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Updated: Apr 21, 2023

Promise rings symbolize love. Worn on any finger ?, a promise ring represents a couple’s commitment to their relationship. Learn more about promise ring meaning, its history and how to give one.

handmade ring
handmade ring

What is the history of the promise ring?

History of rings is full of many rituals and traditions that were created in ancient times, and carried on from generation to generation into modern times, sometimes changing their meaning slightly of significantly, melding with other traditions into new ones, or in many cases disappearing. One of the most powerful traditions that managed to survive trough ages is the power of gifting items as a token of promise, allegiance and love. One of those traditions is off course pre-engagement ring, token in a shape of ring that is given to romantic partner as a symbol of commitment, relationship and future promise of engagement ring and marriage. Because the promise of building future life with someone represents one of the most important commitments someone can make, significance of pre-engagement ring managed to become very important in all the cultures or time periods when they were in widespread use.

Rings as items of decorations were created in prehistoric times, but they were worn almost exclusively as neck rings, nose rings, anklets, bracelets, ear rings and lip rings. With the rise of Egypt the tradition of wearing rings on fingers was finally born, and was viewed mostly as a sign of royalty, nobility and wealth, and their significance as “representation of someone” was born because of their ability to imprint sigils and runes into wax, but until today our historians cannot decipher if the Egyptians used rings as tokens and gifts.

The earliest historical examples of “promise rings” came from Ancient Greece, civilization who had very close trade connections with Egypt. Mythological tales of Greek gods mentioned rings that caused other gods to forever remember other gods who gave it to them, and this tales influenced Greeks and later on Romans to incorporate this tradition into their lives. Roman “betrothal rings” became very popular with time (two rings with engraved names of betrothed couple), and eventually tradition called that they needed to be made from gold and must be worn openly.
In the Late Middle Ages (13th-16th centuries), men gave posy rings as tokens of love to their romantic interests. Posy rings— the name comes from poésie, French for poetry or poem—were often inscribed with romantic phrases such as, “united hearts, death only parts” or “love conquers all things.” Choosing an apt inscription reflected on the giver’s literary giftedness or education.
Posy ring featuring a sapphire and a garnet placed side-by-side. Inscribed with "oue tout mon coeur," French for “with all my heart.”
This posy ring from the 1400s is inscribed with “oue tout mon coeur,” French for “with all my heart.” It features a sapphire and a garnet placed side-by-side, also making it a classic toi et moi (you and me) ring. Courtesy: The Victoria & Albert Museum (London).
A more elaborate type of promise ring—the acrostic ring—became popular during the Georgian (1714-1837) and Victorian (1837-1901) eras. These rings were set with gemstones, and the first letter of the name of each gemstone spelled out a secret message. For example, putting lapis, opal, verdelite tourmaline, and emerald together on a ring spelled out “love.”

What is a promise ring meant for?

In the Middle Ages, as with now, promise rings symbolize love. The meaning of a promise ring in a relationship is unique to each couple. But in general, when given or exchanged, promise rings signal commitment to an exclusive relationship. Promise rings are not engagement rings but they can serve as placeholder rings when a couple is waiting on marriage or as mementos when a couple is apart due to geographic distance. Promise rings indicate to the outside world that a relationship is serious and not just a momentary infatuation. They can also be beautiful proclamations of love for those who are devoted to a partner but have no intention of marrying.

What finger do you wear a promise ring on?

Promise rings can be worn on any finger. Popular options are the ring finger or the middle finger of the left hand or the middle or fourth finger on the right hand. Some people also wear a promise ring on a chain around their neck. Couples who marry will often switch their promise ring from their left hand to their right hand after their wedding.

How do you give someone a promise ring?

In the past, promise rings were given by men to women, but some men wear promise rings for their girlfriends and many modern couples exchange promise rings. In many Asian countries, couples pick out promise rings together and wear them on their ring fingers to show that they are in committed relationships.

Promise rings are often given on special occasions, such as birthdays, holidays or dating anniversaries, but they can be given on any occasion. It is important to discuss with your significant other before giving a promise ring or the ring might be mistaken for an engagement ring, and the confusion might ruin the special moment.

It is a good idea to discuss with your loved one what the promise ring means. Besides serving as statements of love, promise rings generally have unique significance to each couple. When giving or exchanging promise rings, couples will often talk about what their relationship means to them in the present and what the ring promises in terms of the future.


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