The N tion l arts&life
Thursday, April 28, 2011 www.thenational.ae
Feeling ever so slightly smug in the knowledge that unlike many Londoners, there’s very little risk of rain ruining our royal wedding parade. Not so back in the UK: experts have predicted heavy showers over the capital on Friday
Put a ring on it?
Prince William’s decision not to wear a wedding ring has caused something of a storm. Josh Sims looks at the history of the tradition and at reasons men give for preferring a jewellery-free ﬁnger
He may have the state carriage and the cathedral, the estimated two billion spectators and, given that he is a prince, the ultimate fairy-tale wedding. But one thing Prince William does not have is a wedding ring. Indeed, his decision not to wear one has created something of a storm – in the worlds of social etiquette watchers and the jewellery trade, of course, but equally in those homes in which a groom’s refusal to wear a ring continues to be met with resistance from the bride. Yet men wearing wedding rings is a relatively new tradition. While women wore them as far back as ancient Egypt – where the practice was ﬁrst followed – men have typically only worn them since the Second World War, when conscription and huge mobilisation saw couples find new interest in the wedding ring as a symbol of their unity while apart. In the US, so called “double-ring” wedding ceremonies accounted for 80 per cent of weddings after the war, compared with just 15 per cent during the 1930s. In fact, it has been more traditionally the case that only the woman wore a wedding band as a sign of her “belonging” to her husband – and parity is just one reason why women today want that sense of mutual “ownership” to be equally expressed through the wearing of a band. And there’s the notion that wearing a wedding ring makes it clear to others that the man is married. “Of course, cinema is littered with philanderers removing their wedding rings before entering the singles bar,” notes the men’s accessories designer Simon Carter. “But I think now it’s perfectly acceptable for a man to choose not to wear a wedding ring, as it is for a woman to choose not to take her husband’s name. It’s just a question of motive. Men seem to be split on the issue.” William, certainly, is not alone. For some men it is a matter of family tradition – the not-wearing of a ring is an idea passed down, although not in William’s case, since Prince Charles does wear one even if the Duke of Edinburgh does not. For some it is a matter of class, with men in the trades finding a ring a hindrance and those of the upper classes regarding a pinkie or signet ring as the only acceptable male jewellery – although etiquette guides such as Debrett’s, in the UK, make no ruling on this, and clearly Prince Charles is more blue blood than blue collar. And with the growing acceptability of male jewellery over recent decades, thanks in large part to the influence of hip-hop culture and celebrities, even the most macho of men now has licence to slip on a ring without provoking comment. According to the jeweller Slim Barrett, who has made rings for the likes of David Bowie and actor Colin Farrell, it is simply more to do with the physical discomfort that some men find in wearing jewellery, one nearly all women have grown used to since adolescence. “The choice to wear a ring for a man is very much down to the issue of how it feels, rather than what it means,” says Barrett, who does not wear one himself. “Many men are out of practice in wearing a ring on a ﬁnger, where the sensation is initially quite distinct. But this is not to say men don’t see meaning in the idea of jewellery to commemorate the event, or appreciate the symbolism of exchange. They do, but increasingly in other ways.” Indeed, wedding ring designs are now more varied – with more ostentatious styles with mixed metals, gemstones or engraving on the rise, even if the classic plain gold band remains the norm. Vintage pieces are especially popular now, says Barrett. But, he adds, the idea of a piece of wedding jewellery, rather than simply a ring, may be taking over. Among his clients are those who now wear, for example, a diamond ear-stud in place of a ring, or exchange rings but then wear theirs as a pendant on a chain. This may not take into account the traditional reason given for wearing a ring, and for doing so, in many cultures, on the fourth ﬁnger of the hand (the ﬁnger was believed to contain a vein that led directly to the heart, according to Henry Swinburne’s 1680 deﬁning legal document Treatise of Spousals). But at least it goes some way to keeping the marital home a peaceful one.
A modern twist on an heirloom
Prince William has decided that his left hand will remain ring-free even after his wedding. Scott Barbour / Getty Images
Be fair to goldminers – buy Fairtrade jewellery
The decision that Kate Middleton’s wedding ring will be fashioned by the crown jeweller Harry Collins, from a nugget of Welsh gold donated by the queen, continues a British royal tradition dating back to 1923 when Elizabeth Bowes-Lyon married the Duke of York, later to become George VI. With tomorrow’s royal nuptials billed as a very modern wedding, there are some who feel that the royal family missed a trick by upholding tradition rather than opting for a ring crafted from the ﬁrst batch of Fairtrade and Fairmined certified gold, released in February. To be entirely fair, as the groom is Prince William of Wales it is only fitting that his bride should wear a band of Welsh gold. For the rest of us, though, the advent of ethical gold adds a whole new dimension to jewellery, and in particular to the highly emotive choice of wedding rings. Just as we are able to make informed choices regarding ethically sourced food, clothing and precious stones, so gold is now coming under scrutiny in terms of provenance. Spearheaded by the Fairtrade Foundation in the UK in partnership with the Alliance for Responsible Mining (AIM), Fairtrade and Fairmined gold is initially being sourced from small-scale artisanal mines in South America. “Mining is the second-largest employer after agricultural and textiles production worldwide and globally 100 million people are dependent on mining, if you take into account the miners’ families. Of those, 15 million work in gold,” explains Gemma Cartwright, the gold market coordinator at the Fairtrade Foundation. “Ninety per cent of the people working in gold mining are working in artisanal small-scale mines in developing countries, which are affected the most in terms of poverty and work conditions. Ours is the only independent certification system for gold, as we use independent auditors to verify what we are doing.” According to the ethical gold campaigners nodirtygold.org, just one gold ring leaves an average of 20 tonnes of rock waste from the mine. Pollution and water contamination from the toxic chemicals involved, such as cyanide, arsenic and mercury, can be devastating for workers and local residents. Child labour is common and women often work in hazardous conditions with babies strapped to their backs and toddlers by their side, according to a policy report at the Fairtrade Foundation. Artisanal miners rarely get the correct price for their gold. With a view to an international rollout, more than 20 UK-based jewellery designers including the world’s oldest jeweller, Garrard, plus the bespoke jewellers Stephen Webster, Annaloucah, EC One, Ingle & Rhodes and the ethical jeweller Cred Jewellery, are currently Fairtrade and Fairmined gold licensees. Only licensees are able to use the dual Fairtrade and Fairmined hallmarks on their designs. Cartier has also announced that it plans to begin using Fairmined gold. “As we stand, the supply of ethical gold is small and the awareness is still quite low; this is much more about the future,” says Stephen Webster, the creative director for both Stephen Webster and Garrard, who has just added a Fairtrade bridal collection to his eponymous line. Adding about 10 per cent to the total bill, certified gold comes at a price, but many designers are absorbing these costs rather than charging the customer extra. “We pay a premium to the miners and process the gold in an isolated system to ensure physical traceability which has associated costs,” comments Christian Cheesman, the director of Cred Jewellery. “For us the question is not why Fairtrade and Fairmined gold costs more, but rather why is standard gold so cheap?” Jos Skeates, the co-founder and owner of EC One, agrees. “Who wouldn’t want to have a symbol of love made from the most ethical materials? It reflects the person who has commissioned the piece in the ﬁrst place, and says something about them and their ethics.” While ethical gold is exactly the same as gold produced in unethical conditions, “the unique properties associated with Fairtrade and Fairmined gold are emotional,” according to Tim Ingle, the director of Ingle & Rhodes, “based on the knowledge that by choosing it you have used your spending power as a consumer to say no to exploitation and yes to social and environmental responsibility.” Adding celebrity kudos to ethical gold, the film producer and Fairtrade ambassador Livia Firth wore a beautiful set of Fairtrade jewellery by Annaloucah, which also created her jewellery for the Golden Globes, to watch her husband Colin Firth collect his Oscar for The King’s Speech. Firth’s covetable Oscar pieces were named after Juana Pena Endova, the female Bolivian gold miner who took the first bar of Fairtrade and Fairmined gold to London to launch the initiative. “Her stories of the harsh realities of mining for gold 35,000ft above sea level made a deep impact on everybody present,” says Anna Loucah of Annaloucah, whose Oscar designs recently raised £25,000 (Dh151,000) for Oxfam. “I’m very proud to have been a part of the project,” she adds. “The Golden Globes pieces are being auctioned at the Dubai International Film Festival later this year, so you’ll have to watch this space.”
When Kate Middleton received her engagement ring, the now much-copied Garrard diamondencircled sapphire that Prince Charles had given to Diana all those years ago, most women were emerald with envy. Yet with a design that is not exactly cutting-edge, nor even particularly fashionable until recently, even Middleton might have wondered how those stones would look in a modern setting. As an important heirloom, that’s clearly not an option available to the royal-to-be, but nestled at the back of my own jewellery drawer, a little black velvet box has sat unopened for more than a decade. I was somewhat relieved to snap back the hinge and ﬁnd a glinting pear-cut amethyst and white-gold ring still perched proudly on its cushion, perfect as the day it was made. A family gift, nostalgia and admittedly guilt had made me keep the ring all these years and now greed was urging me to upgrade it. The question was, how? My research led me to a shop called Cara in Dubai’s Gold and Diamond Park (04 347 8089). As I searched in vain for a spare seat along the endless lines of glass cabinets, my eyes fell upon the sparkliest ring in the shop which Edith Thwates, a tourist visiting her Dubai-resident daughter, was trying on for size. “I redesigned it myself,” she said. “The two diamonds were mine already and I came all the way from New Zealand to have this wonderful aquamarine set in the middle. It is a lot cheaper than at home and the service is excellent in the UAE. The ring was done in a matter of days.” The ring’s original middle stone had been significantly smaller, Thwates told me as she gazed upon the new magnificent centrepiece, almost an inch in length and as vibrant as the Caribbean Sea. Cara was established seven years ago by Mr Kiran, who said that remodelling jewellery has never been more popular. “This is now my main business. Turnaround time can be as quick as one day, and the average spend is anywhere from Dh1,500 to Dh5,000.” With a ring still burning a hole in my pocket, I continued my journey through the winding corridors of the complex until the flame-red ruby rings and luxuriously weighty sapphire cuffs in the window of Dhamani (04 341 8890) stopped me in my tracks. The company, which has been trading in the Gulf since 1969, not only sells its own collection but works closely with customers looking to modernise family heirlooms. However, the manager Hitesh Bhatia sounded a note of caution when it comes to altering precious stones. “I wouldn’t recommend cutting or resizing a solitaire diamond into a pair of earrings, for example.” he said. “You will lose weight and value, so it is really best to sell and re-buy. “Our workshop is just ﬁve minutes from here and we have the finest diamonds from South Africa or emeralds from Colombia and Zambia if you want them.” And want them I did. Yet with one more stop on my list before I was to hand over my very modest finger furniture to the experts, I paid a visit to Zsa Zsa’s Jewels (04 347 4616). I asked the sales manager Mahesha Sheregar to explain how the remodelling of a ring takes place. He passed a conveyer belt of diamond chains under my nose and told me the creative process is very much in my hands.Indeed, should madam change her mind once the jewellery has been redesigned, no problem. Sheregar ducked beneath the counter and produced a dazzling diamond solitaire ring. As I admired the perfect princess-cut, he told me a fairy tale. “A man bought this diamond here two years ago and had it made into a pendant for his girlfriend.” he said. “He came last week and had it made into an engagement ring.”