When Beyoncé wrote the song Put a Ring on it to prompt her boyfriend to finally make things official, she was following in a rich tradition: Rings are the ultimate symbol for permanent and serious relationships. They were even worn by consecrated virgins in the 7th century, even if at the time their partner was a different one and the ceremony was silent and only involved a small gathering.
A ring is always proof of love. As a piece of jewellery, rings are sometimes incredibly expensive, sometimes more modest and reasonable. However, adornments and price tags do not have any bearing on a ring’s symbolic worth. In the 1960s, with a bit of luck, you were able to pull a colourful plastic ring out of the bubble gum vending machine at the corner shop, then present it to the prettiest girl at nursery school with cheeks ablush. The bubble gum was definitely always a keeper, though. In the past, rings had other meanings too. They would ward off illness or evil eyes, they would signify military rank or the membership in a guild, and they were also talismans, as well as symbols of power or mourning.
Although engagement rings have drifted somewhat out of fashion nowadays, friendship and wedding rings are still all the rage. Wedding rings have a tradition dating back almost 3,000 years. In the case of the early Romans, for instance, these rings were made of iron or bronze and were forged in the shape of a key. One popular motif was the snake, which was well suited to this purpose due to its shape. Nowadays, the snake, which back then seemed to bother no one, would bring a certain amount of ambiguity to a wedding ring. Rings from Africa still seem foreign to us today, made as they are with bulky natural materials. Entire temples and synagogues in miniature were carved into the Jewish wedding rings of the 18th and 19th centuries – incredibly impressive, but not necessarily easy to wear.
It is perhaps no coincidence that marriage sometimes resembles a circus, which takes place in a ring. Not to mention when things occasionally get out of hand and end up like a fight in a boxing ring…