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What is a Promise Ring? The Story Behind the Jewelry

What is a Promise Ring
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Updated March 3, 2024

Trends come and go faster than the videos on your TikTok FYP, but there's something refreshingly timeless about promise rings—those sparkling tokens of affection that have quietly symbolized love and commitment for centuries. Promise rings whisper “I’m in, baby,” without diving headfirst into marriage. It’s handy when you’re almost ready to take the plunge and have a future proposal in mind. While jewelry fads can be fun, a promise ring is a shiny reminder that true love never goes out of style.

What’s the meaning of a promise ring?

Put simply, a promise ring is a declaration of love wrapped around your finger, shining with precious metals and maybe a sprinkle of dazzling gems, too. More than just another piece of jewelry, it's a statement of commitment. “Historically tied to romance, a promise ring is given and worn as a sign of devotion,” says Megan Mensink, the founder of Folklor.ca, which specializes in vintage and estate fine jewelry. “Both a pledge and a display of commitment, they are a personal piece of connection,” she says. It’s essentially a pre-engagement ring that signifies devotion, loyalty and all that other mushy stuff.

What’s the history of the promise ring?

Promise rings have a rich history. “Promise rings have been given as a form of commitment since the Roman era,” says Mensink. Roman brides, who were required to observe a waiting period before marriage, used to receive rings made of iron before becoming betrothed. “They eventually turned up the romance in 16th century England with posey rings [inscribed with] romantic poetic engravings in gold, which then led to acrostic rings during the Georgian and Victorian eras,” says Mensink. “These rings spelled out words or messages in gemstones and were given as tokens of affection.”

What does a promise ring look like?

When it comes to the aesthetics of love, there are no rules. Promise rings can be as simple and timeless as a classic gold band, or they can be a sparkly spectacle starring your partner’s favorite gems, whether that’s their birthstone or a big, honking diamond. “Outwardly honoring your feelings or relationship should look as personal as it feels,” says Mensink. “There are no rules, and if there were, I’d encourage you to break them.” Just keep in mind that an engagement ring is presumably next, so you might want to save some of that bling budget for the proposal jewelry.

What finger is a promise ring worn on?

Which digit gets the honor of wearing the promise ring? Traditionally, it's the ring finger of the left hand, but modern times call for modern rules (or a complete lack thereof). As Mensink says, “pick any finger.” Some might prefer a right-hand promise ring, or to switch it up depending on their mood. Your commitment, your choice.

How much should you spend on a promise ring?

Ah, the million-dollar question—well, maybe not a million, in this economy. A promise ring certainly doesn’t need to break the bank, and the cost will vary drastically depending on your budget, style and preferences. “Honoring your love does not have a recommended spend,” says Mensink. “Your piece and your price are personal. The range is as low or high as you feel appropriate for your finances." Keep the focus on the promise, not the price tag.

Where can you buy a promise ring?

Not sure where to shop for promise rings? Online jewelry stores are a great place to start. You'll find the widest range of options online, from classic to contemporary, and you can customize rings to your heart’s content. Here are some of the best places to shop online for promise rings, along with a few favorite styles.

Ring Concierge Pavé Diamond Chain Ring

Since there are no hard and fast rules when it comes to promise rings, it can be easy to feel overwhelmed by the sheer amount of choices out there. Enter Ring Concierge, the ring whisperers you didn’t know you needed. The NYC-based jewelers can help you choose a sparkly little something that’s as unique as your love story, or work with you to create a custom concoction.

Pavé Diamond Chain Ring

Pavé Diamond Chain Ring


Catbird Pastille Tourmaline Ring

When it comes to eco-conscious jewelry that’s both sustainable and stunning, Catbird stands out as a true (conflict-free) gem. Since 2004, they’ve crafted gorgeous, unique pieces in their Brooklyn studio using recycled gold and diamonds, keeping their carbon footprint to a minimum. (They’re also one of the top retailers for permanent jewelry.) With their dazzling selection of romantic rings, you’ll be able to wear your heart on your sleeve and your values on your finger.

Catbird Pastille Tourmaline Ring

Catbird Pastille Tourmaline Ring


Kinn Hera Sculptural Ring Stack

All that glitters isn’t gold—and your promise ring doesn’t need to be, either. Kinn, a Los Angeles-based jewelry brand, has a sculptural sterling silver collection that’s not to be missed. After all, not everyone prefers yellow gold, and these silver rings are equal parts artsy and heirlooms-to-be.

Kinn Hera Sculptural Ring Stack

Kinn Hera Sculptural Ring Stack


VRAI Mixed Cuff Ring

If you and your partner are in the market for a ring that’s as bright as your future together, check out VRAI, the LA jewelry company that specializes in lab-grown diamonds. With designs ranging from old-school quiet luxury to cool and contemporary, you’ll be sure to find a promise ring that’s both beautiful and ethically made.

VRAI Mixed Cuff Ring

VRAI Mixed Cuff Ring


Mejuri Baguette Emerald Half Eternity Band

If you’re looking for quality bling on a budget, Mejuri is hard to beat. Founded in Toronto in 2013, the company takes a direct-to-consumer approach that cuts out the middleman in order to make fine jewelry more accessible. You’ll find high quality materials like 14k gold and ethically sourced diamonds, which means your promise ring will stand the test of time (just skip the gold vermeil pieces). Mejuri also releases limited-edition collections, so there’s always something new to covet.

Baguette Emerald Half Eternity Band

Baguette Emerald Half Eternity Band


How should you give a promise ring?

Ready to make your big move? Presenting your partner with a promise ring isn’t all that different from getting engaged, but we’d advise against grand gestures involving any kind of stadium or jumbotron. Save those for the actual engagement, if that’s what you’re into. Try planning a romantic dinner and serve the promise ring alongside dessert, or go for a long walk and slip the ring onto your partner’s finger while you’re holding hands. Make it personal; there’s no wrong way to do it.

What should you do with a promise ring if you get engaged?

If all goes well, a promise ring should eventually lead to getting engaged—but what happens to that initial symbol of commitment? That’s up to you. Some people choose to wear their promise ring on a different finger as a reminder of their journey, while others store it away as an heirloom for future generations. You could loop a chain through it and wear the ring as a necklace (like Carrie Bradshaw famously did), or simply keep wearing it on the same finger—stacked jewelry has never been cooler. “Continue to wear it, cherish it, and most importantly, continue to share the story and sentiment behind it,” says Mensink. “The magic of a personal jewelry collection is found in the bits of our life they tell."

What happens to a promise ring if you break up?

Yeah, that can be awkward. If the path towards marriage takes an unexpected detour and you break up, what becomes of the promise ring is entirely your call. Some people choose to return the ring, while others prefer to keep it for sentimental reasons. Bad breakup? Sell the ring and buy yourself something nice—call it the relationship tax.

Frequently asked questions (FAQs)

How serious is a promise ring?

Is a promise ring as serious as an engagement ring? Not exactly. A promise ring signifies love and commitment, but in this day and age, it’s not considered “official” the way an engagement ring might be. Think of it as jewelry representing the promise of the future.

Do you kneel for a promise ring?

Kneeling is usually reserved for the big “Will you marry me?” moment, so it’s not advised to get down on one knee for a promise ring. After all, you’ve got to save something for the big proposal. A promise ring exchange can be a more casual affair; sitting or standing is just fine.

Why do women want promise rings?

When it comes to promise rings, the recipient values the ring represents: Love, commitment and security in the relationship. Promise rings are a physical reminder that someone wants to share a future with them, and that’s pretty great. Plus, who doesn’t like shiny things?

What’s the difference between a promise ring and an engagement ring?

The key distinction between a promise ring and an engagement ring is in the intent. A promise ring is a commitment to a future together, while an engagement ring is the prelude to saying, "I do." Engagement rings also tend to be more elaborate and usually feature a diamond as the centerpiece, whereas there are no rules when it comes to the look of a promise ring. “While a promise ring and an engagement ring both symbolize commitment, marriage is not for everyone,” says Mensink. “With an engagement ring comes a wedding, while a promise ring honors the strength of a relationship without the associated countdown to marriage, ceremonies or traditions,” she adds.

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