Rings are among the most common pieces of jewelry we buy and wear today, and they’ve been popular for many thousands of years. Chances are good that you own a ring that has special meaning for you, or you at least know someone who wears a special ring.
The part of the ring that wraps around the finger (or the toe, but the finger is more common) is referred to as the hoop. In a ring that’s one uniform circle, the hoop constitutes the entire ring, but in a ring with a setting, the hoop is only the band, or the approximately three-quarters of of the piece that are usually at the sides and below the finger. The center portion of the top of the ring, where a stone or gem is positioned, is known as the bezel, and the small, generally slanted portions on either side of the bezel are referred to as the shoulders. The bezel is usually the thickest and widest part of the ring’s band, so that there’s enough support for any kind of setting and/or enough space for engraving or other decoration on the bezel. (It’s important to note that while there are many kinds of settings that can go on the bezel of a ring, “bezel” may also refer to a particular kind of setting, in which a thin band of the metal or other material that makes up the body of the ring encircles the gemstone to hold it in place.)
Rings have long been used to communicate certain cultural information about the wearer, and that still holds true today. Of course, it’s common in the United States and other countries for women to receive and wear rings when they become engaged and for both men and women to wear wedding rings after they’re married. Signet rings are also common today, and they’re a tradition that goes back a few millennia. “Signet” literally means “sign,” and signet rings are worn to give a sign of membership in a certain group or social organization. One of the most common signet rings denotes membership in the Masons. Class rings, which are similar to signet rings, have been popular in the United States for the past hundred years or so, and they denote alumni status from a particular high school or university. And an engineer’s ring is a simple ring of iron or steel worn on the pinkie finger of the dominant hand after one swears the Engineer’s Oath.
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