It would probably be difficult to find a subject more full of interest, at least to feminine minds, than that of rings, and particularly betrothal and wedding rings, since from earliest ages love has been ever busy with his shuttle weaving a web of happy dreams and tender associations round these shining circlets. In bygone days the circular form of the ring was accepted as the symbol of eternity, and thus indicative of the durability of affection. The following paragraph from the pen of an eminent divine of a former century is worthy of repetition.
"The matter of which this ring is made is gold, signifying how noble and durable our affection; the form is round to imply our respects (or regards) shall never have an end; the place of it is on the fourth finger of the left hand, whence the ancients thought there was a vein which came directly from the heart, and where it may be least subject to be worn out. But the main end is to be a visible and lasting token of the covenant, which must never be forgotten."
An old Latin work, which ascribes the invention of the ring to Tubal-Cain, concludes with this explanation, "The form of the ring being circular, that is, round, and without end, importeth this much, that mutual love and hearty affection should roundly flow from one to the other, as in a circle, and that continually for ever."
The ring was chosen as the pledge of an engagement or pre-marriage contract from the old Jewish custom of exchanging or giving something as ratification of an agreement or bargain, and also from the Roman practice of the giving of a ring as earnest upon the conclusion of a bargain.
So much for its shape and meaning; but before proceeding to give illustrations of the various ways in which the circle has been ornamented and adorned in different times and countries the following little anecdote may be permitted.
The Unending Circle
But, as the maiden's choice had not fallen upon him, she looked her admirer up and down in a somewhat disconcerting fashion, then quietly replied, "Good sir, in this ring also behold the symbol of my love for thee, inasmuch as it hath no beginning."
Some Old Betrothal Rings
One would naturally suppose that, as the ages have passed, the earlier forms of ring have become extinct; but this is really not so, and it is very interesting to compare several of the forms used at the present day with their remote prototypes, and notice that often there is a striking resemblance between them.
Since this article is intended to embrace only those rings used in the United Kingdom, we will omit mention of those found in old earthworks and tumuli, since they are legacies of invading forces, and not really proper to the country.
The Fede Ring
Still another form is shown in Fig. 10, and it will be seen that the jointed parts are so made that when the three portions of the ring are in correct position the two hands clasp each other to form the usual bezel.
Occasionally the gimmel consisted of three parts, and it was of such an one that Herrick wrote: "Thou sentest to me a true love-knot, but I Return a ring of jimmals to imply Thy love had one knot, mine a triple tye."
In the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries inscription, or "motto," rings became highly fashionable, the mottoes usually being of an ethical or religious character, such as, "In Deus salus"; "Tout pour bien faire," etc., the inscription often being on the outside of the ring.
The word is taken from Genesis xxxi. 49, when Laban and Jacob made a heap of stones as a witness of the covenant between them. The actual word means a beacon, or watch-tower.
"And Laban said. 'This heap is a witness between me and thee this day.' Therefore was the name of it called Galeed, and Mizpah, for he said, 'The Lord watch between me and thee, when we are absent one from another.'"
Usually the word was raised in simple lettering but sometimes Old English or fancy letterings were employed.
In the fifteenth century the words or lines were usually placed externally (Fig. 7); but at the beginning of the sixteenth century they were inscribed within the hoop (Fig. 5).
Some of the most popular posies of the sixteenth century were:
And in the seventeenth century these gold circlets were usually elaborately chased "outside, and contained such sentiments as:
While the eighteenth century gives us:
The Carter Ring
When these rings were first made thev were formed like a badge of the Order of the Garter, with the buckle in front, and outside the hoop the motto of the and inside any chosen posy, such as "I'll win and wear thee."
For some time the buckle rings, which came into vogue about fifty years ago, were made solid; then later they were made to open and display the loved one's name beneath the fastening.
Last century saw the introduction of the "Harlequin" ring into our midst (Fig. 14). These derive their names from the fact that they were set with several stones of different colour, and thus somewhat resembled the motley dress of the pantomime hero.
Beside being used in the ever-popular plain band, they were made in the three and even five tier ring, which Queen Victoria Eugenie of Spain chose for her betrothal ring.
EVER since the world was young a gift has served as an appropriate, and generally, it may be assumed, an acceptable, medium for the expression of the loftiest sentiments of the human heart. Esteem, friendship, love — how many times have these been thus delicately expressed? And a gift is, like mercy, twice blessed: blessing the donor with the delightful sense of pleasure conferred, and the recipient with the thrilling joy which flows from the consciousness of being loved.
Herein lies the charm and secret of lovers' gifts, which, after all, bear with them the best of all gifts — the good intention of the giver. And as lovers are somewhat of monopolists, seeking ever to appropriate that which is best, it is no matter for surprise that from time immemorial they have so universally favoured the ring as the most fitting though "a small token of no small friendship" and devotion. The choice is as natural as it is happy. A perfect emblem, even in its simplest form, the ring may yet be en-motto enriched and embellished without detriment to its exquisite symbolism.
It seems but natural, therefore, to find among the oldest love rings in the world the golden circlet glittering with gems, and, as in the case of one here illustrated (Fig. 1), the name of the loved one engraved upon a precious stone. It would be unkind to criticise the workmanship; it is more pleasant to try to imagine the delight of the fair recipient, whose feet were treading, possibly for the first time, the flowery path of love.
Names, mottoes, and sentiments were commonly inscribed upon these old love-rings, just as they were upon betrothal and wedding rings, until comparatively recent years. Poesies, too, for lovers, as Touchstone reminds us, are given tO poetry; and in Queen Anne's time a gallant who had composed a happy couplet or hit upon a felicitous phrase, ruffled it not a little among his intimates, to whom he was an object of envy or admiration.
Love rings were also bestowed by the fair sex on their hearts' choice, the second figure depicting one of the fifteenth century, a massive gold band inscribed "Souvenez vous" — a most appropriate sentiment for those who are striving to attain the ideal of love, which, as Madame de Stael once said, is "to feel as one while remaining two."
Associated with this custom of giving love rings was that of presenting them as New Year's gifts and as valentines. The former were often attached to a usuaUy inscribed "En bon an", the latter with some playful or tender sentiment, and that prince of gossips, Pepys, records in his diary his delight on receiving such a token from his wife.(Fig. 3.)
Another old-time custom, fragrant with delightful sentiment, was for lovers to exchange rings, not only on plighting their troth, but on occasions when an unkind fate separated them for a while. In this Connection a familiar scene in "Two Gentlemen of Verona" arises before the memory. It is where Julia, in the "sweet sorrow" of the parting moment, gives Proteus a ring saying, "Keep you this remembrance for thy Julia's sake"; and Proteus replies, "Why, then, we make exchange. Here, take you this."
Yet another custom of bygone days was for a ring to be broken, the lovers each retaining a half, sometimes attaching it to a chain; and if, when fortune brought about their re-union, the dissevered parts were found to fit exactly this was accepted as a proof that both lovers had been true to their vows. (Fig. 4.)
Similar is the quaint practice, still prevalent in country districts of Scotland, of breaking of a Sixpence; but the story goes that one thrifty Scot, and highly practical to boot, told his Jean that "it waur a sinful waste of guid siller to brak' a saxpence, so I hae just changed it into twa threepenny bits. Ye tak'the' ane, lassie, an' I'll keep th' ither".
During the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries the love ring was very much in evidence. There was an indefinable element in the atmosphere of those picturesque periods which seemed to foster the growth and expression of sentiment. Life was more leisurely, and a Stately courtesy lent charm as well as dignity to social intercourse, while all philosophy was tinged with poetry.Men did not disdain to wear a ring fashioned in the style of a true-lovers' knot; and among the treasures of the Earl of Northampton who died in 1614 was "a golde ringe sett with fifteene diamondes in a true-lovers' knotte, with the wordes Nee asiu, nee ense" — Without guile and without force (Fig. 5).
But a sweet simplicity was not altogether characteristic of the love rings of the eighteenth century. In point of design they erred on the side of being too ornate and cumbersome. Take, for example, the ring illustrated in Fig. 6. So wide is the bezel that it would cover two fingers of an ordinary hand. Set against a background of deep blue enamel, the shepherd's hat, pipe, and crook, and the floral embellishments, depicted in seed pearls, stand out with striking yet crude effect, the ribbon and rosettes, represented by rubies, offering a welcome relief. It was the age of Watteau and of Dresden china shepherds and shepherdesses, but there is little of Arcadian simplicity in this design — little to suggest the oppositeness of the line, "Phyllis is my only joy."
Much more pleasing, by reason of the wit and artistic merit which it displays.
It is a French love ring (Fig. 7) of gold, set with four crystals, surrounded by diamonds and divided by four panels of deep blue enamel, inscribed, "Amour veille stir elle." On the crystals are the letters L A C D, a phonetic and rather witty rendering of "Elle a cede." It is a characteristic example of the dainty lightness of a Frenchman's fancy.
The Giardinetti rings, so delicately constructed and with such a delightful play of colour flashing from the variously hued gems, must have been a welcome relief from, as they are a welcome contrast to, the almost Brobdingnagian productions which they superseded. And this tendency towards a more restrained display is further illustrated in such dainty rings as are shown in Figs. 10 and 11. Both are distinguished by a touch of humour. In the one we have a gold grating over the window of a miniature cell wherein is imprisoned a ruby heart; in the other, a white enamel Cupid is depicted in the act of flying off with a heart, for which a ruby again does slender hoop is inscribed, "Stop thief!".
The harlequin and regard rings, such as are shown in Figs 12 and 13, acquire an added interest from the fact that jewellers are trying to re-introduce these styles, which, though widely different in sentiment, share in common the merit — if merit it be — of a rich and varied display of gems. The former, as the name indicates, represent, in a manner, the motley garb of the genius of pantomime. The latter possess a more poetic purpose, the initial letters of the various gems rendering the name of the fair recipient.
Thus, a pearl, an emerald, an amethyst, a ruby, and a lapis-lazuli give, as in the ring here sketched, the name Pearl. In connection with these regard rings, it is interesting to recall the fact that our late King Edward VII. shortly after his marriage presented Queen Alexandra with "un gage d'amour," as the French happily style these dainty ornaments, with his name, Bertie, represented by a beryl, an emerald, a ruby, a turquoise, and an emerald.
It is a thousand pities that so graceful and charming a custom was ever allowed to drop out of fashion, and one cannot but welcome the attempt to restore it to favoUr.
There is a delightfully delicate element of sentiment in lovers' gifts, and as such gifts, rings indeed are ideal, for surely the recipient of such a gift will be the better able to realise the truth of Charles Lamb's witty remark, that "Presents endear absents."
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