The Ins & Outs of Class Rings: What Are Class Rings?

Class rings have a history that goes back at least a few hundred years – however, there’s some who believe that the tradition goes back all the way to the time of Cleopatra and ancient Egypt. Typically class rings are part of a strong tradition meant to bring graduating students from the same school and year together – each of them achieved success together. They roamed the same halls, ate in the same cafeterias, shared the same classrooms, and walked down the same aisle to receive their high school diplomas. It isn’t so much a right of passage as it is a symbol of solidarity. 

And in fact, this tradition has held true for quite some time – albeit with a different meaning. It is said that class rings first popped up in ancient Egypt as a way for individuals to showcase their connections to a particular sect of people – whether it be as a sort of class status or religious affiliation. From there, it is said that Cleopatra once gave a ring to Mark Antony, and the Romans took the idea and ran with it. 

Once the Romans began embracing the symbol of the ring, Mark Antony had a full set made for the Praetorian Guard. Each member of his guard was to wear their ring with pride, so that when he saw them, he knew they were loyal members of the guard. By this point, rings – or fellowship rings – became commonly associated with the military in one way or another.

Fast forward more than 1,000 years – class rings were still seen as a military symbol. In fact, during the commencement ceremonies for the 1835 graduating class of cadets at the US Military Academy West Point, cadets were given a ceremonial ring – one that would bind them together for the rest of their lives. The rings were meant to symbolize the pride that each cadet would hold dear to them for their time at West Point, and would continue to serve as beacons of the values instilled by the school and its administrators. 

Once the Ivy League schools caught on, graduates from Yale, Harvard, Princeton, and others were given class rings at their commencement ceremonies. And today, they’ve even become a tradition for high school graduates as well. 

Now, after hearing all about the history of class rings, you’ve got to be asking yourself, “why are these class rings so important?” Well, that’s something that we’d like to talk about next.

Why Are They Important? 

You see, the thing about class rings is that they represent so much more than people generally realize. When someone graduates high school or college, it’s one of the most important milestones in that individual’s life. At the tender age of just 18 years old, graduating high school means that you’ve successfully navigated childhood, adolescence, and your teenage years – and finally, you’ve become a young adult – a true contributor to society. 

The memories that you’ve made along the way, the relationships that you’ve built, the passions that you’ve nurtured, and the challenges that you’ve overcome are all fuel that you can use to help you navigate this next stage of life. The ring that you placed on that finger after your high school graduation is an important reminder that you’ve worked hard, and you deserve to look back at your time in high school with a smile on your face.

As you move into your collegiate career, the stakes are higher. You’re no longer someone else’s responsibility – it’s up to you to take the passions that you’ve built as a teenager and turn those passions into useful knowledge and skills that you can use later on in your life. Sure, there will be more memories made, more passions built, and more challenges that you’ll have to face – but once you arrive at your commencement celebration on graduation day, you can rest assured knowing that you had truly completed something remarkable – and that’s exactly how you build upon the success of graduating high school. 

Class rings are important because they serve as reminders of everything that you’ve done, everything that you’ve gone through, and everything that you’ve worked towards. When you’re older, in the midst of your career, raising a family, or striving for excellence, you can look back to your class rings – both from high school and from college – and remember your pathway, the one that brought you to where you are today. 

What Do They Symbolize?

Many students who choose to purchase a class ring – whether at the high school level or college level – are often invited to special ring ceremonies. During these formal ring ceremonies, students who purchased a ring will receive them all at the same time, along with their peers. On graduation day, students are asked to wear their rings, but to flip them around, so that the ring faces outward. This gesture is a symbol of commencement – similar to the moving of the tassel on the top of a graduation cap mid-ceremony. 

As you can see, rings hold more than just a sentimental value – they’re also used as part of graduation ceremonies. For instance, some religious schools require that all graduating students who purchase a ring participate in a special and sacred blessing ceremony, where a priest blesses each student’s ring. 

And let’s not forget, even parents whose children have gone on to the same high schools or colleges are often invited to participate in symbolic ring ceremonies. The idea behind having parents participate in these ring ceremonies is to showcase the long lineage of graduates from a particular institution. 

Some schools even choose to hold special ring dances. These dances are often held just before commencement or graduation, and students are encouraged to wear their rings, but facing inward, so that the ring does not face outward. As a ceremonial gesture, students have the chance to enjoy one final gathering as pre-graduates. 

At this point in our discussion, the trends should be quite clear. Class rings are meant to symbolize tradition in one way or another. 

How Many Students Purchase Class Rings?

This is an interesting question, and it’s one that doesn’t exactly have a direct answer. You see, it’s likely that in the year 2020, most students across the high school and college level won’t purchase a class ring – at least not in the traditional sense. 

For most of us, when we think of or envision a class ring, we’re flooded with images of big, gold, bronze, or silver rings with massive crests, our school logo or symbol, and our graduating class. We think of large and oversized jewelry pieces that have some weight to them. They’re a little clunky, a little kitschy, and a little old school, right? 

Well, it appears that there has been some resurgent interest in class rings – and that’s because innovative jewelry makers understand that today’s fashion is simply different than the fashion of the 80s, 90s, and even early 2000s. Today, students like jewelry that’s less flashy, less bulky and clunky, and more stylish.

According to The Zoe Report, “as younger and more mainstream brands begin to embrace the trend [class rings] 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.” Remember, we spoke about the ring’s history earlier on in this chapter, and although they still remain very much a symbolic piece of jewelry, they’re also more of a sentimental piece of jewelry – one that can and should be personalized and tailored to the wearer’s liking.

With that said, there are tons of different jewelry makers out there who are picking up on the trends and are beginning to tackle the resurgent interest in class rings head-on. Take a look at the photos included in this book to see some exciting work by a variety of jewelry makers who helped to make the idea of purchasing a class ring in 2022 and beyond a bit more trendy and stylish.

So, to answer the question of, “how many students purchase class rings?” Well, there simply aren’t any metrics that track the purchase of class rings specifically, but if the resurgence of organizations choosing to make and innovate with new class rings, it’s clear that the idea and tradition is beginning to gain some traction amongst the younger generations – and that’s a beautiful thing to see. 

How Much Are Class Rings Worth?

Here at Class Rings Museum, we’re often asked by former graduates who purchased a class ring back in the day about the monetary value of their ring. When it comes down to it, a class ring will be valued on the type of materials its made with and the presence of any gems or stones. Sure, there are collectors or class rings fanatic (we ourselves host one of the largest collections of historical class rings) who might be willing to offer you some money for yours, but the real value in a class ring comes with what you add to it.

We’re firm believers that class rings embrace whatever value the wearer ascribes to it. If your high school years were some of the most memorable years of your life, then your class ring is worth its weight in gold. If you were the first in your family to graduate from college, then your class ring might be worth more than someone who comes from along lineage of Harvard graduates. You see, it isn’t about the monetary value – it’s about the sentimental value and the significance that we bring to the table. 

At Class Rings Museum, many of the graduates whom we have the pleasure of speaking with often talk about their rings in terms of memories. For instance, high school yearbooks often offer the same type of experience, but there’s something about a class ring that makes it even more personal. Rings can be worn – yearbooks are often stacked away on shelves or in bookcases. When students look at their class rings, they’re instantly greeted with fond memories that warm their heart – and that makes it all worth it.

What Are Class Rings Made Of? 

This is a great question! It’s also one that we hear quite often. Well, class rings can and are often made from a variety of materials. They can be found in everything from 18K yellow gold, to 18K white gold, and from sterling silver, to bronze, and even rose gold! 

It all really comes down to the style that you’re looking for, and the designer. For instance, one prominent class rings designer says, “most class rings are made of 10K and 14K Yellow Gold or White Gold. In addition, some styles offer 18K Yellow or White Gold, Ultrium (a fine jeweler’s stainless alloy), and Extreme Silver. Metal offering is dependent upon manufacturing requirements and stability.” 

At Class Rings Museum, we always recommend reaching out to the designer or doing some research with the latest styles and trends designed by our museum itself. From there, you should be able to gain a better understanding of what materials are being used to craft your class ring. And don’t forget, you can always choose to work with a museum class ring designer for a more personalized experience. In 2022, it seems that this is the route that many students are choosing to go – especially because from there, your options open up quite a bit in terms of design, style, material, etc. In fact, you could even opt for a class necklace instead of a class ring! 

Your Comprehensive Class Ring History Guide

Now that we’ve come to the end of this chapter, we can congratulate you for building your knowledge on the history of class rings, their importance, the symbolism that they hold, a few of the most common questions that we often get from students and parents interested in class rings.

As we move into the next chapter, and the remainder of this book, we’re going to focus just a bit more on the types of class rings that are actually out there for you to purchase. If you’re reading this book, the chances are high that you’ve at least thought about purchasing a class ring – either for yourself or for your child. With that said, the rest of this book will point you in the right direction in terms of the various designs that are available and the most popular high school rings for girls and men. 

Lastly, we’ll finish up with a simple buying guide to help you make the right choice for your class ring. So, if you’re ready to move into the next part of this guide, let’s continue.

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