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The Difference Between an Engagement Ring and a Wedding Ring, Explained

You'll get the hang of it in no time.
Couple shows off their new wedding rings
One Love Photography
Anna Hecht
by Anna Hecht
Updated May 27, 2020
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If you've been wondering what the difference is between an engagement ring vs. wedding ring, we've got you covered. Keep reading for a full explanation of when to wear each type of ring, how much each costs, which styles are most popular, how to protect your expensive engagement jewelry, and more.


What Is the Difference Between an Engagement Ring and a Wedding Ring?

There are a couple of ways an engagement ring differs from a wedding ring.

For one, timing plays a big role. Traditionally, the engagement ring is given by one partner to the other when a marriage proposal takes place. The engagement ring is typically more extravagant than a wedding ring and commonly has a center stone.

The wedding ring or wedding band is worn by both spouses after exchanging vows during the marriage ceremony. For brides, the wedding ring  is typically on the simpler side — when compared to the engagement ring — and is worn directly next to a woman's diamond engagement ring on her left-hand ring finger.

While the engagement ring simply shows that a woman is engaged, the addition of the wedding band on the same finger shows that a woman is officially married. 

Do I Need Both an Engagement Ring and a Wedding Ring?

There are no rules about what kind of engagement or wedding jewelry you have to have, but if you choose to follow the tradition of wearing a diamond ring throughout your engagement — and then adding a complementary wedding band once you've officially tied the knot — you'll need both.

If you want to go this route — but aren't sure where to start — talk to your jeweler. They can help make the shopping process easier by assisting you in choosing a matching ring set. Not to mention, it will likely end up costing less to buy your rings as a set — rather than buying them separately. 

Do You Wear Your Engagement Ring When You Walk Down the Aisle?

The great thing about weddings these days is that the modern bride has the option to forgo tradition in order to fulfill her own preferences — meaning that there are basically no absolute mandates.

That said, if you're in favor of following traditional bridal etiquette, it is custom to wear your engagement ring when you walk down the aisle. Then, once you and your partner exchange vows, whomever is leading the ceremony will typically instruct you and your partner to exchange wedding rings.

Once this happens, you — as the bride — will officially be wearing your matching set — with both your wedding and engagement rings on your left-hand ring finger. 

Do You Still Wear Your Engagement Ring After You Get Married?

After your wedding ceremony, you will continue to wear your engagement ring along with your wedding band. So, yes. Feel free to stack on the jewels and show that stunner off!

Can Any Ring Be an Engagement Ring?

Again, this is another area where there aren't any set rules. Whether to buy a diamond ring or go with a more alternative style is completely up to you. 

These days, brides are choosing all kinds of stone styles, cuts, and colors. Gemstones, such as sapphire, emerald, ruby, aquamarine, and topaz, have been popular choices for more colorful center stones

Or if your preferences skew more simple, you can totally shop around for a more understated style. For instance, jewelers often carry romantic bands that can be worn as engagement rings, which come in a number of finishes or with delicately embedded stones or small diamonds.

When Do You Take Off Your Engagement Ring?

In order to preserve and protect your engagement ring, there are certain situations where you may want to take it off and store it in a safe place. 
In general, here are some times when it's probably best to remove your ring — no matter its composition — for the purpose of protecting it:

The gym: It's best to take off your ring before working out, especially if you'll be lifting weights or holding onto metal objects, such as barbells. In these situations, when you're throwing around heavy weights, your ring could get small nicks and scratches — or it could even become bent.

When sleeping: Deciding whether to sleep with your engagement ring on is a personal choice. While it's likely not the end of the world if you do sleep with it on, you may want to consider taking it off and leaving it on your nightstand table if you're a bit of a restless sleeper and move around in the night. That way, there's zero chance it could get snagged on your pillow, sheets — or worse, your hair. (Ouch!)

In the shower: The reason you may want to leave your ring off while in the shower has to do with the various scented soaps and hair products that could cause build up on your diamond and ring exterior. These beauty formulas can cause cloudy buildup on your stone, or worse, under your stone—which is much more difficult to clean.

When swimming: Whether you're at the beach or in a pool, your ring can easily fall off while swimming. So, for the general safety of your ring, it's a good idea to take your ring off before taking a dip. At the beach, sand can also damage your engagement ring since small grains can get wedged in the setting of your engagement ring, which can loosen the prongs and make your rock at risk of falling out. And, if you're using sunscreen, the product can cause build up on your ring — just like your other beauty products do.

Keep in mind: The occasions when you should take your ring off may vary based on the materials your ring is made of. For instance, if your ring is made from platinum, you likely won't have to take it off for every little thing — especially since platinum is considered a sturdy engagement ring material. However, you should ask your jeweler about the proper care for your specific ring just to be sure.

Do You Have to Wear Your Wedding Ring All the Time?

Nope! You definitely don't have to wear your ring all of the time. Of course, if you do decide to go a few days without it, you may want to discuss this with your partner and explain why you feel like taking it off from time to time. That way, he or she won't start to think anything has changed regarding how you feel about the relationship.

Engagement Ring vs. Wedding Ring: What's More Expensive? 

Usually, engagement rings cost more than wedding rings or bands. The average cost of an engagement ring  in 2019 was $5,900, according to The Knot's 2019 Jewelry and Engagement Study.

By contrast, according to that same study, the average cost for a women's wedding band in 2019 was $1,100. And the average cost of a men's wedding band was $510.

Of course, the amount you'll pay will vary based on the bridal sets you choose — but that's how the pricing panned out for the average bride and groom last year.

Popular Engagement Ring Styles

Just like all trends, various engagement ring styles go in and out of fashion. These are a few of the styles that are forecasted to be big in 2020: 

Fancy cut diamond engagement rings: In case you're unfamiliar, a fancy cut diamond is any diamond shape other than a round brilliant. A few of the most common fancy cut diamonds are cushion cut, emerald cut, princess cut, heart shaped, marquise shaped, oval shaped, pear shaped, and radiant cut — but there are many others.

Emerald stone engagement rings: For brides who love a pop of color, they'll be happy to hear that rich, deep green-colored emerald stones are going to be an in-fashion center stone option this year.

Vintage engagement rings: Those with an eye for classics are going to love that vintage (and vintage-inspired) engagement rings — which are known for having intricate detailing and elaborate halos — are expected to be front and center in 2020. 

Rose cut diamond engagement rings: Classic brides with an eye for the old-fashioned will also swoon over this 2020 ring trend. Rose cut diamond engagement rings, which became popular in the 1500s, have a flat bottom and a domed top to resemble the shape of a rose bud.

Hidden halo engagement rings: This ring trend offers a more understated approach to halo settings. What is a hidden halo? Well, it's a whole lot like what the name sounds like. With this "hidden" halo, you typically can't see the delicate pavé diamonds that run along the base of the center stone when you view the stone from above.

Two-stone engagement rings: Instead of featuring one big center stone, two-stone engagement rings incorporate two featured diamonds. The look of these rings varies depending upon the design.

Three-stone engagement rings: Last, but not least, we have three-stone engagement rings, which are conceptually the same as two-stone rings — except they feature three focal point stones. Most recently, this style was made popular by Meghan Markle, whose engagement ring featured a three-stone diamond and 14-karat yellow gold.

Popular Wedding Band Styles

When choosing your dream wedding band, here are some styles to consider:

Metal bands: Here you go, classic gals (and guys)! Buying a metal wedding band typically means you want something with no gemstones or diamonds. They're usually crafted in platinum or 18-karat or 14-karat gold (yellow, white, or rose gold). A metal band almost never goes out of style and often develops a beautiful surface coating patina with age. 

Pavé bands: If you're into the idea of maximizing the sparkle and shine of your wedding set, a pavé diamond band just may be for you. They're encrusted in delicate pavé diamonds that are set into the metal of the ring — and often are considered a great pairing to a cushion cut solitaire with a pavé halo setting.

Eternity bands: Also known as an infinity ring, eternity bands are a specific type of band that are known for having the same size of diamond running along the entirety of the ring as a symbol of eternity. If you want a ring style that holds meaning or that has real symbolism behind the design, this may just be the ring type for you.

Modern wedding bands: When we say "modern" wedding bands, we mean those with alternative designs. That could mean the band doesn't close all the way around or maybe it has a crescent shape that hugs the center stone. These rings are meant for the bride with an eye for design who wants something that strays from the norm.  

There you have it! We know you will crush it at shopping for your dream wedding and engagement ring. The most important thing is to make sure you choose a ring set that suits you, your budget, and your lifestyle — and that you will love it for life.

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