Ringing the changes

Spring 2004

Rings have been part of the wedding ceremony for thousands of years, and no other piece of jewellery is so steeped in tradition and folklore, writes Kate Griffin

It is widely believed that the circular shape of the ring represents eternity and the hope that the marriage will last for ever. For this reason ,some people will only buy a ring that has been cast rather than wrought, so that there has never been any break in it.

The practice of placing a ring on the third finger of the left hand dates from the ancient Egyptians ,who believed that there was a vein leading from that finger directly to the heart.

Nobody is quite sure why the ring is traditionally made of gold; there are many theories, but perhaps there is no reason other than that it is a beautiful, precious metal.

But not all wedding rings take the traditional form of a simple band of gold. Some vary the concept, some depart from it completely.

If you are set on getting a ring that stands out from the crowd, it is worth paying a visit to Bridget Wheatley Contemporary Jewellery on Cowley Road, Oxford. There you will find handmade and bespoke jewellery with a style that is completely individual.

The ring pictured above is one example. It is made from nine-carat white gold with staggered diamonds, and the engraved texture clearly shows the Celtic influence, which is one of Bridget's sources of inspiration.

For an even more unusual look, Bridget works with freshwater pearls in irregular shapes. These are set with gold on a silver textured band.

Payne & Son Ltd, on the High Street in Oxford, give the idea of a gold ring a twist by crafting rings from more than one metal. They work in 18ct white gold and 18ct and 22ct yellow gold, as well as platinum. The rings pictured are of plain yellow and white 18ct gold, and the combination of the two colours gives an unusual effect. One ring has 0.28ct diamonds in a staggered sequence, and costs £695. The other ring is £340. Payne & Son also make traditional plain gold rings for both men and women.

If you like a Payne & Son design, but would prefer it in a different metal, they can make it to order in the material of your choice. For example, the diamond ring pictured is available in both platinum and white gold, but the same style of ring could also be created in yellow gold for you.

But a wedding ring doesn't have to be brand new to be special. Some people believe that antique wedding rings are lucky, because they carry the happiness of a previous marriage with them. Others just like the style of a bygone age.

Reginald Davis Ltd, on the High Street in Oxford, has over a hundred antique rings in stock. They acquire the oldest rings possible, but pre-Georgian rings are very rare and do not often make an appearance in shops. Most of the rings at Reginald Davis date from the Victorian era.

The founder of the shop left London during the Depression of the 1930s, in the hope of a better life in Oxford. David Marcus, his grandson and the shop's current owner, explains that things have changed in the world of jewellery since then.

"The practice now is often to coat white gold rings in rhodium, which gives a very shiny finish. People often don't realise this when they buy rings, but real white gold has a much duller appearance. Also, wedding rings used to be made in 22ct gold so that they wouldn't wear away the settings on engagement rings, which are traditionally 18ct. Now both wedding and engagement rings can be made in 18ct metal, and they risk wearing each other away."

Trends come and go, but the idea of a wedding ring is that you will be wearing it for the rest of your life. Don't pick a ring just because it's fashionable; choose something that you feel you want to wear for ever. Choosing something that is both an individual statement and a symbol of your love is a tall order, but Oxford is one of the few places where you just might find it.