Champagne toasts and diploma hand-offs are on hold as virtual high school and college becoming the new norm. However, there's one academic tradition that requires zero in-person participation: the class ring — and it's one of 2020's biggest jewelry trends. This piece of jewelry is not only on trend thanks to the rise of chunkier ring silhouettes, but it holds a deeper sentimental value for the wearer.
According to jewelry journalist and author Beth Bernstein, what makes the trend unique is that it's highly customizable with variety based on "the school, the date of graduation, a gem center, and the name of the graduating person." Today, there are even jewelry companies like Jostens and Balfour that specifically focus on the production of these designs. But, as younger, more mainstream brands begin to embrace the trend in their own modern ways, it's important to understand how the piece's rich history led to its place in the modern trend cycle.
Bernstein explains that class rings can be traced back to the year 1885. "They originated at the United States Military Academy at West Point as keepsakes which celebrated or commemorated shared experiences, values, and the unity the graduating class shared." Similar to yearbooks and letterman jackets, class rings served as a souvenir, but as the jewelry made their way to the Ivy League schools, they also became a status symbol. However, she explains that by the 20th century, they'd shifted to be more generally tied to high school. "They were no longer status symbols but a sentimental or significant reminder of the four years of the life you spent."
Jewelry designer Jess Hannah launched a collection of class rings last month for her eponymous label J.Hannah that nods to the thematic tradition of collegiate rings. "I wasn't super patriotic for my high school or college being a teen and all, so I didn't get a class ring," she tells TZR. Maybe that is part of what drew me to this style." The assortment includes four options, each of which is inspired by the four classical elements that comprise the world (air, earth, water, fire), popularized by Sicilian philosopher Empedocles.
"To me, the class ring is an empty vessel for meaning, worn to mark an association. Like so much of our jewelry, it is imbued with significance by the wearer," Hannah notes. "Incorporating symbols of the elements as the community or affinity represented by the jewelry seems like a better and more intrinsic connection to represent. I can wear my earth ring proudly and be reminded of my belonging."
Hannah adds that class rings can be tied back to the signet, historically a style of ring engraved with something representative of the wearer. And, a trend that while originally worn by men, has become more popular with women of late. "It was a natural progression from the signet ring," she says. "Another historic kind of jewelry that is utilitarian as well as sartorial, something traditional where we could introduce our own take ... something masculine that we have unassigned from that role."
Even if you're used to sticking with daintier rings, Hannah recommends adding a chunkier style — especially one with a special message — to the daily rotation. "It's a big bold ring," she says. "It will hold its own if you already have a hand full of rings and look beautiful all on its own." When approaching the trend through a modern lens, look to styles with details that mean something to you, whether that be birth stone, zodiac sign, or even an initial.
And as a final fun fact: according to Bernstein, "the insignia on the ring faces towards the wearer while still in school and then is changed to face outward after graduating." Pick your own occasion to flip it from facing you to away, then shop pieces to help you get the look below!
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