A History of Rings
Via: Who What Wear
The history of rings is a long and complicated one, much like the emergence of civilizations of the world. With the rise of complex social structures came specialised crafts and thus incredibly impressive ancient rings! Today we will be looking at the history of rings across the globe and how they were made across different regions and how this changed over time.
Before Rings: The Oldest Jewelry in The World
So what existed before rings? Jewelry existed for thousands of years long before the modern conception of a metal ring was invented. The oldest worn adornments were shell beads dated to 150,000 years ago in the western Morocco Desert. These were drilled simply and made into necklaces or bangles hung around the body.
Shell, bone, wood, and stone were common materials used to create adornments for the bodies of our ancestors before 10,000 BC (12,000 years ago). These could be modified in a variety of ways to craft beads or pendants. Theoretically as well they might have drilled these materials to create rings of basic designs, but there is no archaeological evidence of ‘rings’ until Ancient Egypt.
Ancient Egyptian Rings
The earliest example of a ring comes from the burial chambers of ancient Egyptian pharaohs about six thousand years ago. They were sacred religious items worn to ward off evil spirits or to acknowledge the gods' rule of the people. The earliest types of rings were stone ‘scarab rings’ carved from lapis lazuli, amethyst, rock crystal, and turquoise, woven with silver or golden thread. Over time their smiths became more skilled, and they created rings forged from molds with precious metals, including gold.
Rings were not simply used to look good but fulfill a role, from worshipping a god, curing an illness, or showing one’s social status as a member of high nobility. To a pharaoh, a ring represented eternity, with the round shape mirroring the sun, a circle with no beginning or end, with a hole as a gateway into the unknown. Some rings would represent this ideology, with a snake curling back on itself and eating its tail.
Ancient Greek Rings
The ancient Greeks showed exceptionally complex jewelry like ancient Egypt. Beginning with basic bands made of stone, wood, and bone, but with the rise of precious metal technologies, they evolved into bands made of gold and other materials.
The role of rings changed with the material in the society of those that wore them. They began as objects to represent social status and word of ailments or fulfill religious obligations, and over time became something more. Gold was a way to separate a rich man from a poor beggar, but by the end of the ancient world, gold was worn by even ordinary soldiers. This led to the rich buying expensive gems to inlay their golden bands to stand out.
One common Greek ring motif was to have a signet ring engraved with a phrase or figure from Greek mythology or literature. This could be a god that the wearer has sworn a lifelong allegiance to, such as Athena, to ensure a warrior going into battle is protected.
Ancient Roman Rings
It seems the emergence of the concept of a ‘modern-day wedding ring’ comes from the cultural traditions of Roman rings. Their technologies were shared between ancient Egypt and Greece, with varying motif designs but similar materials and purposes for overall wear. However, Romans also used rings to exchange oaths of love between partners.
Perhaps the emergence of wedding bands occurred with the birth of Christianity by the end of the Roman period? It held partnerships between a man and a woman in the form of a highly structured marriage. Rome did have organized betrothal ceremonies well before the religion spread, but how we understand marriage today, their customers were very different. To sum up, rings became objects of commitment and love between two people to get married and help each other through their trials of life.
The oldest Chinese rings were made of bone, wood, and stone as old as some of the first rings uncovered in ancient Egypt. These rings were for decorative purposes and protecting fingers from the draw of bows.
Over time rings became more ornate and made from precious metals and stones. They become objects to show off statuses, such as seen with the Emperors and their family.
During the Qin and Han dynasties, rings on the fingers of an Emperor's concubines meant particular things about the woman that wore them. If she wore a gold ring on her left hand, she was on her period and unavailable. If she were ready for intercourse, it would be silver on her left, and then when done, it was moved to her right hand.
During the Southern Song dynasty, rings became objects of betrothal. Rather than simply being objects to show social status or your availability for procreation, they could be used to display an eternal commitment between partners!
Rings were made from many materials, but jade and gold were the most precious! If you got yourself a ring made from either of those, you would be some of the most elite people in the empire.
Middle Eastern Rings
Egypt is part of the Middle East, so they have some of the oldest rings and lasting traditions surrounding these fantastic bands. Early on, these rings were made of basic materials until copper became a common ring type.
Over time technologies developed, and trade started to grow outside of the region and expand to places as far east as Asia or west as the UK. Stronger metals such as bronze and iron were discovered with these growing routes. And for adornments with ingots that glowed, there was plentiful gold to go around for elites!
The Middle East is home to some of the oldest trading networks and markets around, so in some ways, it became a vessel for the technologies of rings to spread around most of the known world. Goldsmithing came from Egypt, while delicate and elaborate ring crafting came from Persia and North Africa. All ring bands people did love their sparkly emeralds or rubies!
During the age of castles, kings, and noble knights rings were a well-developed craft that filled every fissure in society. Rings were both for the wealthy and the poor, and they defined the ara in many ways by the way they came to play a role in political games in court or finding a partner by presenting them with the prettiest looking ring.
Kings wore no less than one ring on every finger, and each was adorned with precious gems and crafted from gold. Technology did not change much from the classical eras of Europe; only ring styles changed, falling in and out of fashion like clothes per season. One of these types of popular styles was the jeweled signet ring that nobles wore to stamp their official documents with their official titles, and this came to include not just lords but general merchants as well.
The Renaissance saw a return to classical culture as neoclassical ideas took over. In rings, this saw a return to previous styles of rings that were last seen with the fall of the ancient world almost a thousand years earlier. This moment of renewed interest in the old, excavating lost knowledge of the past bought about a new age in western culture. With names like Da Vinci, rings became more experimental, even if they were also bringing about a return to classical imagery.
Age of Enlightenment Rings
Via: Atlas Obscura
With the Renaissance coming to an end by the late 1600s, there were new technologies that developed out of the new knowledge obtained from looking back on the classical world. There was a drive for academic study, and technological advancement at a scale not seen before, and with this came new rings in the market.
One of these included hitting niche markets by inventors who wanted to drive a tiresome (to some) classical print. Such as what is seen above with this mechanical-looking set of engagement rings dated to the 17th century. You can see the rise of Latin into the common tongue as a way to send secret messages between ‘learned people’ of the upper classes. Moreover, these rings would have been locked during the ceremony and often worn by the bride as a symbolic commitment to enteral love.
This type of experimentation was possible because the rise of technologies led to the development of machines that could make rings on a mass scale which reached its dominance by the end of the Victorian era. Rings were no longer hand-made and were instead sleeker, but less unique.
Via: Gem Society
During the Victorian era of the 1800s rings were mass-produced and so became cheaper than before to purchase. This rise in the number of rings led to some creating unique pieces which could not easily be replicated by a machine in an attempt to bring back some humanity to rings. An example of this is rings which were made of precious metals and rare gems which could not be made on a massive scale.
The types of symbols Victorian ring wearers enjoyed included motifs seen across time but were particularly interested in the Gothic and Medieval Periods. This was also where the birth of archaeology occurred, and so many were starting to take up an interest in replicating rings of the past.
Modern Rings: Final Remarks
The period of ‘modern’ exists from 1901 to the present. There are soo many artistic movements that emerged after the end of the Victorian ara it is hard to pinpoint what a modern ring looks like. An easy way to get around this conundrum is to say there is not just one modern ring, but a large collection of different movements and styles depending on the time and region they are being made.
Rings in the last century have become a craft anyone can take up, and this has made it soo much easier with the new technologies and the rise of the internet to learn these skills. What makes a ring special is often the story behind its creation, the love put into it by its crafter, and the materials.
Gold and silver for the longest time dominated most rings made in the market, but nowadays there is a shift to stronger metals like Tungsten Carbide, Titanium, and Damascus. Rings are about the feel, and the promise they will last a lifetime.
And for those that love looks, gold and silver still hold a special place in the market of rings, but for a modern ring, there is also an exploration of new materials to push the boundaries of what makes an amazing ring.
Thorum uses a range of unique materials which include: