What is a ring?

The first answer would probably be that it is a piece of jewellery that fits onto a finger made from metal or some other material. For the most part, this definition of a ring is very accurate. That is, after all, what a ring is when you get right down to it. There is a little more to it, though, and there are different kinds of rings beyond the simple ring you find on someone's finger.

The dictionary defines a ring as “a circlet usually of precious metal worn especially on the finger”. Close to the general idea of what a ring is or should be. There are other rings as well, though. The two most common types are arm rings and toe rings.

Arm rings are rather large circlets of metal that are worn around the upper arm. These days you don't really see them all that much except for the theatre or when people dress up for some occasion. Centuries ago, however, they were common adornments and were decorated with precious stones, engravings and the like.

Toe rings were also in fashion centuries ago when people didn't wear shoes all the time. They disappeared for a while but have recently come back into style and can be found in all the same incarnations as normal rings. They tend to be less gaudy and decorated, though. In some parts of India, a ladies wedding ring is a toe ring.

The 'classic' ring that goes on your hand is, as we have determined, a circlet of some material, like metal, bone, plastic, wood, glass and the like, that is worn on a finger. They can be made from plain materials and are sometimes adorned with gemstones, either on their own or in a pattern of some sort. These rings were originally used as decoration or as indicators of status; though the tradition of trading rings during weddings has been around for quite some time.

For a long time men and women wore rings but the practice of men wearing rings disappeared for a while between the 17th and 20th century. Recently there has been a resurgence of rings for men. Their appearance is quite different from those that are worn by women often being larger with very little design, etc. The rings worn by women have undergone many changes during the years from simple bands to richly adorned creations studded with gems.

Rings are used for countless reasons

Some rings are handed out to winners of a competition, there are rings awarded for people reaching some goal (like graduation), there are rings that are proof of a person's affiliation with an organisation and many others. Signet rings were proof of a person's nobility and their only form of identification and in Ancient Rome rings were used to distinguish citizens from slaves.

In centuries gone by, rings even had a mystical quality associated to them. They were worn by people who could perform magic to enhance their powers. Rings with certain gemstones were believed to improve their spells. The endless loop was also sometimes used as an indication of eternal life.  They may not be the oldest piece of jewellery in history, but it has been around for quite some time.

So what is a ring? A ring as most people understand it is a loop or circlet made from some durable material that is worn on a finger. It can be decorated or plain and its purpose is often determined by the person wearing it. Simple, yet elegant.

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