Updated September 22, 2017

Engagement Ring vs Wedding Ring: What's the Difference?

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Is there a difference between an engagement ring and a wedding ring? How many rings do you need to buy? We'll show you how they are different in meaning and appearance.

Engagement ring, wedding ring, bridal set... What's the difference?

Are engagement rings and wedding rings the same? If not, do you really need both?

Wedding jewelry terminology can be confusing. Read this article so you do not make the embarrassing mistake of getting the wrong kind of ring.

Engagement rings and wedding rings are both symbols of love, but they are different and cannot be treated as the same. They have different meanings, styles, and costs.

You buy an engagement ring for the proposal, and you both exchange wedding rings during the wedding ceremony. Sounds simple, but many first-time ring shoppers fail to consider one crucial thing. Read on.

In this article:

What Is an Engagement Ring?

The engagement ring is given to the girl to when you ask, "will you marry me?"

Asking for someone to spend her life with you is a huge moment. Doing it with a ring shows that you have really thought about it and aren't just saying it for fun. The engagement ring is a promise of a future together. It's a special gift just for her to show your love and commitment.

Fun fact: Back in the old days, a man could be sued for Breach of Promise if he broke off the engagement. But the U.S. started doing away with this law in the 1940s. A verbal promise to marry wasn't good enough anymore. So engagement rings became insurance instead that the engagement won't be easily broken off.

Most girls dream of being swept off her feet and being proposed to with her dream ring. Because of this, engagement rings are more "flashy" and expensive (thanks to De Beers marketing).

Engagement rings usually have a diamond center (or another precious gemstone) and a gold or platinum band. Men will put a lot of effort into selecting a ring that matches her personal style and choosing the best diamond possible.

In 2016, men spent an average of $6,163 on the engagement ring. But don't let this number influence you. What's important is buying something you can afford.

  • Do men get an engagement ring too? Usually, only the woman wears an engagement ring. But in some cultures, the man also sports a plain band until the wedding. Some American modern couples choose to purchase a "man-gagement" ring to show that he is also off the market.

  • Which finger to wear a ring?: The ring is worn on the 4th finger of the left hand. The ancient Egyptians believed that this finger had a vein that led straight to the heart - the vena amoris, or literally "vein of love". This ancient belief influenced why our 4th fingers are known as the "ring finger."

What Is a Wedding Ring?

Wedding rings are exchanged during the marriage ceremony. This gesture says that the two of you are united forever from this day forward. Both the bride and groom will wear a wedding ring until... well, forever.

Wedding rings are simpler in design. The style is normally a continuous band that has no beginning nor end. This symbolizes eternal love and unity. It's usually made of a precious metal like gold or platinum. The average cost of the bride's wedding ring is $1,126. For grooms, the average price is $491.

What does the wedding ring stand for? The tradition of exchanging wedding rings goes back 4,800 years to ancient Egypt. Back then, the rings were made of stuff like braided papyrus and reeds. The circle was a symbol of eternity and the hole was a symbol of a doorway to the future.

Is there a difference between a wedding ring and wedding band? Not really. Wedding rings can be thought of as a bit more intricate with small diamonds or stylized band. And a wedding band is typically more plain.

And What is a Bridal Set?

Legato Sleek Line Pave Diamond Wedding Set
Legato Sleek Line Pave Diamond Wedding Set via Whiteflash

Also called a "wedding set," this is a set of matching engagement and wedding rings for the bride. Most jewelers will have some bridal sets to choose from.

There are some advantages of choosing a bridal set:

  • The rings will look good next to each other. You wouldn't have to worry about finding a matching wedding ring later.
  • They will fit comfortably together. Sometimes, rings that don't match will pinch the skin or have an unsightly gap.
  • You only have to buy her wedding jewelry once. And oftentimes, it saves you a bit of money to buy a set of rings.

We recommend doing this if you and your sweetie have already discussed marriage or if you're planning on ring shopping together.

If you buy a bridal set all at once, then you would only propose with the engagement ring. After she said yes, you can surprise her again by telling her you already have the matching wedding ring too.

Watch out: Sometimes, a wedding set is designed in such a way that the rings only look complete when worn together. If this is so, then she wouldn't be able to wear the wedding ring alone or it'll look weird. Watch out for this if she may want to wear the rings separately from time to time.

How Many Rings Do You Wear After Marriage?

Usually, after getting married, the woman will wear the wedding ring on the same finger as her engagement ring. The wedding ring goes on the bottom, so it's closer to her heart, as it's a symbol of everlasting commitment.

If she receives an anniversary ring sometime later, she can replace the wedding ring with it, or wear all 3 rings on the ring finger of her left hand.

But there are no hard rules. Maybe she has a job where she can't wear a large engagement ring, so she'll wear just a wedding ring alone. Or sometimes, the engagement ring and wedding ring don't match or aren't comfortable together, so she may wear them on different fingers.

What is an Eternity Ring? An eternity ring is a ring that has small diamonds (or gemstones) that go all around for a perfect continuous circle. Usually, it's given to the woman at a special moment, such as a wedding anniversary or birth of the first child. This says that the love is still everlasting. But many brides also choose this style as the wedding ring. The dainty, elegant style goes well with a lot of engagement ring designs.

Do the Rings Have to Match?

Most first-time shoppers forget to think about this. You don't need plan all your rings right from the start, but it's smart to know your options. It'll cause less headaches later.

Most women will wear the engagement and weddings rings together. Rings that match will create a nice, uniform look. If this is what she wants, then you should consider from the start whether it's possible to get a matching wedding band.

Intricate vintage rings, custom designs, and twist tension rings are all very hard to find a matching band that looks like they belong together. And some settings, like a halo with a wide bottom, won't be able to sit flush against a straight wedding band. Some girls don't like that gap.

But this is really up to personal preference. Some girls like a more unique, fashion-forward mismatched look. It's okay to get rings that don't exactly match, but still complement each other.

This is something to keep in mind as you're shopping for the engagement ring. If you want to just get matching rings and be done with it, then a bridal set is the best way to go. If you're not sure, then it's best to let her pick out her own wedding ring, but have an idea beforehand what the options are.

Does her wedding ring need to also match his? Nope, there are no rules. Some couples get matching wedding bands to express unity, but what's more important is having rings that you both like. It could be hard to find matching bands that fit both your styles. Some brides want a wedding ring that matches her engagement ring, leaving the groom to pick one in whatever style he likes. A lot of men like to choose alternative materials that look more masculine, such as titanium, tungsten, or cobalt.

If one of you is intent on having matching bands, then you can get rings in the same metal. Or you can pick rings in a similar style. For example, if her ring is white gold with 3 small diamonds, he can get his in tungsten with 3 small diamonds.

Who Buys the Rings?

The engagement ring is a special gift for the girl to show the groom's commitment, so he would usually foot the bill. Most grooms make the decision alone, but even if the girl wants to be part of the shopping process, he still usually pays for it with his own money.

Did you know? Some modern couples are also splitting the cost of the ring. About 20% of brides pick up (at least a portion of) the tab for their own engagement ring.

As for the wedding rings, most brides and grooms enjoy picking them out together. The tradition is that he buys her wedding ring, and she buys his. Or some couples buy the rings together out of a joint wedding fund. Most likely, since your finances will merge soon anyway, you both pay for them.

Engagement Ring vs Wedding Ring Price

An engagement ring is usually the most expensive wedding jewelry because of the larger diamond centerpiece. Wedding rings usually cost much less because they are simpler.

  • The average cost of an engagement ring was $6,163 in 2016.
  • A wedding ring, on the other hand, averages about $1,126 for the bride and $491 for the groom.

But don't let these numbers influence you. How much you spend is a very personal choice that depends on your budget.

How Much Should the Rings Cost?

The engagement ring should show that you are serious about your relationship, without going into debt. Find a balance between what you can afford and what she wants.

From a woman's point of view, if you only spend $100 on a ring, that's not much of an investment. You can easily lose $100 and not be too heartbroken. While you shouldn't go broke buying the ring, it should still be an amount that you have worked hard for.

For example, let's say you already have $1,000 put aside and you're able to save $300 a month. After 5 months, you'll have $2,500 for the ring. That might be a good budget for you.

Wedding rings are usually a joint financial decision since couples shop for them together. A lot of couples choose to save on the wedding rings by going with cheaper options.

Have a smaller budget? Here are the best engagement rings for every budget: $500, $1,000, $2,000, $3,000, and $5,000.

Bottom Line

An engagement ring symbolizes commitment and promise to marry. A wedding ring symbolizes love and unity from your wedding day forward.

Hopefully you understand more about the different meanings and styles. But of course, the rules are not set in stone. I know a couple who chose to get tattoos on their ring fingers instead of wedding rings. And I also know a bride who chose to get two diamond rings (and wears them alternatively) simply because she didn't like the style of a wedding band.

The rings should reflect your personalities and style. Take time to find rings that you'll both enjoy wearing. Good luck and have fun.

Disclaimer: Opinions expressed here are those of the author's alone. Please support CreditDonkey on our mission to help you make savvy financial decisions. Our free online service is made possible through financial relationships with some of the products and services mentioned on this site. We may receive compensation if you shop through links in our content.

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Comments about Engagement Ring vs Wedding Ring: What's the Difference?

  • Laurie from Texas
    on January 5, 2017 10:39 AM said:

    To me one of the main difference is how they look. An engagement ring typically has a bigger stone and is a little more flashy. Where as the wedding ring is more of a band - you can get stones in your wedding band but they typically are more subtle. Great information, thanks for sharing!

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