Book Review Gems & Gemology, Summer 2014, Vol. 50, No. 2

Books: Rings – Jewelry of Power, Love and Loyalty

Rings – Jewelry of Power, Love and Loyalty
By Diana Scarisbrick, 384 pp., illus., publ. by Thames and Hudson, London, 2014, $34.95.
If you’ve ever uttered the words, “I think I’ll wait till it comes out in paperback,” your ship just came in. I’ve said it myself, numerous times, and then forgotten all about whatever book I was waiting for. Not this time.

Originally published as a hardcover in 2007, Rings: Jewelry of Power, Love and Loyalty is the real deal. It is brilliantly photographed, meticulously researched, and engagingly readable, with a high-quality paperback binding, sewn pages, and a double foldout cover. At $34.95, you can’t afford not to own this treasure.

Perhaps my favorite feature of this book is simply that it contains multiple images of many of the subjects. How often do you see the top view of a ring and wonder what a side detail looks like? Or you might have a perfectly acceptable perspective view, yet the text describes an engraving on the inside of the band that is not shown in the image. Kudos to Scarisbrick and the photographer for taking the time to include these creative angles. What a luxury.

The heart of the book is the Benjamin Zucker Family Collection, accompanied by pieces from the Walters Art Museum in Baltimore, the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston, Rosenborg Castle in Copenhagen, London’s Freud Museum, the Cartier Collection, and a host of private collections.

The organization of information in Rings is a treat. It is arranged into eight thematic chapters, each explored chronologically from ancient times to the present. With this format, you can see the evolution of certain types of rings, and how art, fashion, politics, and social norms exerted their influences. Starting with 50 pages of signets in the first chapter, all of the sections provide insightful ways to associate and characterize the groupings of rings.

The remaining chapters parse the vast oeuvre of rings into what might be considered sociological subdivisions, such as “Love, Marriage, and Friendship Rings,” “Rings Associated with Illustrious People and Great Events,” “Decorative Rings,” and so on. I am fascinated to see how the ring, a relatively small item, can open up insights to so many different time periods and how the popularity of different types of rings waxed and waned.

Adding to the depth of information in each chapter is the use of drawings and paintings from various periods. Scholarly but not stuffy, the background text fleshes out the humanity behind the rings and adds insights about the people and the times. Equally impressive is the technical mastery of countless, mostly anonymous, jewelry makers. We see examples that may have been solo efforts, as well as numerous collaborations between designers, goldsmiths, lapidaries, stone setters, enamelists, and polishers. All come together to create a lasting, wearable work of art, the perennially popular ring.

Doug Hall is a jewelry arts instructor at GIA in Carlsbad, California.