Artifact Corner: Victorian Gold Ring

Hi Everyone, and welcome back to another artifact corner. Today we will be looking at a very small gold ring. This ring used to contain stones that would have formed a flower, but at some point the stones were removed. We don’t know why that was done. This ring is the modern equivalent of a size 4, which is pretty delicate. We know that our Frances Henrietta and Fannie Delord Webb Hall were very small women. We have examples of their clothing and their shoes, and they were both short in stature, and very petite. So, the size of this ring fit with what we know about the inhabitants of our house. Let’s learn more about the history of rings.

A ring is a round band, usually made of metal, worn as ornamental jewelry. A ring can be made of pretty much any hard material such as metal, wood, stone, or bone. The earliest still existing rings are found in the tombs of Ancient Egypt. They were primarily signet rings, and had more of a practice business purpose. A signet ring has a seal engraved on the bezel which can be used to authenticate documents by the wearer. Egyptian seal rings typically had the name and titles of the owner deeply sunk in hieroglyphic characters on an oblong gold bezel. The Ancient Greeks also had rings, but it seems like theirs were more decorative, and less for a specific function. In the Hellenistic period, Greeks started to set stones in the bezels of their rings. Carnelian and garnets were among their favorites, and the combination of gold and red was sure to have been a striking fashion statement. Roman rings held far more significance than merely being about decoration, they were a status symbol, and an indication of the wearers station in life. In the early centuries of the Roman Republic, most rings were of iron, which was a signal that the wearer was a free Roman citizen. Wearing of gold rings was restricted to certain classes, such as patricians who had held high office. The Romans are also thought to have originated the custom of betrothal rings, or engagement rings, symbolizing a promise of marriage.

Throughout the Middle Ages and the Renaissance, rings were assigned a great deal of importance, particularly in religion. Signet rings were important for religious, legal, and commercial transactions. From Kings to Popes, signet rings were a way of conferring their signature and authority to any document. In the fourteenth century King Edward II decreed that all official documents must be signed with the King’s signet ring. The majority of rings dating from these periods were destroyed when their owner died. This is because they were unique to the wearer and destroying it avoided any possibility of forged documents appearing after said nobleman’s death. Rings continued in popularity throughout the world and history, but with less of an emphasis on business. Most rings sold today are for decorative or fashionable purposes.

Rings today can be made of just about any material. You could buy a ring made from platinum or one made from silicone. Our ring was almost guaranteed to be strictly for decorative purposes. We wish we knew why the stones were removed, and what the stones were, but we don’t think we ever will. It is still a beautiful example of Victorian jewelry, and we are so lucky to have it in our collections. Thanks so much for stopping by!

Music: Acoustic Breeze by Benjamin Tissot,