Lord of the Pinky Rings (and Pins)

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Remember this ode to love lost and regained?

Aww when Judy left with Johnny at my party . . .And came back wearing his ring . . .

It always made me wonder where all those high school and college rings came from that boys gave to their steadies.

According to Levy’s Fine Jewelry in Birmingham, Alabama, there is some serious history:

The tradition of wearing a class ring was originated in the year 1835. Almost 180 years ago, the students at the United States Military Academy at West Point were the first ones to wear a class ring. In order to visually display the unity among the group, someone had the idea that everyone in the class should wear a ring with a similar design. Each one of the students wanted to showcase something which would remain as a remembrance of the time they have spent at West Point. From that time onwards [sic] creating class rings has been tradition for every graduating class of West Point as a representation of unity, and over time, it is a practice that has become common at all major high schools and universities.

For several years, class rings were created with uniform design and shaped for a particular school. As time passed, some institutions provided the students with the option of customization. The name and emblem of the institution would remain in the standard design, but there was now an option of adding the student’s name and other details that identify with the wearer.

Traditional class rings were made in gold, but now they can be ordered in various metals including silver, gold, or platinum. Gold rings with a satin finish will show the entire piece in gold with cuts to highlight the names and design.

I never had a graduation ring for my first steady girl friend when I was eleven. So I “borrowed” my mom’s college ring (she wasn’t wearing it anyway) and proceeded to lose it. Just flew off my finger and disappeared into the miasma of a school dance (or finders-keepers schoolmate). The punishment was so severe I never ordered my own ring when the opportunity presented itself. I did, however, give my Boy Scout Tenderfoot pin to a girl who, believing that was a dorky thing to do, dumped me the next day.

Class and fraternity rings, pins and honor society keys have been big business for ages. Also, they demand a certain amount of design savvy and talent for designing monograms. So rather than dwell on my past sadness, I honor the design and designers with the vintage catalog pages below.

About Steven Heller

Steven Heller is the co-chair of the SVA MFA Designer /Designer as Author + Entrepreneur program, writes frequently for Wired and Design Observer. He is also the author of over 170 books on design and visual culture. He received the 1999 AIGA Medal and is the 2011 recipient of the Smithsonian National Design Award.

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