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Types of Rings
No one knows exactly when the first person decided to slip a circle of metal around their finger and wear it as an ornament or decoration, but evidence has been found showing that people were wearing rings more than 5,000 years ago. They were common in many ancient civilizations in such varied places as India, China, the Near East, Egypt, Greece, and Rome. Today, rings are among the most popular type of jewelry, and they are worn for different reasons — to signify marriage or membership in a certain organization, or simply as a statement of personal style and fashion.
Since there are many different styles of rings, here is a brief description of some of the main types that are available.
A band is a ring that is uniform in width with no obvious “top.” It may be plain, engraved with letters or designs, or set with diamonds or gemstones. Bands are most often made of yellow gold or silver, but other materials such as titanium, white gold, rose gold, or platinum are also used. One of the most common types is the wedding band, which is designed to be worn every day. Bands may be given on other special occasions such as anniversaries. They can be worn together with a wedding ring, as a different version of a wedding band, or even on the right hand. Another type of band is the eternity ring, which is a woman’s ring made of precious metal (often gold) set with a continuous line of identically cut gemstones (usually diamonds) to symbolize never-ending love. Eternity rings — also called infinity rings — are usually given to a wife on a significant anniversary. A “half eternity” ring has stones across the ring face only, instead of all the way around, making it lighter and less cumbersome.
Before it was adopted as a Christian symbol, the trinity ring was part of Celtic culture. Also known as a triquetra or Celtic knot, it usually consists of three intertwined, different-colored precious metal bands that symbolize the Trinity of Christianity. Variations can be found; some modern versions have the three bands layered instead of interlocked, while others are made from bands of the same color and material. A trinity ring can be plain, engraved, or contain precious stones, such as diamonds or emeralds.
Also referred to as "statement" rings, the cocktail ring became popular in the 1940s when people began wearing them to cocktail parties — hence its name. Larger than a standard-sized ring, with an oversized center stone or many small stones in its setting, a cocktail ring is designed to attract attention with its size and colors. It is generally worn on the index or ring finger of the right hand. The gemstones are often imitation, and the metals are of inferior quality (such as nickel, 10k, or 14k gold). Cocktail rings can contain real diamonds, of course, but the clarity and color may not be top quality.
Antique and Vintage Rings
Rather than indicating a specific style, “antique” is a designation that refers to the age of the ring. A ring can be considered an antique if it is more than 100 years old. “Vintage” also refers to age; a vintage ring is less than 100 years old but wasn’t made in the last two or three decades. Jewelry described as vintage dates from approximately 1920 to 1980.
This type of ring has precious or semi-precious gemstones that are associated with the month of a person’s birth. The stones can be either synthetic or genuine, and each stone is said to have specific qualities associated with it. They are often given on special occasions and milestones such as birthdays, anniversaries, weddings, births, graduations, and holidays.
A bridal set is a pair of rings worn by a married woman on the ring finger of her left hand. One is her engagement ring, and the other is her wedding ring. They are usually worn stacked together and have a similar or complementing style. Traditionally, the wedding ring is worn on the inside and the engagement ring on the outside, but some women choose to wear them separately, one on each hand. A bridal set may come as part of a “wedding set,” which includes a third ring — a wedding band for the groom.
Originating in the Irish fishing village of Claddagh, this traditional Irish/Celtic ring features two hands holding a heart with a crown on it. The three elements are said to represent love (heart), loyalty (crown), and friendship (hands). The design dates to the 17th century. Both the hand it is worn on and the way the heart is facing can signify whether the wearer is single and available, single and in a relationship, engaged, or married.
Usually worn by men, nugget rings are larger than usual and designed to give the appearance of raw chunks of precious metal. As such, the texture and look of the ring are rough and often uneven. They are usually made of yellow gold and may or may not be set with gemstones. Smaller versions have gained popularity among women in recent years. Nugget rings are sometimes used as engagement, wedding, and anniversary rings in parts of Alaska and Canada since the gold mining industry was and is an important part of the economy and culture.
A cluster ring usually contains one large stone — often a diamond — that is surrounded by a “cluster” of other, smaller stones. The setting may use shared prongs that hold one or more of the stones in place at the same time. A cluster ring can also be a group of stones that are all the same size, without a larger, central stone.
Signet rings trace their history to ancient times, when men — who were often illiterate —used them as a seal of authenticity, much like a signature today. They eventually became symbols of authority, nobility, and status. Today, signet rings have specific designs that feature engraved or raised symbols, letters, or words with special significance to the wearer. They may have the wearer’s initials, rank, job title, or family crest, and they may contain one or more precious stones. Signet rings are often passed on from one generation to the next as a family heirloom. Some people wear a signet ring every day, while others don them only for special occasions.
The term “solitaire” is used to describe a piece of jewelry — ring, necklace, earring — that has one single diamond. Solitaire rings are often given on important occasions, such as birthdays and anniversaries, but are given most often as engagement rings. Different settings can be chosen, such as cathedral, bezel, and tension.