My Mother’s Ring: The Biography of a Token of Love


10K gold ring with deep red garnet stone belonging to Darlene Mostert, photo: Rachel Mostert

This ring belongs to my mother. I chose to focus on this object because it has significance and meaning within my own family. Through the exploration of its biography, I am simultaneously engaging in an exploration of a loving relationship within my own familial history between my mother, aunts, and my grandmother. Under these circumstances, I must acknowledge a personal bias within my research on this object as I am emotionally connected to it. I will begin by describing the physicality of the ring itself, then outline its biography, and finally discuss how it engages with scholarship on the topics of finger-rings, object biographies, and Marxian thought. My physical description of the ring is inspired by Mida and Kim’s “Appendix 1: Checklist for Observation” and uses their guidelines for object analysis (Mida et al. 216).


10K gold ring with deep red garnet stone belonging to Darlene Mostert, photo: Rachel Mostert

The ring is predominantly made of gold with an oval-shaped garnet stone set in the middle. The garnet stone is a deep red colour and reveals burgundy tones as it moves and is viewed in changing light. The stone is encased in a gold oval that is surrounded in its entirety by gold scalloping, which creates a flower motif. This invokes a delicate femininity when looking at the piece. The ring is skillfully handcrafted, making each individual scallop unique in size and shape. The stone is raised slightly above the scalloping, drawing attention to its smooth face. The stone’s face is flat in the shape of an oval and is rounded slightly around the edges where it is encased. It is set into the gold casing and comes to a pointed edge in the inside of the ring.


10K gold ring with deep red garnet stone belonging to Darlene Mostert, photo: Rachel Mostert

The band is a fairly thick gold and makes a full circle around the ring, even in the back behind the stone, because it has been replaced. The band itself is cut and slightly bent near the back left side of the ring. There are a few slight scratches and scuffs on the face of the stone as well as along the outer ring of the band. The ring is also starting to lose shine and become discoloured in some places, particularly along the back of the scalloping and within the inside of each scallop. There is a label along the inside of the band that reads, “10K _MCin which the_’ indicates an unreadable symbol that looks like it could have once been an ‘O’, but the lower half has worn off.


10K gold ring with deep red garnet stone belonging to Darlene Mostert, photo: Rachel Mostert

My mother received this ring as a gift from my grandmother when she was quite young. In 1969, my grandparents went to visit the Netherlands as they had not been back since immigrating to Canada many years prior. While there, my grandmother purchased three rings, one for each of her daughters, from a handcrafted jewellery store. All three rings were the same and only differed in the stone that was displayed as the focal point of the ring. My eldest and youngest aunts received rings displaying their birthstones; one aunt has a garnet stone (January) and one a sapphire (September). My mother’s ring should have been made with a white opal stone (October), but the jeweler did not have a ring in the same style for October, so my grandmother got her the garnet stone because it was her favourite. All three sisters still wear the rings.


10K gold ring with deep red garnet stone belonging to Darlene Mostert, photo: Rachel Mostert

As time wore on and my mother wore her ring, the wear began to take a toll on the piece. When she was in the fourth grade, the band of the ring broke on the inside of her finger and my grandmother brought it in to a local jeweller in Grimsby to be fixed. When she received the ring back, my grandmother was disappointed to discover that the jeweler had completely replaced the original band rather than mending it. The band now continued behind the stone, which was disappointing for my grandmother. Since then, my mother has worn the ring and as long as I can remember, I cannot picture my mother’s right ring finger without it. Recently, though, she fell at work and hurt her finger. As it began to swell, she worried that the ring would block her circulation and so asked my father to cut it off for her. The cut is rudimental because it was done with a wire cutter from my garage. The ring has not been worn since because it needs to be mended. Now it sits on a jewellery plate in my upstairs washroom, awaiting repair. It is strange for me to see my mother’s finger without the ring.


10K gold ring with deep red garnet stone belonging to Darlene Mostert, photo: Rachel Mostert

Jones discusses the historical importance of rings, arguing that rings have held a mysterious significance for people from a very early stage in human history (91). Rings were thought to “protect from evil fascinations of every kind” (91), possess healing or talismanic properties (355), or, of particular relation to my research, act as tokens (323). Rings have historically been and are today used in marriage to symbolize the wedding of husband and wife,(275) or of husband and husband or wife and wife. Widows used to wear rings on their thumbs to signify their widowhood (365). Rings were often bequeathed to loved ones after death (356) and were given out to attendants at funerals as tokens of their loved ones that had passed away (364). Rings could be used as tokens of forgiveness (326) or as bribes (325). For royal families, rings are used as royal symbols or literal ‘stamps’ of approval when passing laws and making decisions (92) and, famously, Queen Elizabeth and Mary Queen of Scots interchanged rings as royal tokens of loyalty (340). Of particular relevance to the exploration of my mother’s ring’s object biography was Jones’ discussion of rings given as gifts to symbolize everlasting love (324). He uses the example of Edward the First who, in 1297, gave his fourth daughter Margaret a golden pyx “in which he deposited a ring, the token of his unfailing love” (324).


10K gold ring with deep red garnet stone belonging to Darlene Mostert, photo: Rachel Mostert

It is interesting, then, that my grandmother returned from her trip to Holland with a ring for each of her three daughters. Kopytoff discusses the idea that commodities are not only produced as things, but are also culturally marked as being “a certain kind of thing” (64). From a cultural standpoint, it is not appropriate to make certain things into commodities; by the same token, something that is seen as a commodity for one person could hold particular significance beyond commodification for another (64). Although my mother’s ring is a commodity and does have a culturally accepted commodity value, it means more than that to her. To say that my mother’s ring has value beyond its commodity market value would be to disagree with Marx’s ideas of commodity culture. For Marx, the commodity does not have value beyond the market and from the moment of its making the commodity object is relegated to this position (Sullivan 30). Although the ring could be exchanged for monetary or other value, my mother would not part with it because she holds an emotional attachment to the object. This particular culturally constructed “kind of thing”, as Kopytoff would suggest it to be, holds cultural significance as a symbol of love, as discussed by Jones. My grandmother brought it back for my mother as a reminder of just that and, therefore, the ring is now associated with my grandmother’s love for my mother.

In this way, the ring has undergone a process of informal singularization for my mother (Kopytoff 73). Although there are other rings that are similar to it and although the ring’s monetary value can be determined because it has not been formally decommoditized (76), it remains priceless to her. There is only one ring whose band has been replaced in a particularly undesirable way, only one whose imperfect scalloping reflects the exact way in which the maker’s hands moved those many years ago, only one that has been cut off of her finger after an injury. There are rings that are worth more as commodities, but they are not worth more to my mother. This explains why, even after its usefulness has been compromised, my mother keeps the cut ring on display on a jewellery plate in the washroom. The biography of this commodity makes it valuable beyond its use value. This ring is, however, only singularized to her. If someone else were to see the ring, it would return to its commodity state and would represent only a beautiful piece of jewellery that enhances the hand of its wearer. Kopytoff discusses objects that are singularized within an entire culture, such as the Star of India, which was singularized as a “crown jewel” by the British monarchy (74). The Star of India was pulled out of the conventional commodity sphere and was culturally classified out of the commodity realm (74). Arguably, this is the same process that my mother’s ring has undergone, but within our personal family’s culture.

This brings me to discuss Kopytoff’s assertion that objects can gain or lose commodity value according to their biographies (78). He argues that complex societies, like our own, yearn for singularization of commodities so that objects that once had regular commodity value (be it large or small) obtain value beyond that to an individual (80). Usually this value is sentimental. Kopytoff muses that, “what to me is an heirloom is, of course, a commodity to the jeweler, and the fact that I am not divorced from the jeweler’s culture is apparent in my willingness to price my priceless heirloom (and invariably overestimate its commodity value)” (80). When thinking about this ring in relation to my mother and the commodity value that she would assign to it, it is easy to see where Kopytoff’s concept of inconsistency in value fits in. Kopytoff argues that, “most of the conflict between commoditization and singularization in complex societies happens between individuals” (82). To someone else, the ring may be worth a large commodity value in gold (see here for an example of a similar ring that I found), but to my mother, “its pricelessness makes it in some sense more valuable than the amount of money it can fetch” (Kopytoff 82).

In conclusion, then, my mother’s ring’s biography is one that Kopytoff discusses as being the most interesting kind to study. It is an object biography that is “between commoditization and singularization” and it allows us to learn how these two forces are intertwined, how individuals break the rules by moving between both spheres, and how these spheres are then reorganized accordingly (88). This ring has a detailed biography that illustrates “the various singularizations of it, [the] classifications and reclassifications in an uncertain world of categories whose importance shifts with every minor change in context” (90). The place of the ring in my mother’s life is outside the world of commodity culture and stands as a representation of so much more, making us question Marxist assumptions about commodities and drawing attention to the importance of object biographies in the study of fashion.


10K gold ring with deep red garnet stone belonging to Darlene Mostert, photo: Rachel Mostert


10K gold ring with deep red garnet stone belonging to Darlene Mostert, top left. Checklist for Observation by Ingrid Mida, filled in by Rachel Mostert, photo: Rachel Mostert

Discussion Question: How do you think the concept of objects that carry emotional or sentimental value beyond their commodity value can interact and compare to Marx’s view of commodity culture? How do Marx’s and Kopytoff’s ideas complement or contradict each other in this way?

Works Cited

Jones, William. Finger-ring Lore: Historical, Legendary, Anecdotal. London: Spottiswoode and Co., 1877. Print.

Kopytoff, Igor. “The Cultural Biography of Things: Commoditization as Process.” The Social Life of Things: Commodities in Cultural Perspective. Ed. Arjun Appadurai. New York: Cambridge University Press, 1986. 64-91. Print.

Mida, Ingrid and Alexandra Kim. The Dress Detective. London, New York: Bloomsbury Publishing Plc, 2015. Print.

Sullivan, Anthony. “Karl Marx: Fashion and Capitalism.” Thinking Through Fashion. Ed. Agnes Rocamora, Anneke Smelik. London: I.B. Tauris, 2015. 28-45. Print.

About Rachel Mostert