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What Does a Promise Ring Mean?

Updated on October 8, 2015
Modern Day Promise Rings
Modern Day Promise Rings | Source

What is a Promise Ring?

What does a promise ring mean? Traditionally promise rings were a promise to marry a partner, a time when engagements did not exist and the promise rings declared a formal union between two families.

More recently though, the meaning of promise rings has changed and can account for several meanings, whether this be for love, friendship or loyalty.

On this hub you will read about the history and tradition behind promise rings, what does a promise ring mean in modern times and the different types of promise rings available.

There is also a section to help you chose a promise ring for your partner and tips on how to present it.

Depicting a Betrothal - Les Très Riches Heures du Duc de Berry
Depicting a Betrothal - Les Très Riches Heures du Duc de Berry | Source

Promise Rings Meaning - Where it all Began

Promise rings can be dated back to biblical times when they were used to establish a commitment between two families. In those days the process of marriage was known as "Betrothals".

Although a major factor in the Betrothal process, promise rings were also used to show other forms of commitment. For example, Bishops used to wear them to show their special commitment and dedication to the church, they were used for spiritual means.

Some even went further by practicing yearly rituals, in Italy every year dignitaries would throw a promise ring into the sea to show their promise to their city, in essence renewing their commitment and passion to their home cities.

As part of the Betrothal ceremonial process, the giving of promise rings were considered by couples who wanted to show a solid promise to each other for life, to which their own families would agree to the union. The couple would then promise to wed sometime in the future.

As a sign of faith, it would be the groom who would provide the promise ring at the ceremony. The design of the ring itself would be very plain, sometimes made of gold but iron preferred in ancient Rome. It wasn't until around the 8th Century that Jewish jewelers enhanced promise rings and started to elaborately decorate them.

They would have mini temples set into them and even some form of treasure box which would house a gem. But these elaborate rings were big and cumbersome so over time they faded back to plain rings.

The next part of the Betrothal process would be the wedding ceremony itself. The promise ring would be taken off and replaced in some form, whether this be changing the hand the promise ring was on (from right to left hand) or by replacing the ring completely by using a different metal or material.

The popularity of promise rings increased in Europe around the 16th & 17th centuries. Rather than promise rings being a solid formal agreement between families, the rings were used more and more to simply to show love and friendship.

A fantastic example in the change of the meaning for promise rings was the introduction of scribbling rings. These rings had uncut diamonds set into it so that lovers could scratch or etch love poems or vows on windows or even on mirrors. This was seen as an extremely romantic gesture.

Due to the increased use of scribbling rings, the formal process of promise rings and Betrothal declined hugely in the 18th and 19th centuries.

This is when the "Engagement Ring" as we know it today started to take the place.

What Does a Promise Ring Mean Today?

As stated above, the popularity of promise rings as part of the betrothal process were replaced by engagement rings in the 18th and 19th centuries. Therefore the presenting of promise rings became less formal and lost it's meaning. The use of these rings became less clear and declined in it's use.

More recently though there has been a revival of promise rings, especially in the 1990s, this was actually when the term "promise ring" was born.

These days, promise rings in comparison to engagement rings are less formal and usually cost less to buy. They are also simpler in design. Instead of diamonds, promise rings can be made of colorful gems and stones.

Some of the traditions associated with promise rings still remain though, with vows and sayings engraved on the sides of the ring and designs associated to love and friendship to enhance your feelings towards the person receiving the ring.

Promise rings in the modern day are not just for couples showing love and a precursor for an engagement, they can be given to friends, family and soul mates etc. The promise ring is simply a promise to receiver, no matter what that promise is?

Types of Promise Rings

Posie Rings:

Posie Rings (also Posy or Poesy) were common between the 15th and 17th centuries and mainly in England and France. The posie ring was a simple gold band engraved with a poem or promise. The posie ring was used as a token of love and in some cases was even used as the wedding ring itself? The writing on the ring was originally on the outside but from the 16th century the engravings were preferred to be on the inside, the original language used was Norman French but later through the centuries, Latin, English and French were most common.

Purity Rings:

Purity Rings, also known as abstinence or chastity rings, are worn to show a sign of chastity and chastity. These rings became popular among teenagers wanting to show their pledge to virginity in the early 90's. This was especially true amongst Christian and religious groups in the US. The teenage members would wear the purity rings to in order to make a vow that they will not have intercourse before they were married.

Those making the vow of abstinence would also receive some sort of symbol, mainly in the form of a pin on clothing to show their promise.

Friendship Rings:

Friendship rings are used to show a close relationship, but not a romantic one. These rings are very often sold as a pair and worn by people wanting to show their appreciation and support to one another. In some cultures the friendship ring is a way of stating that the person is a brother or sister (non blood). This is the closest you can get to a person without being family or romantic.

These rings can be worn on any finger but usually they are worn on the little finger so that they can be differentiated from engagement, wedding or other forms of rings. There is no set rule on what finger a friendship ring can be worn on.

Claddagh Rings:

Pronounced: clad·dagh [klah-duh]

The claddah ring is an Irish tradition which has unique Celtic designs to denote and represents either friendship, loyalty and love. The design for love will be in the form of a heart, the loyalty design will show a crown and the friendship design will depict hands.

The tradition and customs of this ring dates back to the 17th century and goes back to the Irish fishing village of Claddagh, not far from the city of Galway. Jewelers in the city of Galway have produced these rings since at least 1700. The naming of the ring to claddah ring was not used before 1840s, so there are contradicting theories and arguments as to where the original claddah ring came from?

There are traditional ways to wear the ring which denotes the wearers relationship, for example if the ring was worn on the left hand with the point of the heart facing the wearers wrists, this would mean that the wearer is married. If the heart is pointing towards the fingertips, this denotes the wearer is engaged. Although there are regional variations of this, changing the way the ring is worn.

Claddagh Rings are now being used more often to symbolize a solid friendship. This is why they are classed as another form of promise ring.

Choosing a Promise Ring

As there is no set formal guidance in choosing a promise ring, it can be hard to choose the right one? Here are a few tips to help you decide. There are many styles and price ranges for these rings to choose from.

Both you and your partner could pick out promise rings together, it's not like an engagement ring so there may be no need for secrecy and planning. Many couples shop together to choose their rings.

If you want to buy the ring as surprise, you may want to get one which will show your commitment. Something that has some form of significance in your relationship or to your partner, for example you may want to get a ring which has your partners birthstone.

The most popular style of promise ring being bought these days are heart shaped.

You can have your own creation by working with jewelers to customize a ring specific to your needs. You can chose the stone, design and the engravings.

Take a look at the vast amount of designs and prices available to you. This will give you some help in deciding what rings is suitable for your needs.

Presenting Your Promise
Presenting Your Promise | Source

Presenting Your Promise Ring

Although not necessarily a formal process, it is nice and romantic to secretly present your promise ring to your significant other. It is after all your promise that you will be together for ever and plan to get engaged. Here are just a few ideas in presenting your promise ring.

Remember, be calm and casual. Your not conducting a wedding proposal and you don't need to go down on one knee.

You could give the promise ring on an anniversary, maybe the day when you first met? Christmas, Birthdays and Valentines days are good times to present the ring.

Present the ring at the location where you first met? or your partners favorite restaurant? Set up a romantic picnic? Or maybe place it in a box and leave it (with a note) on your partners pillow, in their car or maybe set up a little game to make your partner find it?

Let your partner know why you got the ring, what it means to you. Show your faithful and committed to the relationship. Let your partner know they are the only one in your heart.

You can place the ring on any finger, there is no set formal placing for this but you don't want to confuse it as an engagement ring. Most people wear their rings on the left hand, middle finger or on the right hand.

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