Engagement Rings and Promise Rings can look similar at times, but they can also look very different. Their intended meanings are certainly quite different.
What’s the difference between a Promise Ring and an Engagement Ring? Engagement Rings convey a specific commitment to get married. They insinuate that you’re actively planning a wedding. Promise Rings symbolize a special commitment, but have a much wider spectrum of potential meanings. They can really represent any specific meaning, or commitment, that you choose to convey.
There are countless ring options available. In the remainder of this post, we’ll explore some of those options, talk about how to properly wear the ring, cover important information on conveying the meaning behind the ring, and much more!
The Meaning Behind Promise Rings
Promise rings are symbolic. They’re physical items that are worn so we can frequently see them and be reminded of a special commitment. They can also be a public display of a commitment. To that extent, they’re similar to engagement rings. The key difference between the two types of rings though, is that engagement rings have only one general purpose—to communicate an intent to marry, while promise rings can have limitless applications and meanings.
Future brides, and some future grooms, where engagement rings for these specific reasons:
- To visually communicate to others that the person is ‘off the market’
- To remind the wearer of the commitment they’ve made to their future spouse.
- To symbolize the love of the giver
- Because it’s a cultural tradition
Most of the reasons for wearing an engagement ring revolve around a commitment to get married sometime in the not-to-distant future. Promise rings can symbolize a MUCH more diverse set of commitments.
- Special Friendship
- Chastity (Abstinence)
- Token of unconditional love between parent and child
- Serious goals
- Religious commitments
This, of course, is a very partial list. The meaning behind a promise ring can be so diverse, that it would be impossible to capture all possibilities. We’ll discuss these various applications in a little more detail below.
Do Promise Rings Look Different Than Engagement Rings?
There are no hard and fast rules when it comes to engagement rings or promise rings, but there are some common practices for these ring choices that can act as a general guide. Engagement rings are generally more expensive and ornate than promise rings. They often feature diamonds as center stones, and those diamonds are considerably larger than the average diamond on a promise ring. Engagement rings don’t have to have diamonds on them. It’s very common for a wide variety of other gems, stones, or diamond simulants to be used.
Diamond Simulants are much less expensive ‘look-alike’ stones like Cubic Zirconia, White Topaz, White Sapphire, or Moissanite. Morganite is another popular option. Common metals for engagement rings, include yellow gold, white gold, rose gold, and platinum. According to a recent state-by-state study of engagement ring costs, the average ‘e-ring’ now runs $6,351 nationally. In California, that average cost almost doubles, jumping all the way to $10,241!
In contrast to Engagement Rings, Promise rings are commonly kept much simpler and far less expensive. They can be made of the same expensive metals as e-rings, or they can be kept simple with inexpensive metals like Silver, Tungsten Cobalt, Titanium, or Stainless Steel. Sometimes a metal alloy that’s coated in another metal like Silver or Rhodium is also given. Coated rings can be a lot less durable, so they aren’t an ideal option.
For example, I gave my wife an inexpensive Rhodium coated ring to test for me last year. It featured a Cubic Zirconia that was set on top of a brass band which had been coated in Rhodium. When the ring was brand new, it was beautiful and had a surprisingly high-quality feel—given the cost. My wife was only able to wear the ring daily for about a month before it was completely shot. The Rhodium coating wore through on nearly all of the ring’s surfaces. The brownish brass was showing through and turning my wife’s finger green. The fact that it only lasted a month was a little shocking.
The more exterior coats this type of ring has been given, the longer it will last, but it’s difficult to know how well the coats were done (or how many were applied) before you buy the ring. Promise rings are meant to be a standing reminder of an important commitment. If you buy a ring made of a cheap base metal that’s then coated with a thin layer of another metal to represent a long-term commitment, you may find that you soon need to replace it. Something like Stainless steel shouldn’t cost much more, but will be FAR more durable.
Promise Rings can consist of just a simple metal band, or they can feature a variety of gems or other stones. The metal bands can be carved with meaningful messages, or fashioned into shapes or designs that carry extra significance. When diamonds are used for promise rings, they’re typically smaller than you might normally find in an engagement ring. There are many colorful stones like garnet, aquamarine, and tourmaline that are popular options for promise rings. Birthstones are another common choice.
What Finger Should Promise Rings Be Worn On?
Here again, there are no hard and fast rules for the way that Promise rings have to be worn. Very frequently, they’re worn on the ring finger of the left hand, but could certainly be worn on any other finger (of either hand) that’s more comfortable.
Continuing to Wear a Promise Ring, Even After Engagement.
When a promise ring is used a pre-engagement ring, it typically moves from the ring finger of the left hand to the same finger of the right when the proposal happens and an engagement ring is accepted. The engagement ring then goes on the newly vacated ring finger of the left hand. Of course, you can also wear the ring on any of your other nine fingers if you’d like.
Another simple option, is to hang the promise ring form a necklace or bracelet, so you can continue to wear it in a slightly different way following your engagement.
How Much Do Promise Rings Cost?
Since Promise rings can span such a wide range of specific purposes and material options, their cost also really varies. At the lower end, you’ll spend around $30 for simpler rings and less expensive materials. On the upper end, you might spend $1,500.
So what can you expect to get for your money at each end of the cost spectrum that was just mentioned?
For $30-$150, you can expect to get a nice looking ring that’s durable, and which suits most applications. You’ll have more options and better workmanship as you climb over the $100 mark, but there are plenty of great options at lower price points too. At the lower end of this price range, you’ll be able to select primarily from rings made of Stainless Steel, and rings that are Silver coated. As you climb in cost, you’ll begin to have more options available that are made entirely of Sterling Silver. Toward the upper end of this price spectrum, you’ll also be able to select from rings made of materials like Titanium and Tungsten Cobalt. Tungsten Cobalt is the hardest known metal and is incredibly scratch resistant.
If you choose to give a ring that features a stone, it’s likely to be a Cubic Zirconia in this price range, but it might also be possible to find something that you like with Amethyst, Tourmaline, Peridot, Citrine, or a similar stone.
Here’s an example of some of the best-loved promise rings that cost $150 or less (with many in the $30-$50 range)
For $150 to $800, you gain a lot of additional variety. In addition to the metals mentioned above, you now have the option of selecting something in yellow gold, white gold, or rose gold, if you’d like. In addition to all the stones listed above, you now have the ability to select Moissanite as center stone instead of CZ. Moissanite is a very durable and scratch-resistant stone that has a very similar appearance to diamond. Stones like Aquamarine, White Topaz Blue Topaz, and Morganite are also available in this price range.
Here’s an example of some top-rated promise rings that cost $200 or more if that fits your budget.
For $800 to $1,500, you’ll likely be able to find a ring with a small diamond if you’d like. Of course, you can get more diamond for your dollar if you purchase a lab-created diamond. If you’d like to get a larger stone that has an appearance that’s very similar to diamond, you may want to consider Moissanite in this price range too. You could get a stunning Moissanite ring that easily falls within this kind of budget. You also have the ability to choose gems like Ruby, Sapphire, and Emerald in this price range.
Again, these represent common price ranges for Promise Rings, but in reality, you could certainly spend more, and buy something even more elaborate, if you wanted to. While that’s possible, it probably isn’t necessary for this type of ring.
When, and How, do You Give Someone a Promise Ring?
As mentioned earlier, Promise Rings can have a wide variety of potential applications. In fact, Promise Rings are sometimes referred to as ‘pre-engagement rings’ or ‘purity rings.’ We quickly referenced some of the regular uses of Promise Rings above, but we want to also quickly provide a little additional context for each of those most common use cases.
Pre-engagement: Couples sometimes want to get married, but recognize that they’re too young, broke, or busy to get engaged at the moment. They aren’t ready to actively start planning their wedding, but they do want to commemorate their intent to marry at some point in the future.
Friendship: When promise rings are given to a best friend, it’s a pledge of love and support. It’s a declaration that you have each other’s backs, and that you share a special and enduring friendship.
Monogamy: This is a promise to be faithful and wait for someone. My wife and I went to the same university for a couple of years, which is where we met. I finished at the school before she did, and moved about 3 hours away to continue school at another institution. We weren’t ready to get engaged at the time, we weren’t talking marriage at all at that point. A promise ring that’s a token of commitment, exclusivity, or monogamy could have been meaningful in a situation like that. When military men and women get deployed, a promise ring might be an appropriate gift for the love they leave behind.
Chastity (Abstinence): Rings are sometimes used to symbolize a commitment to abstinence before marriage. When used in this way, they’re often referred to as Purity Rings. Celebrities like Selena Gomez, Hailey Baldwin, and Justin Bieber have publicly mentioned personal commitments they’ve made to celibacy before marriage. They often wear rings or have some other symbol or visual reminder of the commitment that they keep with them. Parents can sometimes give their child as part of a commitment toward chastity too. The following clip, from the movie Courageous, is a good example.
Token of Unconditional Love Between Parent and Child: Parents sometimes give promise rings to a child to provide a constant reminder of their love. It’s reassurance they feel every time they look at their ring, that they’re loved for who they are, regardless of achievement or failure, and without condition.
Serious Goals: If someone has a big and meaningful goal, like making it into a prestigious university with a scholarship, the goal can be symbolized and remembered through a promise ring. Most often, the ring represents an inner commitment (a promise made to one’s self), but promise rings related to important goals can also be gifted by a friend or parent.
Religious commitments: Remember the ‘WWJD’ jewelry that was popular for a while. That acronym stands for ‘what would Jesus do.’ It’s a reminder to ourselves, and an outward declaration, that we want to try to follow Christ and become like him. It’s a promise ring. Rings like these can help us keep religious goals and commitments top of mind throughout each day.
In Reality, the meaning of the ring comes from the context given to it—not the ring itself.
When you pull a ring out of a pocket (and especially a ring box), most people are going to think a marriage proposal is about to happen. Many Promise Rings look a lot like an engagement ring (especially when they’re intended to be a pre-engagement commitment). That can lead to an emotional roller coaster when the conversation takes a different direction than the other party assumed when they saw what you pulled out of your pocket. Sometimes the person you’re giving the ring to might feel disappointed or deflated by the experience, other times they may feel relieved.
Because of this tendency for immediate assumptions and misunderstandings, it’s best to be somewhat strategic about how you present a promise ring. The process should begin with a conversation and end with the ring, rather than starting with the ring and ending in a conversation.
For example, if you were about to present a pre-engagement type Promise Ring to your girlfriend, you might introduce the ring by saying something like, “I love you, and look forward getting engaged and married within the next few years. We’ve both talked about how now isn’t the right time, but I think about it all the time, and I actually bought you a pre-engagement promise ring. It symbolizes that intention and can help us work toward that goal.”
If you have a conversation like that BEFORE pulling the ring out, the entire experience should be better, clearer, and more meaningful.
The Difference Between Promise Rings and Purity Rings
Promise Rings can be used as a token or reminder of any commitment, but Purity Rings, on the other hand, are Promise Rings that are used for the specific purpose of symbolizing a commitment to chastity before marriage … in other words, Purity Rings are a subset of Promise Rings.
Promise Rings Aren’t Just a Religious Thing
You don’t have to be a ‘religious’ person to use, or benefit from, a promise ring. There are ways that Promise Rings are sometimes used that certainly have religious overtones, but most potential applications, such as using a Promise Ring for pre-engagement commitment, have no religious ties whatsoever.
Promise Rings for Men
While Promise Rings tend to be more common among women, men can absolutely wear them to symbolize their significant commitments as well. Metals like Titanium and Tungsten Carbide are really popular choices for men. They’re durable metals that seem to have a manly quality to them. If you’re looking for something that’s less expensive, consider Stainless Steel.
Promise Rings for Couples
Pre-engagement Promises and other mutual commitments can be celebrated by couples with matching (or coordinating) promise rings. The fact that you’re BOTH wearing the ring for the same reason, can make the commitment feel even more special.
What’s the Difference Between a Promise Ring and an Eternity Ring?
Eternity Rings could be considered a subset of Promise Rings. They’re a particular style of ring design, that could be used as a Promise Ring if desired. Eternity Rings feature many small gems, that look identical, organized in a straight line that runs around the full outer circumference of the ring.
Can Promise Rings be used as Lifelong Commitment Rings Without Marriage?
It’s certainly possible for Promise rings to be used as a token of life-long commitment for those that decide not to go through with a formal marriage ceremony. In reality, rings used this way would function just like wedding rings. They’re a reminder of your love and commitment to each other.
Can You Wear a Promise Ring and Engagement Ring Together on the Same Hand?
You CAN wear an Engagement ring and a Promise Ring on the same hand. Most commonly they’re worn on different hands, but either approach is fine. There’s no firm rule for the finger that you have to wear the Promise Ring on either. Try different fingers until you find the style that’s most comfortable.