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Between promise rings, purity rings, commitment rings, pre-engagement rings and beyond, the confusion around the meaning of a promise ring is totally understandable. What's the purpose of a promise ring? What finger does it go on? Are they just for women, or are there promise rings for men too? How do you get one, give one, buy one, return one? So. Many. Questions. That's why we tapped jewelry experts to break down everything you need to know about promise rings.
As the name suggests, promise rings represent a promise made between two people, but the specific, personal meaning can differ from couple to couple. "The appeal of the promise ring is derived largely from the many meanings it can represent," says Kimberly Kanary, vice president of public relations and social media at Kay Jewelers. "Many couples give or wear promise rings specifically to signify a future engagement, while others do so as more of a general symbol of devotion to one another."
"You're promising yourself to each other," explains Brooke Brinkman, vice president of marketing and communications at Simon G. Jewelry, who received a promise ring from her now-husband a year and a half before they got engaged. While in Brinkman's case, the ring was a promise there'd be an engagement in the future, that's not always the case. "I often think of promise rings as similar to the mid-century tradition of giving your high-school sweetheart your class ring or pin," says Elizabeth Woolf-Willis, GG, AJP, marketing coordinator at Simon G. Jewelry. "Now you're more than just 'dating'—there's a physical symbol of the relationship to show the outside world."
A History of Promise Rings
According to Brinkman, the idea of giving a ring as a promise of love and affection dates back several hundred years—and the tradition of wearing a ring to demonstrate loyalty and fidelity dates back to ancient times. There's evidence that Roman brides wore engagement rings in the 2nd century BC. Posy rings, engraved with romantic poems, dating back to 16th-century England, while Acrostic rings—spelling out a word in gemstones —were popular in the Georgian and Victorian eras. For example, a ruby, emerald, garnet, amethyst, ruby and diamond spells "regard" and a diamond, emerald, amethyst, ruby, emerald, garnet, amethyst, ruby, sapphire and topaz spells "dearest".
Modern promise rings have only resurfaced as a mainstream trend within the last decade or so, largely thanks to the publicity surrounding celebrity promise rings (like the Jonas Brothers and celeb couple Miley Cyrus and Liam Hemsworth).
"Engagement rings have such a sacred nature; promise rings are often viewed as more of a fashion piece," says Brinkman, who cautions against choosing a promise ring style that might compete with an engagement ring—if that's your eventual intention. "They both serve a purpose," Brinkman says. "You want to make sure they don't look exactly the same."
Where to Buy a Promise Ring
Your local jewelry store is the best place to start your search for a symbolic sparkler for your significant other. That said, if you're just in the mood to browse or you want to broaden your horizons, these are some of the best places to buy promise rings online.
Zales has an impressive selection of promise rings ranging from Disney-inspired pieces to romantic infinity and Claddagh rings. They offer jewelry at a variety of price points too—the amount you spend is ultimately up to you.
If you're looking for something a little more personal, Etsy has lots of meaningful (and inexpensive) jewelry to choose from. Gift your S.O. a sleek band stamped with your initials or pick up a set of coordinating promise rings you can both wear.
These dainty pieces of jewelry are a beautiful way to symbolize your love and commitment. And with most rings starting under $100, they're affordable too. You can choose a simple band in yellow gold, white gold or rose gold. Depending on your budget, you can stick with sparkly Swarovski crystals or—if you're feeling flush—upgrade to fine jewelry. Either way, these stunning rings are the perfect balance of eye-catching and understated.
When it comes to celebrating relationship milestones, Blue Nile is one of our go-to retailers. They've got a selection of diamond jewelry for every stage of your relationship, including engagement, wedding and anniversary rings. While their site doesn't have a dedicated promise ring section, there are plenty of gemstones and style options to suit the occasion, from minimalist styles to dazzling eternity bands.