On Rings – Part 1

I love making rings for the finger. They offer the same problem over and over in an almost-infinite variety, and the solutions to the problems are almost as various. At the same time rings afford a very circumscribed task. The body dictates that the ring should fit the finger, and that it should be within the bounds of acceptable comfort. This means that the ring is necessarily a small object – something  of the exact scale for which my tools were designed. And it means that, being small, the job will soon find closure. I don’t think I’ve ever worked on a ring for more than three days.

All rings enjoy a symbolic dimension – which is to say that they carry some meaning in addition to their material presence, most especially for the wearer. This is what I pay the most attention to. The ring, unlike most other artworks, is destined to be incorporated in the wearer’s body image, so it will have a special kind of appreciation. I want my rings to say something through colour and form which will both fit in and enhance the wearer’s ambience.

I am not often asked to make the minimal ring – “a plain gold band without any decoration”. When the request does come, it is usually from a man who doesn’t want to appear decorated. I try to decline. Being a one-man workshop, I can’t compete with mass-production setups in terms of cost. If I do make such rings, I tend to make them thicker, heavier and more smoothly rounded than the usual wedding band. This gives the ring a very satisfying feel.

The rings I enjoy all have some decorative elements, and I like to set stones in rings. Here’s an example which is both decorative and has a number of stones:

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Ring: silver, fire opal & assorted faceted stones

But more commonly I work with a single stone per ring. I am decidedly not in favour of the idea that the ring should present the stone, and that for that purpose the metal should get out of the way as much as possible – leaving us with, at an extreme, a simple band with a claw setting holding a diamond.

I am a metal-worker, and I think that my designs and work in that medium should contribute as much or more to the design. Below is a ring with a single diamond which refers to baroque jewellery, and gives, to me, a satisfying unity of symbol and material.

Click to enlarge

Baroque Ring: Gold & Diamond

Click to enlarge

Baroque Ring: Gold & Diamond

Of course, sometimes the client wants the stone to be “presented”. They’ve paid a lot of money for it, and it must be the main feature of the piece. In the ring below, the client had a beautiful Burmese sapphire. I managed to foreground the stone while still doing a bit of sculptural stuff.

Click to enlarge

Ring: Gold & Sapphire

Click to enlarge

Ring: Gold & Sapphire

The motif of two hands has a long tradition. In Ireland, they are called fede rings. The first one I made was when I was still an apprentice, in 1972. I wish I still had a picture of it. It was made in 18ct gold and had 3 hinged bands – the middle band carried a heart, and the outer bands had two hands that clasped each other over the heart. Very sentimental, but the pleasure I got from the technical challenges was immense. So over the years, I have made various fede rings.

fede set

Rings, silver, gold, jade, diamonds


Fede ring: Silver


Fede ring, 2 bands: Silver


Fede Ring: Gold, SIlver, Sapphire


Fede Ring: Gold, SIlver, Sapphire

I must remind the viewer that these things are a lot smaller than the photos.

I could go on about rings for days, but for the moment I’ll stop here.

More to come in part 2.

1 comment
  1. Shana Croteau said:

    This ring is beautiful! I just received one today from my husband for our 5th wedding anniversary!! I am looking to find out what the meaning of the stone is? My wedding set is a claddagh. I am a huge fan of the claddagh ring. I found the Fede rings and really wanted one. My hisband had s designer make it so it would be original however I wasn’t expecting a stone be in it and it’s beautiful with the stone!!! I just really would like to know the significance of the round stone within the hands!! Can you help me with this??

    Thank you

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