A revival of a beautiful Irish tradition that dates back to the 17th Century, the claddagh ring as it was then known has recently made its way back into the spotlight with a new name - the promise ring - and image upgrade but honouring the same age old heart bound values.
With Miley Cyrus and Liam Hemsworth, Oprah Winfrey and Prince Harry & Meghan Markle all flaunting one on their promise ring finger (before marriage), the beautiful jewellery piece is now back in vogue. To learn more about the difference between engagement vs promise ring read on for our guide below.
What is a promise ring?
A symbol of commitment to another, the promise ring is a gesture of love, faithfulness and commitment to a relationship, be it friendship, romantic partnership or family connection.
Centuries ago in Ireland, the first promise rings were known as claddagh rings and were gifted as a symbol of love, loyalty, and friendship. The claddagh rings were designed uniquely, with hands representing friendship, a heart representing love, and a crown representing loyalty.
Claddagh Rings went on to become a world renowned symbol of love and loyalty. With the wearing of the promise ring, a token of both relationship status and commitment.
As tradition had it then, the promise ring finger was also symbolic of the commitment type.
Right hand as the promise ring finger with the point of the heart facing towards the hand - meant their heart is turned inwards and taken, symbolising the wearer is in a relationship.
Right hand as the promise ring finger with the point of the heart away from the hand - meant their heart is open to love and that the wearer is not in a relationship.
Left hand as the promise ring finger with the point of the heart facing away from hand - the wearer is engaged or in a lifelong partnership.
- Left hand as the promise ring finger with the point of the heart facing the hand - the wearer is married!
Aside from partnership symbolism, there are also other promise ring meanings and traditions.
One tradition is that a mother passes down their promise ring to their daughters. It’s said that if a mother (or father) gifted their daugther a promise ring, this gesture worked as a ‘promise’ and commitment to chastity, encouraging daughters to stay celibate until marriage. However this is most often called a ‘purity ring.’
As time has gone on, the promise ring's meaning has become a lot more fluid in its symbolism but still continues to reflect an age-old vow of commitment to a relationship and loyalty. Ultimately a promise ring’s meaning can be whatever the wearer and the person who gifted it to them chooses.
Like the meaning of promise rings, the shapes and styles have too evolved now. Today, the design or promise rings is less traditional to the Irish heritage of hearts and crowns and instead, comes in a range of colours and metals. But be it gold rings, silver rings, diamond rings, or gemstone rings, the ‘promise’ component and heart inspired intentions to commit always remain the same.
For those loved up and wondering what the difference is between an engagement vs promise ring, it’s a very good question.
It’s true that if you look at the celebrities spearheading the promise ring trend - such as Miley Cyrus and Liam Hemsworth and Megan Markle and Prince Harry - then it’s fair to say that the engagement vs promise ring meaning could be seen as the same, with both becoming wedded thereafter.
But, traditionally, a promise ring has always been steeped in deeper symbolism surrounding connection and a permanent bind to loyalty, chastity and lifelong honouring of a relationship.
The meaning of an engagement ring on the other hand has long been held as a token temporary ring before a wedded, lifelong marital commitment and wedding ring.
Comparing the two you could say a promise ring is perhaps better suited to a friend, family member or someone you’re newly dating but aren’t quite ready to ‘lock in’ for life yet. But, either way, as Beyonce says, ‘if you like it then you should put a ring on it,’ so take the plunge and get blinging be it engagement vs promise ring, either way.
As Brides explains it, “in simple terms, a promise ring is a step up from dating. It shows the world that your heart belongs to another and that you’re devoted to protecting and nurturing that relationship. These days, a promise ring is most commonly given as a precursor to an engagement, but that is not always the case.”
Other factors can also play into why a promise ring rather than an engagement ring is given.
Often a promise ring can act as a token rather than a lifelong vow, and as such, a promise ring can be more of a fashion statement, sentimental or quirky, making it more of a symbolic interim ring rather than an expensive sacred ring one is bound to wear forever.
A promise ring is a beautiful jewellery piece that can hold meaning to whoever the wearer is, no matter their background, commitment type or ring type. Yet there are definitely certain aspects that may play into choosing a promise ring versus an engagement ring.
For example, if you are newly in love and smitten for someone but not at a stage where you can commit to a wedding or a lifelong romance yet (because of studying, geographical location, time etc) then a promise ring may be perfect for you and your lover.
That said, perhaps you know you are ready and open to lifelong commitment but financially an engagement ring is out of reach right now. In this sense, a promise ring won’t break the budget (because it doesn’t have to have a diamond or have a certain amount of carats) but will uphold a vow of love, loyalty and lifelong commitment.
Other examples are if you are a teenager or student who may not be ready for the adult side of cohabitating or marriage (you may live at home even?) but a promise ring becomes a way to show that even when apart you are committed to your partner.
Or maybe your best friend is moving away, to another school, interstate or overseas. A promise ring could act as a placeholder in your heart and act as a special way to always keep them close and keep your loyalty to the friendship bound by a symbolic promise ring.
Regardless of the wearer, the loved one, your relationship or commitment style, a promise ring is the perfect way to celebrate a lifelong vow to honour someone who matters the most to you.