The Antiquity of Betrothal Rings - Egyptian Rings - Jewish and Foreign Rings - " Regard " and
Name Rings - Martin Luther's Betrothal Ring
"When our thoughts go back to old forgotten, far-off things and wooings long ago, they turn instinctively to those broad, sun-scorched plains of Egypt, through whose desert places
"flows the lordly Nile, From the banks the great stone faces Gaze with patient smile!"
Ages and ages have passed since Luxor, beloved to-day of tourists, was once the ancient city of Thebes, the city of a hundred gates, the capital of Rameses II., whose imperious and beautiful daughter defied convention and drove her own swift chariot over the fiery sands.
Ages and ages have passed since those days, but the sculptured figures upon the rocky banks still sit motionless, impassive through the centuries, gazing with quiet, inscrutable eyes across the blue waters of their well-loved Nile, thinking - ah! could they but unbend from their fearsome majesty, and tell us the history of their days, of their hopes and fears, and, above all, of the mighty love which came sweeping in an overwhelming tide into their hearts and lives, turning the grey to golden, and the shadow to sunshine, and bringing into the eyes of some lovely daughter of a proud Pharaoh "the light that never shone on land or sea "! But the quiet eyes and the baffling smile change not. The stone lips are silent. We must be content, therefore, to dream our own dreams and picture our own visions of the Wooings of those bygone kings, in the fair assurance that, apart from custom and race traditions, it varied very little from what we know to-day. "In all ages every human heart is human," and love is infinite and changeless, having no age, but youth eternal.
Round the first illustration, then, We may weave what fancies we like. It represents an Egyptian betrothal ring, now in the Eastern section of the South Kensington Museum.
It is very dainty in construction, being composed of a single slender hoop, from which hang a number of heartshaped lamina; of thin gold, intermingled with beads of coral, so that as the wearer moved her hand the little pendants must have swung and jingled with a faint musical sound, even as the modern Egyptian girl desirous of attracting throws out her hands so that the bracelets upon her wrists, adorned with little silver bells, may jingle daintily as she moves along.
Fig. I. An ancient Egyptian betrothal ring. From the ring depend heart - shaped pieces of gold and beads of coral, that jingle as the wearer moves her hand
Fig. 3. Top view of Fig. 2.
Note flat bezel at top of sketch is centre in Fig. 2 represents the Ark of the
Fig. 3a. The pointed bezel
Sometimes precious stones, such as diamonds, were used instead of the coral. Then the effect would have been more striking and arrestive to the eye.
From Pharaoh, the ruler, let us turn to Israel, the ruled and oppressed, and note the curious forms of the Jewish betrothal ring (Figs. 2, 3, 3a).
Very elaborate and wonderful are these rings, too large and complicated to be worn, but suitable only for use at the actual betrothal ceremony, which Was regarded as so important in the eyes of Jewish lovers.
The prevailing design depicts a single, very wide hoop, ornamented with five knobs, or bosses, set round at regular intervals, the bezel usually taking the form of the Ark of the Covenant, or a tower or temple surmounting all.
These rings were of gold, elaborately ornamented with fine filigree scroll-work, which forms a conspicuous feature in all of them, and decorated with enamel, white and blue or green.
The "Temple" is self-explanatory, and the five bosses are often supposed to represent the number of witnesses at the ceremony which the Jewish law required.
This class of ring is sometimes referred to as the Mazal Tob. which means " Joy be with you." or "Good luck to you," since this was the favourite Hebrew inscription engraved on the inside.
There are many beautiful German and Flemish rings of this type still in existence, a number of them dating from the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. After the ceremony was over the rings were taken off and kept as mementoes by the contracting parties. One cannot help wondering what kind of treasures these Israelitish women carried back with them into Palestine, when, by Pharaoh's orders, they were at length driven out from Egypt, and ere they departed " did according to the word of Moses, and they borrowed (or ' demanded ') of the Egyptians jewels of silver and jewels of gold and raiment, and they spoiled the Egyptians."
Fig. 2. An antique Jewish betrothal ring. An elaborate form of ring, used, probably, only at the actual betrothal ceremony
Fig. 4. An Fast Indian silver "pendant" ring, with pear-shaped drops that tinkle as the hand moves
Fig. 4 represents an East Indian ring very similar in idea to that of the Egyptian one, inasmuch as it is composed of a single band, but a wide one in this case, and to its centre are affixed bunches of hollow, pear-shaped silver drops, which jingle with a soft, melodious note with every movement of the hand. These " pendant " rings, with the stones or drops falling over the fingers and glittering with each movement, are extremely characteristic of the East, where the love of colour and glitter is absolutely inborn. A short while ago this form of ring was introduced by a few London jewellers, a little chain of diamonds being allowed to swing across the fingers, but the fashion was not taken to very kindly.
Fig. 5 is an Indian ring made either in glass or crystal, backed with silver or foil, and made much in the shape of a daisy. Some of these rings are of surprisingly large size, and were sometimes worn probably upon the thumb, since in the course of ages each finger in turn has been the betrothal and wedding finger.
Fig. 6 shows a curious Byzantine betrothal ring, the bezel chased with two heads, a man's and a woman's, and a small cross above the pair. The remainder of the ring is jointed and adorned with feminine portraits.
The class of ring known as the " Giardinetti," or garden rings, is shown in Figs. 7 and 8, the name originating from the fact that the predominating design of the rings was a basket or bouquet of flowers. Very pretty and fanciful are many of these floral rings, and often the stones used Were of a particular colour to represent certain blossoms, while emeralds depicted the green leaves.
The importance that was attached to betrothal rings differed considerably in various countries, though on the whole it was regarded as a binding act and a sure forerunner of marriage. In Spain, particularly, the gift of a ring is regarded as a true promise of marriage, but among the old Vikings of the North the exchange or giving of rings did not apparently form any vital part of the ceremonies, but was regarded principally as a kind of memorial gift. The custom of the betrothal ring was only introduced into Norway at a much later period, and then imported from the South.
Made in either glass or
Fig. 5. An Indian ring crystal, backed with silver foil, to represent a daisy
Fig. 6. A curious Byzantine betrothal ring, the- bezel bearing portraits of imperial rulers, the other portions adorned with feminine portraits
Fig. 7. A " Giardinetti," or garden ring, so called from the predominating design being a basket or bouquet of flowers
Fig. 9. A marquise ring, in which a central emerald is surrounded by diamonds
France has produced two very pretty types of engagement rings - the marquise and the " regard " ring. The first of these is shown in Fig. 9, where a fine oblong emerald forms the central portion, and is surrounded by diamonds. Fig. 10 gives another example, with diamond leaves surrounding a ruby centre.
The " regard " rings, which were formerly in great vogue, were so called because the initials of the stones with which they were set formed that word.
Ruby Emerald Garnet A methyst Ruby Diamond. The account of Martin Luther's betrothal ring, given by Mr. H. Noel Humphreys, in "The Intellectual Observer" (February, 1862), is full of interest.
" The betrothment ring of Luther is composed of an intricate device of gold-work set with a ruby, the emblem of exalted love. The gold devices represent all the symbols of the Passion. In the centre is the crucified Saviour. On one side is the spear with which the side was pierced and the rod of reeds of the flagellation; on the other is a leaf of hyssop. Beneath are the dice with which the soldiers cast lots for the garment without seam, and below are the three nails. At the back may be distinguished the inside of the ladder and other symbols connected with the last acts of the Atonement; the whole so grouped as to make a large cross, surmounted by the ruby, the most salient feature of the device. On the inside of the ring the inscriptions are still perfect. They contain the names of the betrothed pair, and the date of the wedding-day in German, ' der 13 Junij 1525.' This was the ring presented to the wife at the betrothal, and worn by her after the marriage."
The marriage ring was still more complicated, being a double ring, of which every point and structure had some symbolical meaning.
Fig. 8. Another example of a "garden " ring. The design is a forget-me-not in turquoises marquise ring in
Fig. 10. A fine diamonds, with a ruby as centre
Fig. 11. The betrothal ring of Martin Luther. It represents the symbols of the Passion and is surmounted by a ruby, the emblem of exalted love