The eternity ring is having a moment. These enormously popular rings are as universal in their appeal as jeans, Chanel and the tennis bracelet. They began as a declaration of renewed commitment given on the tenth wedding anniversary, but the giving has quickly expanded beyond this marker. Once you find the perfect gift, why wait?
What is an Eternity Ring?
So, what is an eternity ring? It can be as simple as a band of metal or carved stone and as elaborate as a circle of precious jewels. The key ingredient is an endless pattern or design executed on a band. If an eternity ring is composed of diamonds, the diamonds circle around the circumference of the band. The trend for colored stones in engagement rings also extends to eternity bands which can be composed of colored jewels as well.
What is the meaning of an Eternity ring?Eternity rings are second only to wedding and engagement rings in their symbolic meaning as gifts. The continuous circle of the band symbolizes eternity, and a circle of gold represents the virtues of fidelity and fortitude. The inclusion of diamonds ups the ante. Diamonds were believed to have magical properties in ancient cultures. Illustrious historical figures like Pliny the Elder, Ivan the Terrible and Cosimo de Medici even thought diamonds were an antidote to poison.
When diamonds began to adorn wedding rings during the Renaissance, the diamond was thought to represent God himself, or at the very least Glory, and so bestowing a diamond bestowed glory on its recipient. There was already an established history of kings giving diamond rings to favored nobles as a reward for loyalty and service because the diamond represented fidelity and strength. This public display of benediction from the king elevated the recipient’s social status, as there was no greater symbol of his approval. This context of high regard easily transferred to the wedding ring, and its wide acceptance naturally followed.
When is the appropriate time to give an eternity ring?Any time, all the time. Today eternity rings are often given upon the birth of a child, which is another instance of everlasting love. They are still the perfect anniversary gift, but you no longer have to wait ten years to give one. Eternity rings are also often exchanged between couples who are deeply in love but choose not to marry. A new trend is women buying eternity rings for themselves as markers of special life occasions or simply because they go with everything. After all, one shouldn’t have to wait for someone else to decide you are worth a glittering band of everlasting glory.
History of the Eternity Ring
The concept of rings as a symbol of love can be traced back 4,000 years to the ancient Egyptians, who were said to offer them as a token of eternal love. Early examples consisted of a circle of metal set with stones either on the top half of the ring or spanning the whole circumference. Some designs featured a serpent devouring its own tail, which signified the continuous cycle of birth and death and the continued bond of the couple past their current life into infinity. This design is called an ‘ouroboros.’
Celebrity Couples with Eternity Rings
Another royal couple with influencer status was the Duke and Duchess of Windsor. The giving of jewelry as part of their love language is well known. So it is not surprising the former king gave his wife an eternity ring. When Calvin Klein purchased this famous ring at auction for his wife, Kelly Klein, he discovered the word “eternity” engraved on the inside. Shortly after, Klein released his highly successful perfume, “Eternity.”
Other members of the British royal family have embraced the tradition of the eternity band. Prince William has given his wife, the beautiful Duchess of Cambridge, an eternity ring. Kate wears her simple thin band of continuous diamonds next to the famous 12-carat Ceylon sapphire engagement ring that belonged to Princess Diana.
Hollywood “royalty” popularized the eternity band tradition in America. Style icon Audrey Hepburn chose a combination of three eternity bands that doubled as engagement and wedding rings when she married Mel Ferrer in 1954. Her engagement ring was classic, with baguette diamonds in a channel setting. She chose a pair of simple, faceted gold bands for her wedding rings. One was in white gold and the other in rose. She reportedly never stacked the rings but alternated between wearing one simple band at a time. She set a precedent for yet another fashion custom as other women have embraced the versatility of eternity rings, wearing them with their engagement ring, alone, or even on the right hand.
When Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton married in 1964, Elizabeth’s wedding ring was also an exquisite eternity band with baguette diamonds in a channel setting. She chose an octagonal design for the eternity band that marked their second wedding in 1975. For these two star-crossed lovers, their hopes exceeded their reality — twice.
Another tragic Hollywood marriage that has a permanent place in our collective memory began with the effervescent hope symbolized by an eternity band. The tale of Hall of Famer Joe DiMaggio and Marilyn Monroe was one of enduring love, if not marriage. Their engagement period was a mere two days before their civil ceremony marriage, so Marilyn never received an engagement ring from Joe. Instead, she wore an eternity band of 36 emerald-cut diamonds in a classic channel setting as a combination engagement and wedding ring. Despite missing one of the diamonds, this ring would eventually sell at auction for $772,500.
The two remained in each other’s lives after their 1955 divorce. When Monroe died in 1962, he held a private vigil over her body the night before her funeral. He also famously arranged to have flowers sent to her gravesite every week for the next twenty years. Perhaps in their instance, love outlasted the marriage.
As Edwin Taggart surmises in his article The Romance of Rings, “Rings adjust themselves to the history of the moment.” Perhaps the universally appealing eternity band is about to experience another expansion in application. Does a woman need permission to buy herself a glittering band of sparkling jewels? What does seem clear is that as customs continue to evolve, the eternity ring is here to stay.
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Scarisbrick, Diana. “Forever Adamant: A Renaissance Diamond Ring.” The Journal of the Walters Art Gallery, vol. 40, 1982, pp. 57–64. JSTOR, http://www.jstor.org/stable/20168991. Accessed 6 Jun. 2022.
Taggart, Edwin L. M. “THE ROMANCE OF RINGS.” The Brooklyn Museum Quarterly, vol. 18, no. 4, 1931, pp. 149–55. JSTOR, http://www.jstor.org/stable/26460516. Accessed 6 Jun. 2022.
Penner, Barbara. “‘A Vision of Love and Luxury’: The Commercialization of Nineteenth‐Century American Weddings.” Winterthur Portfolio, vol. 39, no. 1, 2004, pp. 1–20. JSTOR, https://doi.org/10.1086/431007. Accessed 6 Jun. 2022.