By the mid 19th century, cluster rings had become popular. This is a pretty and dainty style, generally with a central gemstone surrounded by matching or contrasting stones in a round shape like a flower head. The ring at the top of the post is a classic example of such a ring. There may be small gems set into the shoulders next to the central cluster. Often, a hair locket compartment is set into the back of the bezel although that compartment disappeared after about 1875.
More and more rings began to be machine made and new styles were introduced, alongside the ever popular half hoop rings. Buckle rings, in the shape of a garter or belt with a buckle, became common, some set with diamonds or seed pearls as the buckle holes, with others being quite plain. Some had hinged pieces and could be opened out to show inscribed sections.
Travellers returning from their Grand Tour of Italy bought back rings set with micro mosaic, pietra dura and coral as well as lava cameos.
In a jewellery catalogue from 1866, one group of rings shown were serpent rings with a jewel in the head. Snake rings had remained popular from the start of Queen Victoria’s reign and styles hadn’t changed much from the delicate diamond set coils of the beginning of the century. Victoria’s own engagement ring was still quite delicate but was set with different gemstones. Later in the century, though, snake rings became heavier and thicker and were worn by both men and women.
Mourning ring styles began to move from the thick gold band decorated only with enamel to rings with hair compartments either in the front or back, some in the shape of a shield. The ring below is an ornate gothic revival mourning ring, containing a glazed hair compartment. It is dated 1859. The words ‘In memory of” are in gold around the outside.
Another ring in the mid century period was this pretty black enamelled mourning ring from 1861. The ring is set with light gray seed pearls, in a floral pattern. The centre is a forget-me-not flower with 5 pearls and then there are leaves branching out from the centre with 3 pearls on each side.
Apart from mourning rings, signet rings were still the main ring worn by males, although some still wore a gold ring set with a single gemstone. By this stage in the century, signet rings were not really used for sealing documents but were more for display. They became the mark of a gentleman and the designs were similar to what we see today – a square top, shield-shaped or oval – showing a monogram, crests or other emblems. They were usually made of gold and could have a gold top (bezel) or have a hardstone inset, like a bloodstone, carnelian, onyx, or chalcedony, or, less frequently, a precious gemstone. As the century progressed, signet rings were being worn more by women.
More Victorian ring styles next week.