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 more recent traditions, and the jewelry trade, seek to expand the idea of a series of ring-gifts with an eternity ring, which symbolizes the renewal or ongoing nature of a lasting marriage, sometimes given after the birth of a first child; and a trilogy ring, usually displaying three brilliant-cut round diamonds each, in turn, representing the past, present and future of a relationship.
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, thus strengthening the symbolism and sentimentality of the rings as they become family heirlooms.
Wedding ceremony customs
The best man has a traditional duty of keeping 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 elaborate weddings, a ring bearer (usually a young boy that is part of the family of the bride or groom) may assist in the ceremonial parading of the ring(s) into the ceremony, often on a special cushion or pillow(s).
Traditionally, at least in some European countries, the wedding ring is the same as the engagement ring and changes its status through engraving and the change of the hand on which to wear it. If the wedding ring is different from the engagement ring, the question whether or not the engagement ring should be worn during the ceremony leaves a few options. The bride may wear it on her left ring finger and have the groom put the wedding band over it. She may also wear it on her right ring finger, although that may surprise the groom. The bride may also continue wearing the rings on different hands after the wedding - this may prevent the engagement ring from scratching and scuffing. Another option is to have the main bridesmaid keep the ring during the ceremony - there are a variety ways to keep it: in a pouch, on a plate, etc. After the ceremony, the ring can be placed back on either the left or the right hand.
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 acceptable 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. However a reason to wear it right was that left = sinistra, sinister (left = bad; right = good).
In many Western cultures, the wedding ring is worn on the left hand. In some countries such as Germany and Chile, however, it is worn on the right hand. Also in Spain it is worn right, except by Catalan people (left). Orthodox Christians, Eastern Europeans and Jews also traditionally wear the wedding band on the right hand. In The Netherlands, Catholic people wear it left, all others right. But in Austria Catholic people wear it right.
Etiquette frowns severely on the making of sexual overtures to a man or woman wearing a wedding ring.
In the United Kingdom 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 jewelry (as in the cases of actors, police, military pilots and electrical workers), either marriage partner may not wear a ring. In addition, people often remove wedding rings for comfort or safety. Others may object to the idea of precious metals, or dislike the idea of declaring their legal status through jewelry. Either partner may also 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. Another practice holds that the woman should wear the wedding ring above the engagement ring, thus sealing the atmosphere of the engagement into the marriage. Still others prefer that the wedding ring should be worn alone.