Promise Rings

Promise Rings

What is a Promise Ring?
What are Promise Rings?
What is a Promise Ring used for?

Do you ever ask these question? If so, you are not alone.

People use the phrase “Promise Ring” in so many different ways that it is often difficult to know what they really mean. Nowadays, there are many different kinds of Promise Rings that you have to be careful when using the phrase. Particularly when you come to choosing the right kind of ring to give to the person you have in mind. 

See our Promise Rings Directory for a full list of the pages on Promise Rings.

CLICK HERE for our Promise Rings Directory

Here you will find pages on: the Meaning of Promise Rings; Different Types of Promise Rings, How to choose a Promise Ring … and so on.

First of all though, Promise Rings symbolize a commitment … and have done for centuries. However, the modern day concept of a romantic Promise Ring  only dates back to the 1990s. However, Promise Rings in one form or another, have been around for a long, long time. 

As a symbol of commitment, there are different types of Promise Rings and they all have a different meaning. See table below.


Promise ring 2 v2

Romantic promise rings: used to symbolize the love one person has for another.
Friendship rings and Loyalty rings: an expression of close friendship between 2 people.
Claddagh ring: a traditional Irish betrothal ring, now used to represent love, loyalty and friendship.
Posey (Posie) rings: popular in the 15th, 16th and 17th centuries as lover’s gifts.
Purity rings and Chastity rings: used as a public statement and symbol of purity and chastity.
True-love-waits rings: represents sexual abstinence outside marriage.
Faith and religious rings: affirmation of a commitment to God.
Eternity ring: a ring usually given by a man to symbolize never-ending love.

What is a promise Ring – a Brief History of Promise Rings:

The Newberry Ring-Tutankhamun and his wife, Ankhesenamun

Promise rings have been associated with marriage and betrothals for hundreds of years. Betrothals go back to Biblical times: this ancient Egyptian ring was associated with the pharaoh Tutankhamun and his wife Ankhesenamun. 

The giving of a Promise Ring was a pledge, a part of the whole betrothal and marriage process. It was used to signify that an understanding and commitment had been made between two families.

Marriage at this time was largely an arrangement between families: romantic love had very little to do with the marriage process. Marriage was more of a corporate business merger. It was used by families to secure alliances and improve their family standing.

Such outward signs of commitment were not limited to individuals and betrothals. Bishops wore (promise) rings as a pledge of their spiritual union with the church. Dignitaries in Italian cities renewed their City’s link with the Adriatic sea by tossing a ring into the turquoise waters every year on Ascension day.

Promise Rings as Betrothal Rings:

Betrothal process - Source: Photo. R.M.N. / R.-G. OjŽda

With marriage so important for creating alliances, the exchange of rings was adopted as a formal acknowledgement from one family to another that the couple were promised to each other. The Promise Ring became a Betrothal Ring, a symbol that the two families had agreed to a formal union. Somewhere in the future, the couple would be wed.

baltic-honey-amberSometimes there would only be one Promise Ring. At the Betrothal Ceremony, the groom would give his future bride a (promise) ring as a sign of faith. Until the 8th Century, this ring was typically plain but then Jewish jewelers started to decorate and enhance these rings.

During the wedding ceremony, this ring would be replaced by another ring – usually one in a different metal. The ring would be moved from the right hand over to a finger on the left hand. 

Promise Rings – a commitment between individuals:

As the rights of the individual became increasingly important, lovers started to use Promise Rings to demonstrate their love and affection for each other. Promise Rings became a symbol of the love between individuals rather than an arrangement between families. 

Scribble Ring and Eternity Band

In Europe, this practice grew in popularity during the 16th and 17th centuries. One example of this growing interest is the “scribbling ring” as shown on the right. The ring was made using uncut diamond crystals. The exposed edges of the uncut diamond were used by lovers to etch romantic vows and poetry into window panes. 

Formal betrothals declined in the 18th and 19th centuries and Engagement Rings – as we now know them – started to take the place of promise rings as a symbol of a commitment to marriage. Many of the Victorian engagement rings were exquisite pieces of jewelry.

Promise Rings - Antique Russian Engagement Ring 1850

Promise Rings - Victorian Engagement Ring 19th Century


Engagement rings have become part of our modern Western culture. However, this is not the case in other cultures, where arranged marriages still exist.

So what is a Promise Ring for today ? What is the difference between a Promise Ring and an Engagement Ring ?

Nowadays, a man presents an engagement ring as a “betrothal gift” to his prospective spouse when he proposes marriage. Sometimes he gives the ring after she accepts his marriage proposal – as was the case with Prince Charles and Princess Diana. The ring represents a formal agreement between the two individuals to future marriage. 

However there are several steps in a relationship before the prospect of marriage is discussed. For example, before agreeing to marry, a couple may choose to buy and wear a pre-engagement ring or Promise Ring. In this context, the Promise Ring is seen as a sign of commitment – a commitment between a couple who are not yet engaged but will be in due time. 

Rings with Love - Promise Rings - Guy Giving Promise Ring to girl

There may also be a stage before this, where a couple want to express some form of love for – and commitment to – each other but have not yet reached a stage where they really want to discuss marriage. For example, they may be going away to college and want something to demonstrate their attachment to each other – a constant reminder of their love for each other.

Promise Rings are a relatively new concept. In their modern form, they only started to become popular during the late 1990s. Some argue that the giving and exchanging of rings started to be adopted in the USA as early as the 1950s. This is true but it was only in the last part of the 20th Century that the actual name “Promise Ring” was adopted.

Giving – and exchanging – Promise Rings then became accepted as one of the first steps in formalizing the relationship between a couple …. the start of the engagement and marriage process.

So, after all that, can we actually say what a Promise Ring really is …

In practice, a Promise Ring, can be whatever you want it to be. I know this is a bit of a cop out but it is nevertheless true. Not only are there different kinds of Promise Rings (friendship rings, purity rings and so on… see the table at the top of the page) but a Promise Ring can be used to express different feelings.

At its simplest level, a Promise Ring is a physical demonstration and expression of the love and affection that one person has for another. Yes! It is as straightforward as that.

In comparison with Engagement Rings, Promise Rings are less expensive and usually also pretty simple in design. Promise Rings are made of colorful stones and gems … not diamonds. This makes the ring less costly and also different from a formal engagement ring.

Some of the traditions, however, still remain. Popular sayings and vows can be engraved on the inside or outside of the Promise Ring. They may also contain ancient symbols and swirling designs to further enhance the strong feelings involved in the process of “making a promise”. 

In summary, what is a Promise Ring; what does the giving of a promise Ring mean?

A Promise Ring …

  • A simple expression of love and commitment from one person to another
  • An agreement between the couple not to date anyone else while they see how the relationship develops
  • A public statement that the relationship between the two people is serious
  • There is an agreement between the couple that they will marry some time in the future
  • The Promise Ring acts as a temporary engagement ring while the man is saving up for a more expensive ring
  • A couple may wear Promise Rings when they decide to move in and live with each other.
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