The tradition of the ring
June 29, 2015
“Constancy and heaven are round
And in this the emblem’s found”
A plain iron hoop is the original ancestor of today’s modern engagement ring.
The old roman tradition was to give a ring, a symbol of the cycle of life and of eternity, as a public declaration that the marriage contract between a man and a woman would be honoured. Originally the ring was made of iron (a strong, albeit not overly romantic metal!) and gold was introduced sometime in the 2nd century AD. The Christians then adopted the custom, and so the ring became an integral part of the marriage service.
The tradition of using the fourth finger of the left hand as the place to wear this symbol of love emerged in the middle ages, as people believed that an artery from the heart leads straight there. However, men and women alike wore the ring on their thumbs between the 14th-18th centuries. And whenever the finger we know to be the “ring finger” today was used, the rings tended to grace the ends of the fingers. There were also times when rings were worn on a cord tied around the neck.
It was not until the 15th century that the symbolism of a ring ‘signifying eternity’ was strengthened by the emblem of matrimonial loyalty…the diamond. Yet legends of the diamond’s mythical properties come down through the ages. Hundreds of years before Christ, in India, where diamonds were discovered, the diamond was valued even more for its magic than for its great beauty, and was thought to protect from snakes, fire, poison, illness, thieves and all the combined forces of evil.
Each culture has prized the diamond for its unique qualities. In India, the colour of the diamond was thought to reflect the status of the wearer, which was why pure white diamonds were the most precious. Rome valued it for its hardness and believed it capable of breaking iron. The practical Chinese treasured it as an engraving tool, while the superstitious Italians trusted it to protect them against poison.
Uniquely able to resist fire and steel, the diamond (the name comes from ‘adamas’, Greek for unconquerable) epitomises unyielding and invincible strength. What better emblem of life-long partnership?
From the soft lustre of rough diamonds in the Renaissance to the dazzling pyrotechnics of 20th century polished sophistication, the diamond ring, like a charmed circle, is the true gift of love and loyalty between man and woman…. the ultimate seal on the promise made at marriage.
In medieval days, the rich were married with rings set with gems. By the 15th century the diamond, then the acknowledged symbol of nuptial faithfulness because of its resistance to fire and steel, became part of the ritual of weddings. Indeed, the use of a diamond ring for engagement seems to have been general towards the end of this century. A letter written in 1477 to Archduke Maximilian just before his promise of love to Mary of Burgundy declares, “At the betrothal, your Grace must have a ring set with a diamond and also a gold ring”. At that time, the diamond was used in its natural crystalline structure. The octahedral (or ‘eight-sided’) formation, like two pyramids joined at the base, was mounted with the lower pyramid completely hidden in the ring setting and the upper half rising proud above it. Light reflected from all four sides of this exposed upper point.
By the end of the 15th century, the first real breakthrough in cutting techniques emerged and in so doing opened up public opinion to a totally new shape: the tabletop cut. Here the diamonds pyramidal point is rubbed flat with diamond dust…the very first step towards modern polishing, the first turn of the key in unlocking the diamond’s hidden brilliance.
The tabletop cut became an important feature of the 16th century diamonds rings.
In the 20th century the diamond polisher has found the perfect mathematical proportions for producing stones of dazzling fire and brilliance. A classic round brilliant stone will have 58 facets, each one polished by hand.
This classic cut has been adapted to give us even more choice in the shape of our diamonds….. baguette, heart, pear, marquise, oval, and princess cuts, to mention but a few, all sparkle with polished precision.
An engagement ring is a matter of serious thought on the part of the young man, the best that his pocket can afford is what he desires and a ring that will please his fiancée’s taste is even more important. Either by asking her directly or from someone who knows her preference he finds out her desires and tries in every way to fulfil it. The solitaire diamond as large and perfect as he could afford has for many years been the standard engagement ring.
“Why two people fall in love is one of the last secrets that we may indeed never unravel. But when plans for the future emerge from feelings, rings will soon have a part to play. Their round form has no beginning and no end; there is no way to symbolise the permanency of inner attraction than in this form of jewellery.”
Throughout all the changes, the vivid beauty and indestructibility of the diamond ring continues to be the ultimate symbol of love and happiness.
“It’s an old yarn, but new every time told…..”
wrote the Poet Heinrich Heine.