What is a ring?

   A ring is a small band, round or nearly round in shape. People generally wear rings on their fingers. Most rings are made of gold or other precious metals. Other materials such as ivory or plastics also may be used. Rings may be plain, engraved and decorated, or set with stones. The most popular precious stone used in ring settings is the diamond. But the amethyst, turquoise, topaz, pearl, emerald, ruby, and sapphire are also widely used. People often use personal initials to form the decoration of a ring. A ring which contains a seal is called a signet ring.

   The custom of wearing rings is probably as old as man. But the earliest rings known are those found in the tombs of ancient Egypt. The exchange of rings may be symbolic of love or marriage. A ring may also be a sign of authority. Many rings have no special significance, and are worn simply as personal ornaments.

   Rings Worn as Ornaments. Some people have worn rings in the nose or ear. Rings still adorn noses, ears, arms, ankles, and toes of the members of certain tribes of Africa and the islands of the South Pacific. People of the Orient sometimes wear toe rings. But in other countries, it has long been the custom to wear rings only on the fingers or in the ears (see earring). Until the 1300's, people commonly wore rings on their thumbs.

   Wedding and Engagement Rings. The Romans prob-ably began the use of engagement, or betrothal, and wedding rings. Most married persons wear the wedding ring on the third finger of the left hand because of an old, but untrue, belief that a vein runs directly from this finger to the heart. However, Germans and many members of the Eastern Orthodox Churches wear the wedding ring on the right hand. Both husband and wife may wear wedding rings.

   Rings as Symbols of Authority. A ring has long been a symbol of a ruler's authority. Kings gave their rings to trusted servants. The ring gave the wearer the power of king's messenger. In the Bible, Pharaoh placed his signet ring on Joseph's finger when he set him over all Egypt (Gen. 41:42).

   The ring of the pope is especially interesting. He receives it when he is crowned. It bears his name and a picture of Saint Peter in a boat, so it is sometimes called the fisherman's ring. All papal documents, called briefs, must be stamped with this signet. When a pope dies, his ring is broken. A new one is made for the next pope. When the pope names a cardinal, he gives him a huge thumb ring. Bishops of the Roman Catholic Church also wear special rings.