Science Fair Project Encyclopedia
A wedding band, or wedding ring consists of a precious metal ring, usually worn on the base of the ring finger -- the fourth finger (with the thumb counted as the first finger). Such a ring symbolises marriage: a spouse wears it to indicate a marital commitment to fidelity. The European custom of wearing such a ring has spread widely beyond Europe.
According to some customs, the wedding ring forms the last in a series of gifts which also may include the engagement ring, traditionally given as a betrothal present, and the promise ring, often given when serious courting begins. (Other traditions (and the jewelery trade) seek to expand the idea of a series of ring-gifts with an eternity ring , which symbolises the renewal or ongoing nature of a lasting marriage.)
A European tradition encourages the engraving of the name of one's intended spouse and the date of one's intended marriage on the inside surface of wedding rings.
Wedding ceremony customs
The best man has a traditional duty to keep track of a marrying couple's wedding ring(s) and to produce them at the symbolic moment of the giving and receiving of the ring(s) during the traditional marriage ceremony.
In more grandiose weddings, a ring bearer (usually a young boy) may assist in the ceremonial of parading the ring(s) into the ceremony, often on a special cushion or pillow..
Before medical science discovered how the circulatory system functioned, people believed that a vein of blood ran directly from the fourth finger on the left hand to the heart. (This belief allegedly dates to the 3rd century BC in Greece.) Because of the hand-heart connection, people named the putative vein descriptively vena amori, Latin for "the vein of love". Due to this tradition, it became accepted to wear the wedding ring on this finger. By wearing rings on the fourth finger of their left hands, a married couple symbolically declares their eternal love for each other. This has now become a matter of tradition and etiquette.
Etiquette frowns severely on the making of sexual overtures to a man or woman wearing a wedding ring.
In the Great Britain and the United States in past generations women wore wedding bands much more commonly than men did. Today, both partners often wear wedding rings, but where occupations or professions forbid or discourage the wearing of jewellery (as in the cases of actors, police and electrical workers) either marriage partner may not wear a ring. In addition, people often remove wedding rings for comfort or safety. So commonly occurs for chaste married people not to wear a wedding ring. Either partner may wear a wedding ring on a chain around the neck, thus conveying the socially equivalent message to wearing it on a finger.
One interpretation states that the woman wears the wedding ring below the engagement ring, thus making it closer to the heart. Purists hold this practice, though common, as incorrect: they claim no ring should fit above the wedding ring, which should be worn alone.
Most religious marital ceremonies accept a band of any material (even a rubber band) to symbolise the taking of marriage vows, with unusual substitutions permitted in marriages under unusual circumstances. When people marry on shipboard and cannot obtain or adjust a metal ring of appropriate size, the partners often use rubber bands.
To make wedding rings jewellers most commonly use a precious yellow alloy of gold, hardened with copper, tin and bismuth. Platinum and white alloys of gold class as equivalent or superior to gold. Titanium has recently become a popular material for wedding bands, due to its durability, affordability, and gunmetal grey color. The least expensive material in common use is nickel silver for those who prefer its appearance or cost. Silver, copper, brass and other corroding metals do not occur as frequently because they stain the skin. Marrying couples seldom use stainless steel (which does not count as a precious metal). Aluminum or poisonous metals never normally occur. Rings made by either spouse rank as so precious to the couple that any material becomes acceptable, even if practically unwearable.
Styles, patterns, fashions
The plain gold band is the most popular pattern. Medical personnel commonly wear it because it can be kept very clean. Woman usually wear narrow bands, while men wear broader bands.
In France and French-speaking countries, a common pattern consists of three interleaved rings. They stand for "faith, hope and love", where love equates to that particular type of perfect distinterested love indicated by the ancient Greek word agape. Provocatively, this pattern slides off quickly, because the rings flow over each other.
Men in Greek, Italian and Anatolian cultures sometimes receive and wear puzzle rings -- sets of interlocking metal bands that one must arrange just so in order to form a single ring. Women wryly give them as a test for their mens' chastity. Even when the man masters the puzzle, he still cannot remove and replace the ring quickly!
"With this ring I thee wed." -- from the traditional Church of England marriage-ceremony formula.
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