The finger ring is one of the earliest jewelry in human history. Finger rings have been found in tombs in Ur dating back to circa 2500 BC. [6.] Archaeological material shows that the types of rings that arose in the ancient times have not lost their role and significance even nowadays. They are "the most common and perhaps the most evocative pieces of jewelry. Worn as a sign of love or as a fashion accessory, to mark weddings, to remember the dead, or to show religious faith, they hold a multitude of meanings. They might also display less private sentiments, by reflecting the currents of politics and public events." [1.]
Throughout history rings have followed trends of decorative arts. Rachel Church [1.] states that rings are a miniature history of art and design. [1.]
The oldest rings had a certain design. Many of them can be divided into three main elements - the hoop, the bezel and the shoulder. The hoop, which encircles the finger, can be plain, enameled, engraved or inscribed. The most impressive part of some rings is the bezel as it might be set with a gemstone or a seal, or feature an engraved or enameled design. [1.] Some rings have sculptural shoulders to join the hoop of the bezel which makes the ring even more impressive.
The Most Ancient Rings
"Rings became more common in Egypt from c. 2000 BC, especially scarab rings which also were used as portable seals. The scarab beetle, usually carved in stone, was engraved with a hieroglyph 'signature' on its underside, and had a hole drilled along its length."[5.] During the time of Tutankhamun, more conventional seal rings have appeared. Ring owner's name was engraved on the upper face of the bezel. Also more elaborate rings consisting of sculpted figures of the gods and symbolic animals were made in Ancient Egypt. Very popular was the polychrome inlay rings with simple lotus flower motifs. [5.]
Egyptians made not only stone rings but also metal rings. Some faience rings in Ancient Egypt were used as new year gifts. [3. ]
The Greek & Roman Antiquity. The Byzantine Splendor & Dark Ages
In the ancient world, various rings were worn, signet rings, rings set with stones carved into the shape of the Egyptian scarab beetle [4.] as the native styles were superseded by Greek and Roman fashions during the Ptolemaic dynasty. [7.] Such Egyptian scarab beetle rings often swivelled to reveal a flat lower surface carved with a device used as a seal. [4.] During that times were introduced new techniques including the use of a cutting wheel and a drill so that hard stones such as cornelian could be carved. [4.]
Ancient Roman jewelers were also the great innovators. "The great contribution of the Romans to jewelry was the cameo, cutting away the top surface of a stone to reveal darker shades below, used for bracelets, rings and pendants. Another innovation was the setting into rings of coins. Bronze and iron rings sometimes have a small key attached, probably to unlock a dactyliotha or cabinet of rings or women's jewel-boxes." [4.]
When Roman Empire collapsed, Byzantium became the cultural center of the world. Early Byzantine jewelry was Roman in influence, but at the same time there was also Persian and Arabic influences that made costume and jewelry became more opulent. Heavy decorated clothing was worn, shot through with gold and large areas were covered with pearls and precious stones. [4.]
During the so-called Dark Ages, Ancient Roman jewelry prototypes were amended and transformed among the Germanic tribes and the Celts. However, the Celtic people stood out with an independent approach. This produced hammered work with details in repousse, the use of colored enamel, amber, and rounded-cut rocks and crystals that were embedded in finger rings. Their design differed with use of interwining curves and naturalistic details. Exactly that approach was different from that of the ancient world.
To be continued...
References & Further Reading:
1. Church R. Rings. - London: Thames & Hudson, Victoria & Albert Museum, 2017.
2. Newmann H. An Illustrated Dictionary of Jewelry. - London: Thames & Hudson, 2000.
3. Ogden J. Ancient Jewellery Interpreting the past.- University of California Press, 1992.
4. Pearsall R. A Connoisseur's Guide to Antique Jewelry. - New York: Todtri Book Publishers, 1999.
5. Phillips C. Jewelry: From Antiquity to the Present - London: Thames & Hudson, 1996.
6. Tait H. (editor). 7000 Years of Jewellery. - British Museum Press, 2006.
7. Taylor G., Scarisbrick D. Finger Rings From Ancient Egypt to the Present Day. - Ashmolean Museum, 1978.