Promise rings are items of jewelry offered as gifts and are commonly exchanged between young people as a sign of their commitment to each other. They are also known as friendship or pre-engagement rings. The custom is known to date back to at least the 16th century and is becoming increasingly popular in this century.
The ring is not required to be worn on any particular finger but if it is an indication of pre-engagement – the couple are ‘promised’ to each other – it will often be worn on the left hand, especially on the ring finger. However, it often happens that the middle finger on the left hand or the ring finger on the right hand is preferred so it will not be confused with an engagement ring.
If the couple have agreed to marry but are not yet ready for an engagement, the ring is called a ‘promise ring’ and it is referred to as a ‘friendship ring’ when no promise has been made. It indicates commitment between the two. On the other hand, an engagement ring is usually far more valuable and may be a cost burden the couple prefer to avoid until they can better afford it.
The giving of promise rings by a woman to a man became increasingly popular during the 20th century, and since, to indicate his commitment. This was often a surprise gift for the man and he was able to show his acceptance by wearing it, or decline to do so.
The practice of giving promise rings was started among younger couples who were financially not in a position to consider a full-time relationship, with marriage and children. However, in more recent times, the custom has developed and is now common regardless of the social status and wealth of those involved.
Since the turn of the century, the popularity of these gifts has continued to increase and the rings are offered even among those who are still at high school. As well, the practice is widespread among college students and those who have recently graduated.
The rings can be of any design but often will include a heart which has symbolically been given to another. This is not a firm requirement and there are many styles to choose from, some being very simple and others involving gemstones and precious metals. However, the cost is usually fairly small and the appearance is not intended to be mistaken for an engagement ring.
There is another ring that has long traditions and a similar purpose: this is the ‘Claddagh Ring’, which has its origins in Ireland. It usually has a design which consists of two hands surrounding a heart and a crown above. How this ring is worn indicates whether the wearer is available for a romantic attachment, or not. If it is worn on the right hand and the heart faces away, the wearer is not romantically involved. If it faces inwards, their heart is not available, having been taken by another.
Modern dating couples have adapted a number of traditional signs to indicate to others – and to each other – the nature of their commitment. Promise and friendship rings are tangible symbols of the level of commitment that those in a relationship have declared for each other.