What’s the difference between an engagement ring and a wedding ring? This question is a lot more common than you think. You’ve probably heard the terms engagement ring, proposal ring, wedding ring, wedding band and bridal set used to describe the rings that people wear when they get engaged and married. What you might not know is that there are actually two completely different rings, despite the terms being used interchangeably. The first step in proposing is figuring out the difference between an engagement ring vs wedding ring and what each is for, and when each is given.

The Amelia engagement ring (left) with The Amelia wedding ring (right).

What is an Engagement ring?

The Suzy diamond engagement ring is a classic engagement ring style: a diamond on a thin band, worn on the left hand ring finger.

An engagement ring, or “proposal ring,” is the ring you propose with. Proposing traditionally involves getting down on one knee and asking your partner to spend the rest of their life with you, while you present the engagement ring that’s ready to slip on their finger. Which finger does an engagement ring go on? The fourth finger of the left hand, otherwise known as the ring finger. Many cultures believe there is a vein in your fourth finger that leads directly to your heart, making it the most symbolic finger to wear your engagement ring on. The engagement ring hand is your left hand. The engagement ring symbolizes the promise of marriage and commitment that you and your partner have made to each other. Engagement rings vary in detail and qualities, but most typically feature a diamond or gemstone center stone on a metal band, and engagement rings to be more extravagant than wedding rings.

The History of Engagement Rings

The Jordan emerald cut diamond engagement ring. 

While many believe engagement rings are a fairly new tradition, the practice was actually established in Ancient Egypt, where giving an engagement ring represented eternal love, as the circular shape of a ring has no end. The Romans are recorded as having the same custom, but the Romans would gift two engagement rings – one made Iron to be worn at home while doing household work, and one made of gold to be worn in public. In Europe, the tradition of exchanging rings was reborn in 1477, when the Archduke Maximilian of Austria presented Mary of Burgundy with a ring set with diamonds in the shape of her initial. It wasn’t until the early 20th century when diamond engagement rings became a staple in western culture. The late 1930’s and early 1940’s saw a huge increase in the practice of exchanging diamond engagement rings, thanks mainly to the famous DeBeers advertisement, and continues to be an important custom in western culture today.

What is a Wedding Ring?

The Zeke men’s wedding ring.

The Rachael women’s sapphire wedding ring.

A wedding ring is different from an engagement ring. Wedding rings are worn by both partners, and are exchanged on the wedding day, unlike the engagement ring which is given at the proposal and worn immediately. Wedding rings and wedding bands are the same thing, the term “band” is just referring to the fact that wedding rings have traditionally been simple metal bands. Unlike an engagement ring that can be designed or purchased by one partner and given as a surprise to the other, both members of the couple are typically involved in choosing their own wedding bands. Once the engagement ring has been given at the proposal, a bride-to-be can start thinking about what type of wedding ring she’d like, same for the groom. The bride-to-be will wear her engagement ring up until, and after the wedding. On the wedding day, the bride will wear her engagement ring on her ring finger, or may wear it on her right hand just for the wedding ceremony. After the exchange of vows, the bride and groom will exchange rings and place them on each other’s ring fingers. After the wedding, a bride may wear her wedding ring directly below her engagement ring.

The History of Wedding Rings

The Mary and The Joe, matching engraved custom wedding rings.

Since ancient times, wedding rings have been exchanged as a symbol of eternal love . In the Renaissance, wedding rings became incredibly sentimental. Lovers would exchange posie rings, that had short verses of poetry inscribed in them, promising forever love. This practice shows a stark shift from marriage being a contractual obligation for exchange of wealth and property, but to one of love and companionship.

Wearing The Engagement Ring and Wedding Ring Together

The Brooke custom wedding ring. 

The Brooke bridal set, with custom wedding ring and custom engagement ring pictured together. 

The Brooke aquamarine engagement ring. 

After the wedding, a bride may continue to wear her engagement ring and wedding ring together or separately depending on the occasion. Because the wedding ring is often worn with the engagement ring, many women want their engagement ring and wedding ring to match or accent each other in some way. The wedding ring is typically more dainty and less extravagant than an engagement ring so that it can fit alongside it when worn together. Women’s wedding rings have long been simple metal bands, with some brides opting for small stones as well. Today, more and more brides are putting just as much thought and design into the wedding band as the engagement ring and many brides are making the wedding ring being a statement all by itself.

The Amelia custom yellow gold and diamond wedding band. 

The Amelia diamond and yellow gold bridal set. 

The Amelia diamond engagement ring. 

A popular new wedding ring trend is to design your wedding band to be a crown to your engagement ring, like The Brooke and The Amelia. Also known as a wedding ring tiara or tiara ring, using your wedding ring to “crown” your engagement ring doesn’t just compliment and match the engagement ring, it accentuates it. With stacking rings quickly becoming a fashion staple, more and more women have been looking for ways to incorporate the stacking trend into their bridal set, allowing both your wedding ring and engagement ring become one complete composition. We definitely think this trend is here to stay.

Engagement Ring vs Wedding Ring Cost

The Mary engagement ring with colored diamond accents.

The Mary wedding band with custom engraving.

Both wedding ring cost and engagement ring cost can vary greatly depending on the design elements and the materials you choose to create your wedding jewelry. Because engagement rings utilize diamonds or gemstones with a larger carat weight than wedding bands, engagement rings are almost always the larger investment. Typically, the more elaborate the design and the larger carat weight of the stones, the higher the price tag of any jewelry (you can learn more about engagement ring and wedding ring costs here: How Much is a Custom Ring?It’s helpful to set a budget before starting your search for you engagement or wedding ring, so that you have a better understanding of what stones and metals work best for you. Both wedding rings and engagement rings are symbolic for you and your partner and are guaranteed to hold a certain sentimental meaning for you, regardless of materials you choose to use.

Bottom line: despite having similar symbolism of eternal love and commitment, wedding rings and engagement rings are two completely separate rings that are exchanged at different points throughout the proposal-to-wedding timeline. Both are equally important, but when shopping for an engagement ring for your beloved it’s important to know the difference in order to nail your proposal. The first step in proposing? Design an engagement ring!