A Complete History of College and High School Class Rings

high school class rings
high school class rings

Ever since your freshman year, you’ve seen the class ring company’s representative setting up their table on campus. You’ve watched the older students get their fingers measured before going off to compare design options and styles. You’ve watched the student council put up flyers advertising the junior ring ceremony the night before your school’s class ring tradition was set to take place.

Before the table, before the catalogs, before the flyers, and the ceremony in the auditorium, there is a great deal of history! High school class rings have been around a long time, and there is a lot to learn about them before it’s your turn to step up to the table and choose yours. Where did they begin, and how have they changed between then and now? 

Whether you’re gearing up to pick out your very first high school class ring, or are going through the ritual for the second time with a college class ring, you are becoming part of the tradition’s history. Read on to learn the history of rings, how class rings came into popularity, and what has changed today. 

The History of the Ring

Long before students packed into auditoriums, and long before glossy catalogs proclaimed your infinite customization options, the business people of ancient Egypt wore rings featuring seals. A ring featuring such a seal is a signet ring and features a bespoke image intended for use in authenticating documents. The earliest signet rings featured hieroglyphics sunk into a golden bezel, which they used as a stamp.

Those first rings, found in tombs in modernity, had practical purposes, but by the time ancient Greek civilization rose to its peak, the ring gained some ornamental value. Hellenistic Greeks would be the first to decorate their rings with precious stones. 

The Romans, however, used their rings for a combination of practical and ornamental purposes. The type of metal used in a ring could denote an individual’s social class until the 3rd century when the Roman empire was at its peak. The ancient Romans were the first to use rings as part of engagement traditions and betrothals. 

The signet ring would return to popularity in Europe by the Middle Ages, becoming an important tool and status symbol for everyone from lawyers to the Pope. By then, rings had begun to take on value as symbols of remembrance, too, featuring effigies, poetry, and even secret compartments for miniature keepsakes. Rings became the center of stories, as they could even hold poisons for acts of great deceit or great sacrifice. 

By the 19th century, rings had come a long way since their earliest uses as purely functional tools. Rings had become important parts of tradition, romance, business, or to denote status. Companies had begun to make rings in factories, and embedding them with stones remained a popular choice. 

It was around this time when rings had evolved to take on many varied but sentimental styles, that the class ring was born in the United States. 

The Earliest Class Rings

While rings served myriad purposes, class rings did not exist until 1835. Now class rings have remained a tradition for going on two centuries. The students at the United States Military Academy at West Point wore the first class rings with pride.    

West Point is a four-year military academy located in West Point, New York Perhaps because of a military culture encouraging unity and uniformity, the earliest class rings were all identical. They served as a memento of the class’s time at West Point and a way to unite the group through a shared class ring symbol meaning. 

From there, many other institutions followed suit, all creating rings with designs reflecting the colors and symbols of that particular school or institution. Slowly, the trend would begin to shift, with each ring featuring a small, unique feature unique to the wearer. Often this was an engraved name.

The first class rings, such as those worn at West Point, were yellow gold. Today, the type of metal is one of the many customization options that students have when designing their rings. Today you can purchase class rings made from every metal, with the best high school class rings made in platinum. 

At West Point, each ring was similar to a signet ring, featuring the school’s seal. Today, students can choose between the school seal or a stone. This is the case for the majority of modern high school and college rings today, too.

The Origins of Class Ring Etiquette  

Like the rings themselves, the origins of college class ring etiquette began at West Point, where receiving a ring remains an important school tradition. If you’re wondering “when do you get a class ring in college or high school?” the answer is probably early in your senior year, which is when West Point cadets traditionally receive their rings.

If you’re wondering “When should I order my class ring?” This can vary based on your school. Some high schools offer class rings late in junior year.  

The ring ceremony at West Point is one of the most elaborate in the country, ends with a major formal dance that the cadets call the “hop.” First, however, the seniors participate in a ring ceremony with a lot of pomp and circumstance. Many high schools and colleges have followed suit, holding one ceremony in which students receive their rings and a second ceremony for turning them. 

What Finger Does a Class Ring Go On? 

The biggest question most people have relates to traditions surrounding the correct college ring finger or hand. Those traditions began at West Point, too. What hand do you wear your class ring on, and what finger?

At West Point, the earliest graduates wore their class ring on the ring finger of the left hand. As you can imagine, this posed some real estate issues when a graduate wanted to get married. While some remain dedicated to the tradition and choose to stack their rings, many students now wear the ring on the ring finger of the right hand. 

Outside of West Point, the ring finger of the right hand remains the traditional place to wear your ring. This is not a set-in-stone tradition, however, so students should decide where to wear a class ring for themselves based on comfort. 

How To Wear a Class Ring

At West Point, the class ring tradition is to wear the ring with the ring’s crest facing inside, closest to the wearer’s heart. This is the case with modern rings, too, but there are some more specific traditions related to turning class rings.

Typically, students should wear their class ring facing their heart until someone turns it during a dedicated “turning of the ring” ceremony. At that time they turn the ring so the seal faces out toward the future and the world. 

Taking off High School Class Rings

Should you be wearing your class ring after high school? At West Point, students often wear their class rings for life. When West Point graduates get married, the engagement ring is traditionally a miniature version of their West Point class ring.

There is no specific time or moment when it’s traditional to stop wearing your class ring. If you have a high school class ring, you may wish to replace it with your college class ring when you are about to graduate. Some graduates enjoy wearing their class ring on a chain around their neck. 

For many individuals, class rings from high school become heirlooms that they wish to pass on to their children. Some individuals choose to preserve their class ring in a jewelry box for safekeeping so they can show their children later in life. 

Ultimately, it’s up to you how long you wish to wear the ring. Since you will most likely be designing the ring yourself, be sure to choose a timeless design that you love. 

The Turning of the Ring

The “turning of the ring” tradition is less standardized and may look different at different institutions, and tends to differ by geographic region. Any aspect of the ring turning ceremony may vary from state to state or school to school, so check with your administration. The goal is to become part of a broader school tradition, so you want to make sure you are following the students who came before you.

At many schools, an administrator, such as the school principal or superintendent turns a student’s ring for the first time. After the first turn, students can invite other important figures in their lives to turn the ring. Students may have the option to invite these important figures to their junior or senior ring ceremony as special guests.

At most schools, students choose many important people to turn their rings after the ceremony and may select an important family member or friend to do the initial turning. 

The direction that the ring turns also varies based on institution. Some schools encourage students to have their rings turned clockwise – others traditionally turn students’ rings counter-clockwise. This is entirely symbolic, with the ceremony of the turning being more important than the direction. 

Whatever the case, you should encourage anyone who turns your ring to turn it in the same direction, whether that’s clockwise or counterclockwise.

The Number of Turns

How many people should turn your ring? Different schools may also have different traditions or numbers associated with the number of turns per student or ring. 

In some traditions, the first turning of the ring following the ceremony should be the wearer’s best friend. Likewise, the fourteenth turning (likely chosen because of its association with romance and Valentine’s Day) should be the student’s significant other or romantic partner. 

No matter how many times others turn your ring, you should decide who you wish to be the last to turn it to. The last person should turn the ring in the opposite direction. If all others turned the ring clockwise, they should turn the ring counterclockwise, for example. 

The last person to turn your ring should be of significant importance to your life. This person is effectively “sending you off” toward your future, almost like the father of the bride giving his daughter away. Many students choose an important family member, inspirational coach, or teacher who changed their life in a significant way. 

Are Class Rings Worth It?

When you pick out your class ring, you will be becoming part of a tradition that began at a prestigious institution nearly two hundred years ago. Think about all of the graduates who came before you who have worn their class rings proudly. You will be joining the ranks of all of the alumni, not only from your school but across the entire nation. 

Your ring is your ticket to engage in a variety of meaningful traditions. You will want to participate in everything from designing your ring to taking part in ring ceremonies and ring-turning traditions. Once you purchase your ring, it will be a precious and valuable heirloom that you will be able to keep for life. 

The prestigious graduates of West Point Academy will surely tell you that class rings are more than worth it. They are symbols of hard work and unity that become important and meaningful symbols for the rest of their lives.

Become Part of History

High school class rings have existed since the 19th century, and millions of students have become part of the tradition. When you pick out your class ring, you will become part of that large and growing cohort. Your ring is like a historical relic that you can pass down for generations.

The first step toward making history is to choose the right ring for you. You can begin by browsing the offerings at classrings.com. How will you make history with a class ring from classrings.com? 

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