Jewelry History – Rings

Jewelry History: Rings

Rings are possibly the most popular style of jewelry there is.  Regardless of whether we conduct a phone poll, an Internet poll or simply review our sales: rings are always at the top of people’s lists.

Maybe it’s because rings are easy to wear, range from symbolizing eternal love to one’s purity or funky fashion sense, and date back to roughly 5,000 B.C.  The first rings were made from stone, bone or clay.  They were worn by both men and women.  Artisans crafted rings to represent their station in the group, their prowess as a hunter or to ward off evil spirits and bad luck.

Ancient Roman Signet Ring

As time passed, rings became more intricate. With advances in technology, precious metals like gold, silver, copper and bronze entered the scene.  Romans often wore multiple rings at once with each used for a specific purpose.  Many wore signet rings, used to stamp correspondence in place of a signature, others represented family seals and the female head of the household wore a ring set with a key to symbolize her position.  With gold in abundance, gold rings were often the most popular, followed by bronze and other metals.

Roman Ring 100 AD

Roman Ring 100 AD

In additional to stylized rings, gemstone rings became popular.  Certain gemstones represented different things.  If you were afraid of the poison rings of the day, you could wear topaz that was said to change color in the presence of dangerous substances.  If you wanted to party like Dionysus, you would done the purple amethyst as a way of ensuring your sobriety. If it was your birthday, you donned the Annulus Natalitus (the ancient equivalent to the modern birthstone rings we now wear year round).

In the new age with a new monotheistic religion in place, the devout were told to steer away from false idols.  What were once seen as insurance against harm and bringers of luck were now quite the

Gold Cloisonné Ring from the Middle Ages

Gold Cloisonné Ring from the Middle Ages

opposite.   Just like with earrings, many stopped wearing rings as talisman.  Few wore rings simply as adornment, possibly because it linked the wearer with the occult.  In fact, Joan of Arc was accused of her villainy partly due to the fact she wore rings.  Her association with such “charms” led many to believe she was involved with magic.

With time, the negative connotation waned and rings once again became popular.  In fact, rings flourished.  People wore not one or two, but one or two on each finger.  New meanings sprang forth for different types and the popular styles of today were born.  Engagement rings, friendship rings, purity rings, and even religious rings flourished.

Today, there aren’t many rules when it comes to wearing a ring.  Choose something that is versatile, light enough for easy wear and something that makes you smile.  Remember, every time you’re slipping on a ring, your following a historical tradition thousands of years old.

Jewelry Illustrations: Ring Parts Diagram

Shank – the shank is the ring’s band.

  1. Upper Shank – The upper shank is the top portion of the ring.  This area is generally where the ring’s decoration lies.
  2. Lower Shank – This lower shank is the bottom half of the ring if bisected at the diameter.   The interior of the lower shank is often engraved with personal messages and is where one can find the metal stamping.

    Ring Parts Diagram

    Ring Parts Diagram

Under Gallery – The under-gallery is the interior of the upper shank.  It is generally open to allow maximum light to reach the stone and is comprised of the settings and support structure.

Feature Stone – Refers to the only stone in a single stone ring or the largest stone in a multi-set ring.  Generally, but not always, the feature stone is set at the center-top of the ring centralized along the upper shank.

Prongs – A prong is a type of setting that holds a gemstone in place.  While there are various types like bezel, channel and pave, the prong setting is one of the most popular.

Stations – A station is a jewelry term that refers to a repetitive grouping of gemstones.  For example, we this “O” a topaz and this “Y” a diamond, each “YYOYY” in the following pattern YYOYY-YYOYY would be considered a station.

Girdle – The girdle of the ring more specifically refers to the gemstone or feature gemstone’s widest part.  Girdles are generally mentioned more with anniversary, engagement and wedding solitaire rings as the stone’s girdle directly affects the amount of light refracted by the diamond.

Face – Also referred to as the crown, the face is generally the top most facet of the stone.  With many, the surface of a cut gemstone is flat, but with a cushion cut, the face would be multi-faceted.

Don’t Know Your Ring Size?

Check our our Ring Sizing Tool HERE!  Ring size is measured differently across the world, but all sizes are determined by the ring’s diameter.  You’ll find more information on the various ring sizes and ring size conversions at’s ring page.

Ring Size Diagram

2 responses to “Jewelry History – Rings

  1. Hi Danielle,
    Not sure of the etiquette involved, so thought I’d ask permission.
    As a new blogger, I’d like to use your photo of an Antique Roman
    Signet Ring in a blog post. I would post your web address with it.
    I found the photo through a Google search.
    Thanks for your consideration!

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