What is the Difference Between an Engagement Ring and a Promise Ring?

Rings remain favorite accessories for many reasons. They are easy to slip on and off, come in a wide, wide, wide range of styles, and add the perfect bit of bling to any outfit. Engagement rings and promise rings are no exception to any of these perks, and range from glittering, gem-encrusted knockouts to simple-but-sophisticated bands to the classic claddagh rings from the Emerald Isle. (Here’s a fun fact for you: Irish wedding proposals have included the words “Do you want to be buried with my ancestors?”)

Engagement and promise rings both symbolize undying commitment, with the claddagh version representing love, friendship, and loyalty. Promise rings can also simply symbolize friendship, or the promise of being friends forever and ever.

So What Is The Difference Between An Engagement And Promise Ring, Anyway?

I am wondering what the real difference between an engagement and promise ring is. Can I give a promise ring as an engagement ring? What about giving an engagement ring as a promise ring?

Our Answer

Intention is the main difference between a promise ring and an engagement ring, as they can look strikingly similar.  Promise rings are essentially the “promise” of a lasting commitment, which can include the promise of an engagement someday. Engagement rings are pretty darn straightforward, as they are the physical embodiment of the question, “Will you marry me?” Think of promise rings as the precursors to wedding rings–a person can receive a promise ring months or years before an engagement ring, or said person’s significant other can skip the whole promise thing entirely and go straight for the engagement bling. Since both are generally quite expensive, many choose one or the other.

Let’s bring up the claddagh ring again for a moment. This ring actually has four uses, if you can believe it! When worn on the right ring finger with the heart pointed outward, it means the wearer is single. Worn on the right ring finger with the heart pointed toward the actual heart, it means the wearer is in a relationship. It symbolizes engagement when worn on the left ring finger pointed outward, and marriage when worn on the left ring finger pointed inward. It provides a relatively-inexpensive all-in-one ring!

If you want to give a promise ring as a future engagement ring, go for it. Most people do not give engagement rings as promise rings, however.

Other Experts’ Answers

“Firstly, let’s define the meaning of a promise ring and clear up the confusion between promise rings and engagement ring.

A promise ring, also known as a pre-engagement ring, is a ring or some other piece of jewelry that is given as a symbol of a committed relationship.

It also symbolizes purity and a decision to remain celibate until marriage. It’s a promise to someday become engaged at unspecified time, maybe after graduation or some other cases.

Modern Couple:

Many modern couple don’t feel the need to put an official label on their relationship and the promise ring is a symbol of their love and committed relationship. If an engagement ring comes along in the future, the promise ring often moves over to the opposite hand.

Promise rings in Other relationships:

Promise rings can be exchanged between friends, pledging friendship forever. Promise rings may also be given by a parent to a child as a way of saying “I’ll love you forever.” Promise rings may also be known as purity rings, and represent a pledge of abstinence. They can be worn as a promise of anything, really, like a commitment to faith, to a goal, or a pledge to break a bad habit.

Physical difference between promise ring and engagement ring:

Promise rings may come in various designs including gemstones, rings with heart designs and even diamond rings that might look to you exactly like an engagement ring. Promise rings typically are smaller and subtler than engagement rings, and may or may not be worn on the traditional wedding band finger. Diamonds are popular, but in smaller sizes or clusters, or with gemstones — usually the focus is not on the diamond, but on the overall design.” –-Victoria Oleshkevich, Senior Jewelry Designer, Jewelry Specialist

“They represent different levels of commitment and a big difference in cost.

If you listen to De Beers, 3 months salary is what you should pay for an engagement ring. That is a big financial commitment to make to commit to marriage. So you better be committed to the commitment you are making. Because if you commit to buying an engagement ring and you really aren’t committed to getting married, you should be committed for spending that kind of money.” –Gerry Uswak, Educator, Clinician, Suited & Booted

“A promise ring is usually given as a promise to one day get engaged. It’s the ring before the engagement ring, and signifies the commitment that you both have without being engaged. The engagement ring is given when you are ready to get married and signifies that next step in the relationship.” —Emily Parker, Gemvara

“Intent. With any ring its purpose is not defined by design but by the intent of the giver and the wearer.” –Steve Everhard, GIA-certified jeweller

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