27 May 2022
Charlotte Soares reflects on the rings that our ancestors may once have worn, and their significance and sentiment.
In the sixties, an advert running in many magazines proclaimed ‘a diamond is forever’ – long before the 1971 James Bond film of the similar name. The advert was for solitaire engagement rings, a single stone symbolising eternity, and originated in the De Beers 1947 diamond advertising campaign. Marilyn Monroe made the song ‘Diamonds are a girl’s best friend’, famous in the fifties. More recently Lady Diana’s engagement ring created a fashion that was followed by many in the years to come. That ring, which the Duchess of Cambridge now wears, was a large Ceylon sapphire surrounded by 14 diamonds. This setting became immensely popular as an alternative to the solitaire engagement ring.
Diamonds can be cut to different shapes: heart, princess, cushion, marquise, pear and radiant, asscher and emerald cut. It can be a bezel setting with a band that surrounds it to hold it securely but still let light through.
After engagement comes the wedding ring, a band with no beginning and no end and the open space inside full of possibilities. It is worn on the third finger of the left hand in Britain. This finger was supposed by the Egyptians to have been the vein that led to the heart. The Romans called this vein the Vena Amoris, the vein of love.
It is usually of gold but can be silver or platinum and can be worn by bride and groom. During the lean years of the war, brass curtain rings were the lot of poor brides. The hope was that it would be replaced in better years by something more valuable. Iron has also been used, and in Roman days an iron ring was for every day and a gold band was for going out.
Anniversary rings are sometimes bought for important decades of marriage with stones set a third or half way round the band. Eternity rings given by husbands to wives later in their marriage, can spell words with the initials of the gems used (acrostic rings) e.g., Regard, Adore or Dearest: Diamond, Emerald, Amethyst, Ruby, Emerald, Sapphire, Tourmaline. Napoleon had some pieces made for Josephine.
Charlotte Soares' passions are writing, history, music, travel and making patchwork quilts. She has self-published family histories and undertaken trips with other people to further their research on location.
Extracted from an in-depth article on rings and their significance for our ancestors, in the July 2022 issue of Family Tree magazine. Get your copy here.