“Popped the question” is a strange expression, but one in very common use. It is many years since I popped my question and because of my devilish good looks, debonair persona and ownership of a mini van, the answer was always going to be yes. My future father-in-law’s answer was never quite so certain though as he never really liked my mini van. I gave the future Mrs Dowse my great grandmother’s engagement ring, which she treasures, but it means therefore that with the exception of her wedding ring I have never actually bought a ring for my wife.
Rings have been worn since ancient Egyptian times. Signet rings engraved with a personal seal are associated with power and status, while plain gold wedding rings are tokens of betrothal. Wedding rings have been given or exchanged since Roman times and from the 16th century it has been customary to use a plain gold band.
Before the discovery of large deposits of gold in the USA in the 1840s and diamonds in South Africa in the 1870s, jewellery that was no longer fashionable was often dismantled, melted and the stones refashioned to follow changing tastes. This makes rings before 1800 reasonably rare.
In the early 19th century half hoop and cluster rings were introduced and they remained fashionable throughout the century. Snakes, symbolising wisdom and eternity, were a particularly common motif in the mid 19th century, especially after Prince Albert presented Queen Victoria with an emerald set snake engagement ring in 1839. Serpent rings consist of one, two, or three bands with single or double serpent heads, often set with diamond or ruby eyes.
New patterns introduced in the 1890s reflected the late Victorian and Edwardian revival of interest in 18th century court styles and jewellery of this period is characterised by the use of delicate settings.
Senior Valuer Michael Dowse
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