An eternity ring is defined as a circular band set with a continuous row of gemstones of the same size and, usually, the same cut. This type of ring dates back as early as the Roman Empire, if not earlier, though it was not associated—as it is today—with marriage until the eighteenth century. The precursor to the modern day eternity ring was called a ‘keeper’ ring, and was either a single band ring or a pair of matching rings worn on the outside or either side of the wedding ring to protect it from damage or loss. Most often keeper rings were plain bands, however around the middle part of the eighteenth century they began to appear set with a single row of matching gemstones, naturally for wealthier clients. King George III gave Queen Charlotte a diamond keeper in 1761, which further encouraged the fashion.
Around the turn of the nineteenth century coloured stones began to be featured more prominently in such rings, as noted in the English magazine La Belle Assemblée, in 1808: ‘the rainbow hoop ring takes the place of the diamond formed by way of guard to the wedding ring’. By the latter half of nineteenth century the tradition of distinct engagement and wedding rings solidified, and such gem set rings became common wedding bands while solitaire or cluster rings were more widely accepted as the traditional betrothal ring. Diamonds re-established domination of this form after the discovery of the most significant diamond deposits yet known, in South Africa in 1866.
Eternity bands continued to be popular into the early twentieth century. Examples made in the first two decades of the century are characterized by round old cut diamond and platinum designs, often with millegraining and foliate engraving along the sides of the band. During the nineteen twenties and thirties colour, though largely restricted to the red, green, and blue of rubies, emeralds, and sapphires respectively, and often paired with platinum and diamonds—all in keeping with the Art Deco taste—became popular. Eternity rings from this era also tended to contain step cut gemstones in unadorned channel settings. In 1934 Princess Marina of Greece and Denmark, upon her marriage to the Prince George, the Duke of Kent, patriotically selected three eternity rings to act as her wedding bands, one each in diamonds, rubies, and sapphires in the colours of the Union Jack. As was perhaps best stated in a 1938 issue of Vogue, “What better emblem of unending devotion than eternity rings?”
Throughout the remainder of the twentieth century the eternity ring continued to evolve. In the late nineteen forties DeBeers introduced the groundbreaking slogan, ‘A Diamond is Forever’, which further elevated the status of the diamond among gemstones, and irreversibly associated it with enduring love, returning the diamond to its primary standing in the eternity ring. In 1954 Marilyn Monroe received a baguette cut diamond eternity band as a combination engagement and wedding ring from Joe DiMaggio, fully throwing open the functionality of such rings. Today eternity rings are more popular than ever, with eternity bands also being used to commemorate wedding anniversaries as well as to mark life’s other monumental occasions.
Alice Beatriz Chardour, Rings: The Alice and Louis Koch Collection, Leeds: W.S. Maney and Sons Ltd, 1994.
Diana Scarisbrick, Rings: Jewellery of Power, Love and Loyalty, London: Thames and Hudson, 2007.