I happened upon this incredible ring, attributed a German wedding ring from 1600-1650, on the Victoria & Albert Museum’s online archives. Two hands grasp an enameled diamond-set heart when the ring is worn, but when the ring is free from the finger, you can see it is actually comprised of three separate rings that rotate open to reveal secret engraving. On the insides of the shank, a portion of the marriage vows reads in German: “My beginning and my end” and “What God has joined together let no man put asunder”. Beyond the ring’s aesthetic value, this masterpiece is a historically-loaded combination of three styles of old rings: posy, gimmel, and fede rings.
A simple gold band with a small poem or verse engraved on the inside and/or outside is called a posy ring. Originally, in the Middle Ages, these rings were called resons; after 1430, they were referred to as posies– ‘poesy’ meaning ‘poetry’. Posy rings are believed to have been exchanged as love tokens more often than betrothel or wedding rings. The engravings were usually in French during the 13th and 14th Centuries, which was internationally regarded as “the language of love”. From the 15th Century on, English script was more common. The style of the lettering is also indicative of age: the first posies were written in Lombardic script (rounded manuscript-style) with a change to Blackletter (gothic script) in the 15th century.
A gimmel ring consists of two or three interlinked bands that are worn like one ring. The word “gimmel” comes from gemmellus, Latin for “the twins”. Historically, it is said that two interlocked bands represented man and woman; if there were three bands in the ring, they symbolized man, woman, and God or witness. Gimmel rings were created as far back as the 13th Century and were exchanged as symbols of friendship, love, or marriage. In their simplest form, two plain metal bands are linked. In the 15th century, gimmel rings became more popular and more elaborate, often incorporating sculptural components.
A fede ring depicts a right hand-shake. Ancient Roman versions were called dextrarum iunctio (“giving, joining of right hands”) and represented the political agreement between families that takes place when a man and woman were betrothed. The hands-clasped motif reappeared in the Middle Ages– as early as the 12th Century– and was reinterpreted into the Victorian age. The hands are sometimes sculpted into one band, with the handshake either featured on top of the finger or worn on the underside of a gemstone ring. The motif was alternatively incorporated by attaching different components atop separate bands of a gimmel ring that form a handshake when put together. In the 19th Century, these rings were referred to as fede rings– the name comes from the Italian phrase manos in fede which means “hands-clasped in faith”.
The awesome artistry in the German Renaissance ring inspired us to create our own reinvented posy-gimmel-fede ring. On the finger, it appears a modest gold ring modeled into a hand resting atop the finger. When you take the ring off and separate the bands, a female hand holding a garnet heart is revealed. The flat interiors of each band are intended for an engraved phrase, viewable only by the wearer.
Heirloom by Doyle & Doyle Garnet Heart Fede Gimmel Ring 18k, 093274R $1400
*Victoria & Albert Museum online database: www.vam.ac.uk
**Rings: Symbols of Wealth, Power and Affection, Diana Scarisbrick, Abrams 1993.