What’s A Promise Ring, and Do You Need One?

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man's and woman's hands intertwined wearing promise rings

Everybody’s heard of an engagement ring. You’ve probably seen, thought about, ogled at, compared, or even fantasy-shopped for an engagement ring. But, a promise ring? That term might leave a few of you head-scratching. While engagement rings are part of our shared social and cultural landscape, promise rings are a growing but still left-of-mainstream trend.

So what exactly is a promise ring, and should you consider exchanging one with your love? Read on to find out the answer: we’ve gathered the 411 on promise rings, including their history, their difference from other gifted or exchanged rings, and even examples of various promise ring designs.

The History of Promise Rings

The act of wearing a ring as a symbol of loyalty and commitment dates back to ancient times—over 5,000 years ago, ancient Egyptians exchanged rings of love made from woven reeds or leather. There’s also evidence that ancient Greek and Roman brides wore rings to signify their marriages or betrothals.

Fast forward several thousand years, to 15th-century England, where “poesy” rings became customary. These rings were engraved with a “poesy” or short verse from a poem, and evolved from more ornate rings to simple bands with the engraving on the inside.

In our contemporary culture, promise rings have gained recent notoriety thanks to a few well-followed teen celebrities. Miley Cyrus and on-again-off-again boyfriend Liam Helmsworth reportedly wear promise rings (on “that” finger) to tell the very attentive world that they are committed to each other, and earlier this summer celebrity couple Nick Jonas and Priyanka Chopra were spotting wearing gold promise rings prior to their publicly announced engagement just a few weeks ago.

woman holding onto man's arm wearing a promise ring on her finger

Photo Credit || T.Wilson Photography

Promise Ring vs. Engagement Ring

As celebs Nick and Priyanka demonstrate, there can be a lot of crossover between the role of a promise ring and an engagement ring—but there is one very clear difference. An engagement ring serves one purpose, and one purpose only: to indicate that the ring giver and the ring recipient are going to be legally married.

So, then, what exactly IS a promise ring? 

A promise ring does a similar job as an engagement ring, but doesn’t necessarily relate to marriage. In its simplest definition, it’s a promise (duh): a promise of commitment and fidelity, and in some cases, of monogamy or of the intention to one day become engaged. In giving your partner a promise ring, you’re creating a visual symbol and announcing the seriousness of the relationship to the outside world. For some couples, a promise ring might be a precursor to an engagement ring—but this shouldn’t be assumed for all.

two promise rings on a wood table

Photo Credit || Meredith Coe Photography

Promise Ring vs. Purity Ring

A purity ring is a ring given from a parent to a child, or to oneself, that indicates abstinence from sex before marriage. Different in intention and symbolic meaning from a promise ring, they two are not to be confused!

turquoise ring and gold band resting on purple and white calla lilies

Photo Credit || Daniel Neal Photography

Promise Ring FAQs

Q: How should a promise ring be given?
A: Unlike a marriage proposal, there’s no tradition of getting down on one knee when giving your partner a promise ring. But considering the importance of the act, you should give some thought to the moment. Prepare a few words to say, write out a heartfelt note, and choose a moment when you two are alone and able to discuss what’s intended and implied by giving (and wearing) the ring. Since there are many possible motivations for and interpretations of this act, be sure to be very clear with your partner about what this ring means to you.

Q: How much does a promise ring cost? 
A: A promise ring is less ornate, and thus less expensive, than a traditional engagement ring. The price tag can vary wildly, however, based on the ring design and materials you choose. Expect promise rings sold in jewelry stores to average anywhere from $100 to $1,000.

Q: On which finger should you wear a promise ring?
A: This is entirely up to each couple or individual. For some, it may feel right to wear the promise ring on your left ring finger (“that” finger) if you don’t mind the implications of engagement or marriage it creates. For others, the ring finger of the right hand is a more comfortable option. Really, any finger works, so long as it’s the right fit (get it?).

two rings with crown motifs and letters B on front

Photo Credit || f27 Photography

Promise Ring Designs

Promise rings come in all shapes and sizes, so there’s no standard design to seek out if you’re shopping for promise rings. There are plenty of traditional ring designs, such as the Celtic claddagh ring (where two hands encircle a crown-topped heart) that compliment the meaning behind a promise ring. You might consider incorporating one or both of your birth stones as a sentimental gesture, or cluster a bunch of stones together. (Of course, diamonds come to mind, but just be careful that your promise ring doesn’t come off too much like an engagement ring.) Or you could use a ring that’s a family heirloom (or refashion another piece of jewelry) and imbue it with even more special meaning. If your partner loves a particular stone or type of metal, go for it.

Irish Claddagh promise ring

Photo Credit || K. Moss Photography

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2 Comments

    • Kate Lynn Nemett says

      Glad you like these promise ring designs, Nik! Have you ever worn or purchased a promise ring? Tell us more!

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