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Engagement rings vs Promise rings

22nd March 2016
Blog

If you’ve never heard of a promise ring, it may take some private head scratching to work out what it implies should someone close to you present you with one.

Most importantly – and depending on the circumstances – you’d be forgiven for questioning the difference between a promise ring and an engagement ring. If someone’s asking for your hand in marriage, aren’t they essentially the same thing?

Regardless, asking the question “what is a promise ring?” on receipt of such a piece of jewellery probably isn’t the best way to cement what is intended to be a tender, loving moment between two people.

7-stone-diamond-ring

At Diamond Dealer Direct, we’ve long been the supplier of promise rings UK residents have to come to cherish, which has given us a fantastic insight into these timeless pieces of jewellery and the ways in which they differ from engagement rings. Over the years, this has made us rather comfortable answering the perennial “what is a promise ring?” question, and we’d like to share that knowledge with you today.

With that in mind, in this post, I aim to dispel some of the myths about promise rings and shine a light on what can be just as powerful a statement as an engagement ring.

The history of promise rings in the UK

Despite what you may think, the premise of a promise ring isn’t new. In fact, in ancient times, rings were regularly used to solidify a promise, and such tradition has carried long into the modern world. With that in mind, it is easy to argue that all rings are promise rings.

In the 16th and 17th centuries, the ancestors of today’s promise rings were starting to make a name for themselves. Exchanged as tokens of friendship or love, these simple pieces of jewellery were sometimes known as ‘posey rings’ and were typically engraved with a promise.

Promise rings, UK residents and the ancient Greeks

Life is full of promises and the promise rings UK residents have turned to over the years seek to continue the human race’s long-lasting tradition of building our lives around them. Some promises are routine (the offer to collect a friend from an airport, for example), while others are rather more special; a promise to care for someone in their old age, for example, is a promise to be cherished.

Eternity Ring

The promise rings UK people use to adorn the fingers of those to whom they’ve made the most special of promises can also be found in other countries. In fact, the very roots of the promise ring can be traced back to ancient Greece, where the premise behind finger rings was directly linked to a pledge or the process of keeping something forever within one’s mind. They didn’t call it a “promise ring” back then, but the meaning was almost identical to that of today.

What is a promise ring?

But what is a promise ring in modern day society? Despite it’s historic underpinnings, these pieces of jewellery have only really been labelled ‘promise rings’ since around the 1970s. Some will even argue that the term is only around a decade old.

Sometimes known as a ‘pre-engagement’ ring, a promise ring is a simple piece of jewellery given as a symbol of a committed relationship. In most cases, they symbolise monogamy, purity and, occasionally, a promise to remain celibate until marriage.

Promise rings come in a variety of styles including heart designs, yellow gold and the use of gemstones other than diamonds. They’re pretty, understated and rarely as flashy as their engagement ring counterparts.

On which finger should you wear a promise ring?

Like any ring, the finger on which you place a promise ring is almost entirely up to you and it all depends on the significance it holds.

In most western cultures, the ring finger of the left hand is used to symbolise engagement and marriage, but if you’re comfortable with your promise ring being mistaken for a wedding band, you wouldn’t be the first to place it on your ring finger. You simply have to decide if the reason you’re wearing the promise ring correlates with the generally-accepted application for that particular finger.

With this in mind, many people will choose instead to place the promise ring on their right-hand ring finger to avoid any confusion.

Because promise rings involve two people, it’s advisable to speak to the provider of the ring to ensure they’re comfortable with the finger on which you intend to place it. This is a particularly good idea if your relationship spans continents; promise rings UK people are used to placing on a particular finger may not be quite as acceptable in other cultures.

Promise ring meanings

Unlike engagement rings, promise rings can be put to a variety of uses. So, what is a promise ring? Here are some classic example of what they can symbolise:

• Pre-engagement: This is perhaps the most common use for a promise ring. If you know your partner is ‘the one’, but you’re not quite ready to commit to marriage just yet, a promise ring is your way of saying “it’s going to happen”.
• Friendship: Promise rings are sometimes exchanged between friends in order to symbolise a commitment to always being there for one another.
• Monogamy: Couples wishing to outwardly express their commitment to remaining monogamous while in a relationship may wear promise rings to signal that very fact.
• Chastity: Promise rings are sometimes given by a parent to their child in order to symbolise the latter’s commitment to remain celibate until marriage.

The difference between promise and engagement rings

As you’ll see above, one of the main differences between promise and engagement rings is the wide range of applications for the former. An engagement ring, on the other hand, has only one job, which is to symbolise an intent to marry, and the only ring that comes after an engagement ring is a wedding band, symbol of unity in marriage.

Due to the many reasons a promise ring may be gifted, it is important for the provider of the ring to be upfront about its meaning. Although promise rings usually contain less bling and expensive diamonds than engagement rings, they may contain a stone of some sort, therefore incorrect assumptions by the recipient could all too easily be made.

We now know that promise rings symbolise something entirely different to engagement rings, so if you’re planning to give one to a loved one, be sure to include a handwritten note describing exactly what it symbolises. That’ll prevent any awkward confusion!

GIA International Gemoological Institute HRD Antwerp National Association of Jewellers