Issue 41: Jane's jewellery - the history of Jane Austen's exquisite turquoise and gold ring.

THIS PIECE FOLLOWS ON FROM CASS GRAFTON'S ARTICLE ON JANE AUSTEN'S TOPAZ CROSS

We received such lovely feedback for Cass's article that we couldn't resist another discussion of Jane's jewellery - who amongst our readers has been lucky enough to see the jewels in person?

I’ve never understood jewellery. It’s not that I don’t like it - I have many necklaces and pairs of earrings that are special to me, and which I like to wear when I am in the mood for it. I am certain, however, that I could not tell the difference between a £500 ring and a £2000 ring, or even a £10,000 ring. I don’t think I have the attention span to examine or notice the differences, or maybe I’m just suffering from an inexperienced eye.

Several years ago, however, I decided to treat myself. I had just come through a successful job interview and was delighted to have been offered the job, and had also come across an article about available replicas of Jane Austen’s turquoise ring. So I bought one, as a gift to reward myself!

 Jane Austen's ring.  Credit: Sotheby's

Jane Austen's ring. Credit: Sotheby's

Jane Austen’s turquoise ring first came to international attention in 2012 when it was bought at an auction for £152,450. The sale was reported - no doubt prompting wistful sighs from Janeites all over the world who read about it - before being thrust back into the spotlight once more when it was revealed that the buyer, the American singer Kelly Clarkson, would be taking the ring out of Britain. Uproar ensued, and a temporary export ban was was imposed by the UK government, due to the ring’s designation as a ‘national treasure’. This meant that Clarkson could have technically kept ownership of the ring, but presumably would not have been able to wear it unless she was in the UK. A proposal to raise the money to buy back the ring was made by the Jane Austen’s House Museum and donations poured in from around the world, meeting the target within a month. Clarkson graciously agreed to the sale and released a statement: “The ring is a beautiful national treasure and I am happy to know that so many Jane Austen fans will get to see it at Jane Austen’s House Museum”.

The ring itself is something of a mystery. We aren’t sure how Jane herself came to own it - it could perhaps have been a gift, like the topaz cross she received from her brother, Charles, or perhaps it was a treat to herself paid for with the proceeds from her writing. In Western culture, turquoise is the traditional birthstone for people born in December, like Jane. In 1820, several years after Jane’s death, her brother Henry remarried and Cassandra Austen gave the ring to his new wife, Eleanor Jackson. In 1863, the year before Eleanor herself died, she gave the ring to Jane’s niece, Caroline Austen, along with a note, which still accompanies the ring today.

 Note from Eleanor Austen (Jackson) to Caroline Austen.  Credit: Sotheby's

Note from Eleanor Austen (Jackson) to Caroline Austen. Credit: Sotheby's

The note reads: "My dear Caroline. The enclosed Ring once belonged to your Aunt Jane. It was given to me by your Aunt Cassandra as soon as she knew that I was engaged to your Uncle. I bequeath it to you. God bless you!"

The ring stayed in the family until surfacing at the auction in 2012, and you can read more about the provenance of the ring at the Sotheby’s website

I love my Jane Austen ring. I often receive compliments from people who don’t know of the Austen connection, but simply think the ring is beautiful. The piece of turquoise in my ring is a little greener than the piece in Jane’s ring, but it doesn’t bother me - green has always been my favourite colour. When I first purchased my replica, I was overly careful with it, removing it to wash dishes, shower, sleep, and cook. Now though, it is a permanent fixture on my hand, and I never take it off, except to show it to interested people. I’m proud to wear it (and there is a far higher risk of me losing it if I continue to remove it than if I keep it on). I feel like there is a bit of Jane with me wherever I go.

© Emily Prince - writer, librarian, and editor of Pride & Possibilities

 
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The Jane Austen Literacy Foundation works with the Jane Austen community and industry to provide literacy resources for communities in need across the world. Reading and writing skills empower individuals to participate in society and achieve their dreams. Literacy gives a child pride and opens up a world of possibilities.

Image credit: Sotheby's