to discuss it first so there’s no confusion. To help avoid confusion, many people choose to buy promise rings that don’t have a gemstone on them to limit resemblance to the typical engagement ring.


engagement ring

What does an engagement ring symbolize? Typically, the symbolism of an engagement ring is associated with the gemstone. Diamonds are the hardest material on Earth, so the phrase “a diamond is forever” reflects both the longevity of diamonds and everlasting love.

The band is usually made of precious metals, for example, sterling silver engagement rings, which adds a symbolic meaning of purity and authentic love.

The original symbolism for wedding rings and engagement rings dates back to prehistory. Early humans would tie strands of grass on their fingers—the circular form of the ring, without beginning or end, represents eternity and infinite love.

Spiritual Commitment

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Some people will incorporate their religious or spiritual commitments into their wedding rings. With these wedding ring traditions on the rise, there have been various ring designs to incorporate them. One of the most popular designs is crosses.

Incorporating your religion or spirituality into your special day doesn’t necessarily have to be with the bride or groom. It can actually be accomplished through your wedding party too. The bride can have her bridesmaids wear religious jewelry or the groom can have his groomsmen wear cross pendants.

Your wedding day is your special day. The traditions of the past and present can certainly play a role in how you want your wedding day to go, but ultimately, that decision is up to the happy couple. Remember, the jewelry that you incorporate into your wedding are keepsakes. Traditional jewelry is a great addition, but there’s also nothing wrong with adding your own style and flair to make your special day just as beautiful as you are.

Men’s Wedding Bands

Although ancient wedding rings were worn by the Egyptians, Greeks, Romans, and beyond—the modern men’s wedding band didn’t become popular until WWII. The men’s wedding band origin comes from American soldiers wearing rings to remember their loved ones back at home while they were at war across the pond.

Men’s wedding bands became common at the same time as diamond engagement rings were becoming popular. Women wore rings as symbols of their relationship; it was only natural for men to do the same.

Men’s wedding rings can be plain gold or platinum bands, or decked-out in diamonds. Men who work with their hands a lot often wear stainless steel wedding bands or other alternative metals to avoid scratching a gold band. Some men have two wedding bands—one to wear during work and one to wear elsewhere.

The primary characteristic most men’s diamond wedding rings have in common is that they’re made from a heavy-weight metal that’s durable. They should also be meaningful and suit his personality and style. It’s a growing trend for brides and grooms to create custom wedding rings.

Something Old, Something New

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We’ve all heard the old adage “something old, something new, something borrowed, something blue.”  But what does it mean? Have you ever thought of where that expression came from or how it started?

This rhyme originated from the Old English adage, “Something olde, something new, something borrowed, something blue, a sixpence in your shoe.”

Those items are thought to be good luck objects the bride should have on her wedding day. The sixpence in her shoe is a good luck charm for prosperity… modern folks just don’t get it; you can’t forget that sixpence!

Many brides follow this old saying, but not sticking to it won’t take away from your wedding day either. Don’t go into panic mode thinking that your marriage is doomed if you don’t apply these “somethings” on your wedding day.

These little “somethings” are typically gifts of love, given to you by your mother, grandmother, sisters, or any close family or friends. These love tokens are usually given before the wedding ceremony. Grooms can indulge in this tradition as well. It’s not unusual for a groom to wear his new “blue” cuff links or “borrow” his grandfather’s diamond watch.

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“Something Old”

A long time ago, having something old on your wedding day stemmed from being a way to keep away the “evil eye,” and prevent any type of harm to children the couple may have in the future. It was said that the “evil eye” is what caused infertility in the bride.

As time passed, the idea of having “something old” on your wedding day blossomed into a happier meaning. Something old represented continuity. Lots of times, mothers or grandmothers of the bride will present the bride with an item that belonged to an older relative and had some type of sentimental meaning to them. These love tokens will sometimes have an antique look to them. Passing that item on to the bride represents the continuity of that item into their marriage.

“Something New”

Something new represents optimism for the future. Think about it, the bride and groom are about to embark on this new journey in their lives, so bringing “something new” into the marriage is very fitting. As a new couple, any and all positive vibes are appreciated!

Something new can also be virtually anything...your wedding dress, jewelry, shoes, or even a brand new car, given to you by the father of the bride! Really and truly, it’s completely up to you as to what you want your “something new” to be and whether or not it’s from yourself or from a loved one.

“Something Borrowed”

This portion of the expression represents good luck. It is believed that borrowing something from a happily married friend or family member will bring some of their good luck and fortune to your marriage.

Going back to the old days, this superstition encouraged the bride to borrow undergarments of a female family member or friend who is currently in a happy marriage with healthy children. This is in reference to that “evil eye” and infertility we talked about in “something old.”

The borrowing of undergarments is pretty much saying, “this woman has a happy marriage and healthy kids...wear her undergarments, and the same will happen for you.” Today’s bride doesn’t usually take it that far, but they will choose items to borrow like their mother’s diamond earrings.

“Something Blue”

Carrying or wearing this love token represented love, purity, and fidelity, which essentially, are the three key elements for a solid and happy marriage. “Something blue” was also meant to ward off that “evil eye.” Traditionally, a bride would wear a blue garter under their wedding dress. (We think they might’ve come up with a word to finish the rhyme first, and developed the meaning later, but that’s a story for another day.)

Engagement Ring Buying Tips

engagement ring

When choosing an engagement ring, you want to find a quality ring that suits your style and represents your relationship. Here are some tips for choosing an engagement ring:

  1. Look at the cut, carat, clarity, color, and shape of the gemstone.
  2. Look into personalized touches.
  3. Buy from a reputable seller who communicates well.
  4. Ask every question that comes to mind before buying an engagement ring.
  5. Consider how the engagement ring may match the wedding ring and men’s wedding band.
  6. Choose a style that you’ll want to wear for all stages of life.
  7. Choose a ring that you’ll be proud to wear.
  8. Consider how to make the most of your budget.
  9. Get engagement ring insurance against theft and damage.
  10. Make it special!

Whether you like the look of traditional diamond engagement rings, or you’re looking for something with more bling or personality, we here at ItsHot.com are here to help you in your selection process.


ItsHot LogoDenis Stepansky
Founder of ItsHot.com

Denis Stepansky is a founder of ItsHot, a diamond jewelry and watches store based in NYC. He has been in the jewelry business for about 20 years and owns such high-end jewelry brands as Luccello and Luxurman. As a jewelry expert, he has citations on well-known magazines and newspapers like Insider and Daily Mail.

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