A few days ago, BBC Radio 4's lunchtime-weekday consumer programme You and Yours touched upon selling unwanted engagement rings, and what determines their low second-hand value. It was no surprise to learn that such rings fetch very much less than one might have paid a jeweller for a new ring. Clearly the mark-up for a jeweller on a shiny, glittering, brand new ring is extortionately large! They know very well of course that for many buyers of new rings, cost is completely secondary: the important matter is to secure an attractive article symbolising love and a promise to marry. What bride-to-be does not expect an engagement ring to show off, and a good one at that! But this doesn't fully explain why the cost of a second-hand engagement ring, in a private transaction anyway, might be as low as 10% of its price when it was new. The programme explored what could be going on.
It seemed there was no general stigma attached to old rings, where the ring once belonged to a happy and loving couple. But in less felicitous circumstances there were two factors at work which tended to suppress the sale price.
One was the attitude of the seller. If this were a sensitive chap whose engagement had been called off and the ring handed back - or even torn off the finger and hurled back in his face with hurtful words - then it would be associated with a failed relationship that ended badly. The ring would lurk in a drawer, too valuable to throw away, but nevertheless an unwanted and useless possession, a bit of a millstone around the man's neck, reminding him that his love - indeed, all he'd had to offer - had been rejected. He might eventually decide to sell it. He would not care about the price - it would be enough to see the thing gone, and then move forward.
The other was the attitude of the buyer, or rather the woman who was going to wear the ring. A ring from a past happy relationship was one thing; a ring from a failed relationship was quite something else - it would be tainted. It would doom the new relationship.
'The curse of the ring' was apparently a notion widely recognised by many women. An awful lot of ladies were wary of having the bad luck of the previous failed relationship passed on to them. Or the ring might have been malevolently used, and would encourage unloving behaviour. One woman actually described how she caused her fiancé's fancy Rolex watch to stop dead, by angrily and spitefully murmering her pent-up resentments over her engagement ring, as a witch might, and sending a 'force' from the ring to the watch. A ring capable of such powers might indeed be one to avoid! So if sold at all, rings like this would go for very little. If their history were known, or guessed, that is.
There were, thankfully, a few who snapped their fingers at all this, and felt that engagement rings were innocent - or at least redeemable if in any way party to strife and separation - and should always have a 'second chance'. Perhaps the feeling here was that if a ring were given an opportunity to prove its worth, it would (in gratitude) work super-hard to bring about the happiness not experienced first time around. Which is a highly positive idea, and a lovely thought, but still in the realm of superstition and irrationality!
And yet, you know, I wouldn't dogmatically assert that rings and bracelets and necklaces, and other kinds of jewellery, are always just metal and stone adornments, and nothing more. I find it very easy to believe that something of the original wearer's physical and mental individuality seeps into the article, and gets embedded. Am I being silly? Well, these are highly personal objects, often rarely or never taken off. Are they really not going to absorb elements of the original wearer's persona? Common sense says no, how could they? One's gut feeling says otherwise. Putting this another way, who would feel completely happy about putting on a ring once worn by Hitler? Or Rasputin? Or Torquemada? Or indeed any other monster living or dead? Wouldn't one fear the 'curse of the ring'? Wouldn't one - however irrational this seems - feel that some baleful influence would be let into one's life?
By the same 'logic', a ring known to have been worn by Somebody Good or Somebody Wise might seem especially desirable. The trouble is, of course, that the best of us have dark sides. There's the risk of conjuring up that hidden demon within!
We are firmly into Witchcraft Territory once we begin to regard bits of metal and stone as magical entities with wills of their own, independent of the wearer. And yet it's quite easy to accept that anything worn when pleasant things happen must be imbued with good luck. It need not be jewellery: it could be a 'lucky scarf' or a 'lucky pair of shoes'. But it's more often than not a lucky ring or similar.
Surely there is no more than a coincidental or indirect link between wearing a 'lucky' item and experiencing good fortune. But speaking for myself, I would hesitate to leave my front door without my usual rings and other bits and bobs. Without them, I would somehow feel naked and defenceless, exposed to mishap. And that vulnerable psychological state might very well make me susceptible to accidents and sundry trip-ups.
Trying to be hard-headed, I'd want to say that all magic - all belief in 'luck' anyway, good or bad - is simply a matter of suggestion and susceptibility to psychological manipulation, including self-delusion. But the primeval part of me needs talismen to make certain that I won't come to harm, and that I will enjoy lots of pleasant and convenient experiences.
I've got a sneaking suspicion that my new silver bracelet - always on my wrist of course - has ensured the dry (and often sunny) holiday weather I've had up here on the Cotswolds - in March too! Amazing. All against the odds. And what else could possibly be the reason for such good fortune?