Promise Rings vs Engagement Rings: Comparison Guide

For many couples, an engagement ring is not the first ring given in the relationship. A promise ring is similar to an engagement ring, but it can an actual engagement.

In this article, we’ll look at the differences between a promise ring and an engagement ring.

We’ll also look at some similarities.

Promise Ring vs Engagement Ring Meaning

The biggest difference between a promise ring and an engagement ring is the meaning behind them.

A promise ring usually shows that a couple have entered into a exclusive, monogamous relationship.

Typically in a heterosexual couple, the man gives the woman the promise ring. But the woman also sometimes gives a promise ring in return. Not only will everyone know that she’s exclusive to him. They’ll also know that he is exclusive to her.

A promise ring is also sometimes called a pre-engagement ring, as a prelude to purchasing an actual engagement ring.

Promise Ring vs Engagement Ring Style

Promise ring style is more free than engagement ring style.


Although in recent years engagement rings are available in many more styles, they still typically are diamond solitaires in round cut brilliant.

Promise rings are often birthstones. They may even be simpler, without a gemstone at all.

Setting Material

Engagement rings are almost universally gold or platinum.

But promise rings can be of any material, including silicone, wood, glass, ceramic, and even cloth or string.

Where Worn

Engagement rings are almost always worn on the ring finger of the left hand, a symbolic finger believed to be most closely connected to the heart.

Promise rings can be worn on any finger of any hand, but is also typically worn on the left ring finger.

Promise rings can even be worn around a necklace, especially if there’s an engraving on the inside of the ring that the wearer enjoys contemplating.

If the wearer desires to retain the promise ring after an official engagement ring is gifted, it’s often switched over to the ring finger of the right hand.

Promise Ring vs Engagement Ring Recap

  • Promise ring = We are exclusive. Engagement ring = We seriously intend to marry.
  • Promise rings are often used by people too young to marry.
  • Promise rings are worn on any finger or on a necklace. But engagement rings are worn almost always only on the ring finger of the left hand.
  • Engagement rings are almost always gold or platinum. Promise rings, although often of precious metal, can be made of almost anything at all.
  • Engagement rings are most often diamond. Promise rings can include small diamonds but usually make use of a birthstone or no gem at all.

Promise Ring vs Engagement Ring Costs

Since promise rings have less serious commitment behind them, and are often exchanged by couples too young or too early in their careers to want to marry, promise rings are usually quite a bit less expensive.

(That may not apply when it comes to celebrities or other very wealthy people who decided to gift or exchange promise rings. These have included Selena Gomez, Justin Bieber, Selena Gomez, and Jordin Sparks.)

For the rest of us, a promise ring is usually much less expensive than a (typically diamond) engagement ring. Promise rings, as noted above, have a less expensive setting, and less expensive or nonexistent gemstone.

Because it’s acceptable to buy promise rings from almost anywhere, they can be quite inexpensive even for a decent quality.

Any serious diamond engagement ring, however, should be purchased only from a highly reputable retailer who offers 3rd-party diamond certification.

Promise rings don’t require the durability, meaning, and certification of good diamonds. So they can be much less expensive than engagement rings.

Engagement rings need to last a lifetime, so they require much better workmanship. They also require a decent diamond, which can be found only from quality retailers who provide GIA or AGS certification.

Promise Ring vs Friendship Ring

Very rarely, rings sold by jewelers as “promise rings” are exchanged by two people who are not in a romantic relationship. They are simply good friends who want to signify their commitment to each other in friendship.

Promise Ring vs Purity Ring

Purity rings are a kind of promise ring.

They often are related commitments.

But the commitments are also different.

Promise Ring = Monogamy

A promise ring means, as we’ve seen, that the couple are promising to be monogamous until further notice.

“Purity” Ring = Abstinence Until Marriage

A purity ring presupposes that “purity” means no sexual activity, which is a common belief in many religions.

So, when a couple exchanges purity rings, they’re committing

  1. to each other
  2. to have no sexual activity with each other or anyone else until they one day get married.

Some couples keep that commitment all the way through even an engagement, until they’re married. They wear their purity rings as a symbol of that (usually) religious commitment to abstinence.

Avoid Promise Ring vs Engagement Ring Confusion

Promise rings create opportunities for more emotionally dangerous misunderstandings or deceit than do engagement rings.

With an engagement ring, the intent is always clear. It’s impossible to misunderstand. It means you plan to marry. And there’s little motivation by any giver to deceive, since marriage is a lifelong commitment in which both parties’ goodwill is needed.

But misunderstandings can easily happen with promise rings.

Gifting a promise ring can be a highly emotional and beautiful act. But a person’s intentions and level of commitment should always be communicated clearly.

It’s a good idea to plan the gift of a promise ring carefully. Understand what you will say, and what you won’t say.

It’s also very important that the gifting person not only offer to answer any questions the receiver has, but to insist that the questions be asked. 

Tips for Deciding Between a Promise Ring and an Engagement Ring

You might want to choose a promise ring instead of an engagement ring if:

  • You’ve been in the relationship for less than 6 months.
  • You’re unsure about making a lifetime commitment, but you want to make a mutual current exclusively monogamous commitment.
  • You and your beloved are romantics, and enjoy little symbolic ceremonies, but aren’t ready to be engaged yet.
  • You’re too young to be engaged.
  • You both want a “purity” ring as a symbol to remind yourself of chastity vows before marriage for religious or other reasons.
  • You both want to let others know you’re each in a monogamous, committed relationship, even though it’s not an engagement.

You might want to choose an engagement ring instead of a promise ring if:

  • You’ve been together a long time, and you’re ready to get engaged.
  • You are sure that you want to make a lifelong commitment.
  • You have the financial and emotional resources to create a successful marriage.
  • You’re both ready to be married.

These are NOT good reasons to choose a promise ring instead of an engagement ring

  1. You don’t have the financial resources to buy an engagement ring right now.

Never let a lack of money cause you to buy a promise ring instead of an engagement ring, if you’re both ready to be engaged. 

As we’ve seen, a promise ring means, among other things, that you don’t want to be engaged quite yet.

If you are ready, but just can’t afford an engagement ring as nice as you would like, then buying a promise ring would be sending a wrong signal to your beloved.

It’s better just to get the engagement ring you can afford.

So if you’re both ready to be engaged, keep it real, and be bold. Get an engagement ring which you can afford, even if it’s quite simple.

The meaning of an engagement ring is not in the absolute value of the ring itself. The meaning is in the value relative to your income.

Suitors are expected to buy something expensive for them, but not ruinous.

It just needs to be expensive enough that you had to sacrifice a little for it. If your beloved loves you in return, they won’t care about the absolute value of the ring.

But to receive a promise ring when they really desired an engagement ring, and you were both ready? That could confuse and disappoint them and greatly complicate the relationship.

  1. There are many other bad reasons to choose a promise ring instead of an engagement ring. We won’t list them here. They usually have to do with confusion within or even outright deceit.

Just make sure that if you gift a promise ring, you’re clear about what you mean by it. And clear about what you don’t mean.

How and Where to Buy Promise Rings

Some retailers sell rings specifically marketed as “promise rings.”

It’s also ok to select any ring that you like, even if it’s not labeled as a “promise ring.” What makes a promise ring is not so much the label or the design as the little ceremony or conversation the couple has when the ring is exchanged. 

It’s not necessary to look for GIA certified diamonds for a promise ring.

The ring is intended to be a much less expensive kind of ring than an engagement ring. The diamond, if any, will be much smaller. So the color, clarity, and cut grades aren’t really important.

Of course if you prefer a more expensive promise ring, and are going for a larger diamond, then by all means seek out a ring with a GIA, AGS, or IGI certificate from retailers such as those listed just below.

These retailers, listed below, are also excellent  places to find a large selection of Fancy color diamonds.

If your budget permits it, Fancy color diamonds can be very touching and appropriate for promise rings (even if they are more expensive than birthstones).

Great Retailers for High End Promise Rings of Fancy Color or White Diamonds

  • James Allen
  • Blue Nile
  • Brian Gavin

But for promise rings, it’s much less expensive, and just as good (for the purposes of a promise ring) to shop at retailers which offer large inventories of less expensive rings, with uncertified diamonds (if any).

Promise Ring vs Engagement Ring: One More Difference

As you’ve seen, then, promise rings are much more varied than engagement rings in style, materials, price, and meaning.

Whether you get a promise ring or engagement ring right now depends on your intentions, the state of the relationship, and the meaning you want to give the ring.

There’s one more difference when it comes to promise rings vs engagement rings. A promise ring can be a lot more fun.

  • A promise ring is less expensive.
  • The gifting is less pressure than a proposal of marriage.
  • It can bring you closer together without the pressure of an engagement before you’re ready.
  • It can be a light, reassuring, warm way to deepen a relationship and take it to the next level, but not all the way too engagement.

Contact Me

If you want my feedback on any question you have about promise rings, don’t hesitate to contact me. I’m not here just to point you toward engagement diamonds. I like seeing people get the rings they want, the rings they are ready for. If that’s a promise ring right now, it’s perfect.