There is nothing like a great piece of big bling, especially when it comes in the form of a ring, like the one designed by Tiffany’s for Gatsby’s ‘Jazz Age’ and worn by author F. Scott Fitzgerald’s great character Daisy, which in the movie features at least a 4+ carat diamond at its centre.
A ring symbolizes the type of financial power that makes luxury possible and conveys social distinction on its wearer, while reflecting the continuing evolution of both our society and culture.
It is a never-ending circle of fidelity, honour and hope and a great example of love jewellery. The perfect expression of Paris and romance during the 20’s to the 30’s, which embraced every area of design and the decorative arts.
Art Deco (c1910 – c1940) style rings are very definitely all about glamour.
Its sophisticated high quality always fashionable and elegant styling reached the apex of its popularity between two global conflicts, World War I and II.
The style came to full fruition through the Paris Salons of the 1920’s manifesting itself emotionally with zest and playfulness, borrowing its ideas and concepts from virtually all the design styles of the past in order to fashion the future.
Rings on the finger, and indeed rings worn on other parts of one’s person, have been worn continuously since the 3rd Millennium BCE by all civilisations.
It is a very powerful historical object because of the symbolism, stories, mystique, magic and often extreme realms of fantasy, which are attached to its evolution, alongside that of humankind.
It also symbolises an important connection between the modern and ancient world and love and marriage.
A ring has no beginning and no end and represents the enduring qualities of true love, important social connections and, that what goes around comes around again.
It can be anything from a plain unbroken band encircling the finger to being a symbol of luxury, by having the most elaborate of designs inset with diamonds, other precious gemstones and applied decoration.
‘Big girls need big diamonds’, said 20th century Hollywood actress Elizabeth Taylor (1932-2011), and she is one lady who would have known.
She received many magnificent examples of diamond love jewellery, from her various husbands, including a spectacular single diamond ring weighing 69.4 carats, which was also adaptable as a pendant.
Diamond is the hardest natural material on earth and symbolises power, sovereignty and eternal love. Individual diamonds down through the centuries have achieved great renown, given as tokens of esteem between both enemies and allies.
A diamond’s value is always determined by its 4c’s; carat, colour, cut and clarity, which are allied to the purity, magnificence and material value of the stones. Then you value-add with great provenance and style
Traditionally rings have been made of precious metals, such as gold and silver and, as they developed gemstones were added, enamels applied and ivory inserted with manufacture from plastics, acrylics and recycled materials heralding the arrival of the modern age.
In Ancient Egypt the scarab beetle was the motif most used, with its symbolism being about being given new life. By hanging a scarab on a wire before twisting it shut the most popular style of Egyptian ring, came into being.
The scarab beetle was the motif most used in Ancient Egypt and is associated with a pectoral, or talisman that was worn to protect the chest, breast, or thorax. The scarab was also directly associated with the birth of the sun, by analogy a ball, which the dung beetle pushed before him, and as such became an emblem of resurrection.
Scarabs were made of different materials but mostly obsidian, amethyst and lapis lazuli all set into a gold fund, or else rimmed so that the underside could be seen.
The swivelling bezel became the most popular method for manufacturing rings throughout the New Kingdom (1550 BCE – 1295)
From that time on also, the decoration of the mount became more and more elaborate, the bezels often taking on the form of a plaque or cylinder or, a fancier shape, made from semi precious stone, glass or glazed composition.
The word ring was particularly associated with ear ornaments as well in ancient times, which at first were worn only by women, but later by men. Pharaoh Tuthmosis IV (1400 – 1390 BCE) is known to have had pierced ears.
However a Pharaoh is never depicted wearing ear ornaments, although Egyptian Queens are rarely shown without them.
It has been suggested the practice may have come from the east, as it is known that they were worn in Mesopotamia a thousand years earlier.
They also may have been adapted from the style of earrings the Nubian people to the south are known to have worn.
The Nubians served as mercenaries to the princes at Thebes, helping them to expel their enemies, before settling into their adopted country.
This massive, elegant gold ring dating from c.350BC with platinum inclusions is in the British Museum. It has a flat oval bezel and a hoop of rounded diamond-shaped cross-section.
The design on the bezel, which is mainly, if not entirely engraved, shows the naked Greek goddess Aphrodite leaning against a small, fluted pillar on the top of which are her clothes.
She wears a simple necklace, bracelets and anklets and a bird rests on the back of her outstretched hand.
On the right a tiny Eros reaches up with a wreath.
The art of engraving metals and gemstones can be traced back to the ancient Greeks some eight centuries before the Christ event, and earlier. These techniques were passed down to the Egyptians and then to the Romans.
The ancient Greeks made stunning gold jewellery, although according to one of the most revered sources of ancient Greek, Roman and Etruscan antiquity F.H. Marshall, who produced his catalogue of the finger rings in 1907 for the British Museum at London ‘there seems to be no evidence of this custom [of rings as tokens of betrothal] having existed among the Greeks’.
His theory has been accepted until the contemporary age, when some scholars have advanced the notion that the visual evidence of imagery on rings indicates that some may have been tokens of love, although perhaps not as commonplace as by later Roman times.
Etruscan jewellers excelled in the technique of granulation and filigree in making gold jewellery, as evidence in this glorious gold finger ring with a cornelian scarab that is held within a network of wire like a cage and engraved with a sphinx now in the British Museum. It dates from 400 – 300 BC and was excavated in Italy, acquired by the British Museum in 1859 from Bram Hertz (1837-1865).
Wearing gold rings was originally the privilege of the Equestrian order in Roman society and borrowed heavily from Greek Hellenistic goldwork.
Snakes were the symbol of a number of deities associated with healing, including the Egyptian goddess Isis and the Greek god of medicine Asclepios.
It was therefore a commonly used pattern in jewellery, its spiral shape lending itself well to rings and necklaces. Worn as an amulet, the snake protected its wearer.
That wily old documenter of Roman times, Pliny the Elder recorded ‘People nowadays go to buy clothes in China, look for pearls in the depth of the Red Sea and emeralds in the bowels of the earth…moreover, the practice of piercing the ears has been invented.
It did not suffice to wear jewels round the neck, in the hair and on the hands; they also have to be stuck in the body!’
By the first century after the Christ event it was unusual for a man to wear more than one ring.
It is recorded Marcus Licinius Crassus, a contemporary of Julius Caesar, was one of the first men to wear two finger rings publicly.
Along with other insignia, the ring was introduced into Roman life via the Etruscans and worn ‘as an emblem of warlike valour’ and made of iron, especially for Roman generals celebrating a triumph.
By the end of the Republican period the gold ring was worn by those of military rank and Emperors of Rome keenly bestowed them on those who had earned the right to wear it, dependent on wealth and status.
The Emperor Septimius Severus permitted every soldier in the Roman army to wear a gold ring in the year 197, gifting them to those distinguishing themselves in battle
The most popular stones used were agate, amethyst, and carnelian, emerald, garnet, jasper, pearl, rock crystal and sapphire with glass for beads and inlays.
Carving precious stones in Roman times was rather more than a mere adjunct to the manufacture of jewellery it was a much-underestimated index of attitudes and interests.
This is a period when cursive writing was not fully developed and so a stone or gem had its flat surface engraved with a recognizable image, which was then stamped into warm wax or clay as an effective form of signature.
During the Imperial period in Rome both men and women wore rings and some were given as betrothal rings, which has ongoing important significance for the history of rings to come.
It was during the second and third century that betrothal rings first came into vogue, especially those with ‘clasped hands’, which was a sign of loyalty and love.
This device called a ‘Fede’, two right hands joined would become a favourite during the Renaissance period, or re-birth of Roman culture at the end of the Middle Ages, when it would represent an exchange between lovers, friends, armies and nations.
Carolyn McDowall, The Culture Concept Circle, 2013