Our theme for the month of November is “the periodic table.”
I have a sterling silver ring that I wear on the index finger of my left hand. It’s a plain circular band with no stone or engravings, about half a centimeter wide and rounded at the edges. It’s slightly tarnished, and, on close inspection, there are a few small nicks and divots in the metal from having been dropped so many times. I’ve worn it (or its direct predecessor—I’ve had two of them) for half of my life.
Though its feeling and weight are as familiar by now as my own skin, I didn’t know what the “sterling” part of sterling silver actually meant until I sat down to write this.
Turns out sterling silver is an alloy containing exactly 92.5 percent silver (Ag) by weight and 7.5 percent other metals, typically copper (Cu). Pure silver is soft, so other metals are blended in to add strength, making it more functionally suitable for use in jewelry, cutlery, and currency.
My mom gave me the original ring when I was fourteen as a gift following my profession of faith ceremony in church. Ring 1.0 had a black cross stamped on it. It wasn’t the first piece of jewelry she had given me, but it was the first that would come to be a part of me.
Ring 1.0 lasted four years. It wasn’t particularly well made, and I made the mistake of leaving it on, under my glove, during rec league softball games. A fly ball split it one evening, and though my dad did a nice job of soldering it back together, I disliked the mangled look of the band, and I stopped wearing it. Not long after, my mom replaced it. 2.0 was just a plain silver band (no cross), but sturdier and shinier. I’ve worn it since, only removing it when I swim or wash dishes.
I’ve since acquired more jewelry, and I’ve learned to lean into it more. I used to have some (rather toxic) gendered assumptions about jewelry, but I’ve since abandoned those thoughts as a bunch of BS. I’d like to get another earring soon, probably something a little more ostentatious. Maybe it’s an overindulgence in fantasy that makes all jewelry feel slightly magic.
And rings across cultures and throughout history seem to take on particular significance. A particular mark of remembrance, achievement, or promise. I’ve been variously asked if my silver ring is the One Ring, a wedding ring, or a purity ring. It’s not really a fashion statement, though it is occasionally a fidget. Even its original spiritual significance has in many ways diminished for me. When I look at my left hand, or when I twirl the ring in my fingers, I think of my mom. My mom, who loves jewelry and gifts. My mom, whose love encircles immovable, like an alloy of precious metal.
And if I slide it off, I can see skin beneath depressed and soft. Smooth as if polished. The mark it has left on me.