Fascinated by the history and symbolism behind old jewelry, particularly, by the tokens of love & commitment, I’ve dedicated this article to the deeper meaning behind wedding bands, powerful symbols that represent eternal love and life.
The exchange of rings is one of the oldest traditions as the topic goes back to as far as Ancient Egypt, about 4800 years ago. People of that time believed that the third finger is connected to a "vein of love” that was linked directly to the heart. The hole in the center of the ring represents a space, or door that leads to good things and events. While Ancient Greeks were exchanging rings that featured Eros (the god of love) or his cherubs, Romans linked the ring to marriage, by inventing the rings with carving of the couples themselves (Lovers’ Heads) and “fede” rings, depicting two hands clasping in love or agreement or betrothal.
The design is ancient going back to Roman times if not earlier. It became very popular in the medieval period and well into the 18th century, through to the modern day. Fede (pronounced as "fey-dey") is Italian for “trust”. These rings were created out of three separate parts, joined at the back by a connector.
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Similar to fede rings, the Irish Claddagh Rings were first designed in the 16th century. The ring features a unique design: two hands symbolizing friendship, clasp a heart topped with a small crown, which symbolizes love and loyalty. The ring may be given as a token of friendship or love.
The unique way of wearing a ring sends a secret message/relationship status. Wearing it on the right hand with the tip of the heart pointing to the fingertip signals that you are single. Putting it upside down shows you’re in a relationship. Wear the ring on the left hand to indicate that you are engaged or married.
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Toi et Moi Rings which translates as “you and me” from French are often considered as modern interpretation of a fede rings. The ring is centraly set with 2 gems (without touching each other but sitting close, side by side), each symbolizing each spouse & representing 2 souls becoming one.
Historically, the gems were of similar size & shape.
One of the most legendary rings of all time was sapphire & diamond Toi et Moi ring, given by Napoleon to his wife Josephine.
Among other famous rings was a gorgeous 2-stone (emerald & diamond) engagement ring gifted by American President John F Kennedy to his wife Jacqueline in 1953.
Although the popularity of these special rings was at its peak during the Edwardian & Belle Epoque periods (roughly between 1890 and 1920), the design is timeless, having been beloved by many during the entire XX century.
These days the original Art-Nouveau Toi et Moi rings are very much sought after.
This is a prime example of the Art-Nouveau period Toi et Moi Ring set with 0.10ct Sky Blue Sapphire & 0.10ct Transitional cut Diamond: Shop Toi et Moi Ring.
Other examples of antique wedding rings include posy rings, or “posies” (that feature a short verse or an affectionate message in English, occasionally in French inscribed on a ring’s band), Jewish ceremonial marriage rings (with a “roof” on top to represent the couples’ home), as well as gimmel rings. Popular in the 16th and 17th centures & extremely symbolic, gimmel or “twin" rings comprise 2 or sometimes 3 interlocking bands, each band/part is free yet must stay together to create the “whole” ring.
The design of “two hearts entwined” has been extremely popular from the beginning of 18th century and was represented not only in rings, but also in brooches, pendants and stick pins. Some of the finest Georgian era examples feature a bow or miniature coronet above the hearts & rococo style carved shoulders.
By the 17th century rose cut diamonds were used more often in wedding and engagement rings. Rings & lockets set with colored stones forming a message of intimacy (ex. REGARD: ruby, emerald, garnet, amethyst, ruby, diamond) rose in popularity during the 19th century, as well as diamond engagement rings. Over the 19th century & up until present day they remain the most common choice of conveying long-term commitment.