That Engagement Ring

Laura held her hand up to the first light of the new moon. The gold of the ring and its flat oval set shone shone in the faint moon radiance. Three small stones set in the golden oval glimmered…a garnet, with a pearl on each side.

~Laura Ingalls Wilder, in These Happy Golden Years

Reading those words about the engagement ring that Almanzo gave Laura sealed my fate. I’ve been on a quest for that ring ever since.

I bought my first garnet ring while still in high school. While the garnet and pearl combination was popular during the Victorian years, it’s not easily found in modern jewelry so that first ring was silver with a garnet and two tiny diamonds on either side. Although I cherished it at the time, deep in my heart I knew it wasn’t authentic. The search went on.

Back in the dark ages, before internet auction sites, there were antique stores. I had a little more luck there, I found a lovely ring with three garnets and six pearls. Okay, not quite the ring but I was getting closer.

Then came the Internet and suddenly my search was made so much easier. There was a plethora of antique garnet and pearl rings available to buy.  Went a little crazy. If what they say is true that three or more of anything is a collection, I have a collection of garnet and pearl rings.


This is just a small sampling of some of the rings that have found their way into my life. None are exactly right, which is why I kept searching those auction sites, usually late at night when it’s very easy to talk yourself into something even though it isn’t exactly what you’re looking for.

And yet, the constant searching for “garnet pearl ring” paid off not too long ago. I found a listing for a ring made in 1884 (the year Almanzo and Laura got engaged) featuring a center garnet flanked by a pearl on each side. The setting is flat and best of all, it was the perfect size to fit on my index finger. Why is that important, you ask?  Because Laura describes wearing her engagement ring on her “first” finger. In The First Four Years she actually uses the word “index” finger. It doesn’t appear to be a common practice; in all my research I’ve never uncovered any evidence that people commonly used the index finger for engagement rings. Since Ida’s “broad circlet of gold” was on her first finger too, maybe it was a De Smet custom.

So you see where I’m going with this, don’t you? Even though I already had 1 or 2…or 10, garnet and pearl rings lying around, I had to get this new one. It was made in 1884, was the perfect style and fit my index finger. It was a sign, I tell you. Well, at least that’s what I told my husband.  I also told him that I would stop searching for “garnet pearl ring” on the Internet…and I will, soon. 😉


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21 comments on “That Engagement Ring
  1. Dennis D. Picard says:

    Ah yes, garnets. Because of the historical connection, I’ve been giving my wife various pieces of garnet jewelry for 30 years. I’ve found some pretty neat old pieces – luckily she takes a ring size 5 1/2 so the old ones fit – and a couple of local shops carry garnet necklaces. As you likely already know; new garnets are not from the same geographic source as the “old” ones. The color is noticeably different.

  2. Sandra Hume says:

    Dennis, I did not know this. Interesting. I did puzzle over the color because garnet (lucky me!) happens to be my birthstone and as a child I always wished for a “prettier” birthstone color. Can you elaborate on the change? You could even write your own post! I bet we’d all be interested. 🙂

    I would love to get a ring like Jonni’s. It would have to be silver, though, as I don’t wear gold jewelry. I wonder how often silver was used back then?

  3. Laura says:

    Loved this post! Last fall I was finally able to get a garnet and pearl ring, with some fierce bidding going on! Hmmm…
    It’s not exactly what I want, so the search goes on.
    I have also always wondered about the first finger and was never able to find anything out.

  4. tk says:

    I’m pretty sure I remember hearing something from grand-cesters about how wedding/engagement rings were sometimes worn on the index finger. So for a long time that’s what I thought You Did — even though I know the connection to the ring finger is older, with the belief of the vein going to the heart, etc. … Maybe my relatives all read LHOTP.

    Gorgeous rings! Especially the new one … 🙂 I usually think of garnet as a lot deeper red, though, and yours is pinker than I imagine it.

    Perfect on the year of make — absolutely perfect.

  5. Tracy Smith says:

    Garnet comes in a wide variety of colors, even in green and orange. The red garnets we are all familiar with also come in several varities: Almandine, Pyrope, Rhodolite, Spessartine. Laura’s garnet was likely an Almandine or a Pyrope, as both varieties were in common use at the time.

    The last picture looks pretty much as I’ve always imagined Laura’s ring to be, except for an oval garnet.

    If you can’t find the exact ring you have in mind, there’s always the option of having one custom made.

    I’ve always wondered if Laura always wore this ring over the years, or if she put it up and only wore it on occasion. And did she get a plain wedding band to go with it or did this ring serve a dual purpose?

  6. Jonni says:

    The garnet in my ring is an almandine so that’s why the color appears a little lighter than the brownish-red of modern garnets.

  7. LaurieA-B says:

    The last ring is so beautiful. I have always wondered what Laura’s ring looked like, and now I can see why Almanzo selected it. Thank you for sharing it.

  8. kailey says:

    I love the last ring! It is so perfect, thank you for finding it and posting it on here. Now when I read I can actually see the ring. (I’m slightly jealous now too, lol)

  9. Jacqueline says:

    How wonderful that you found “the ring”. I have a very similar one inherited from my great grandmother (she was born in 1897; I believe her ring was actually one of her mother’s hand me downs). The garnet is larger and raised, though, but definitely from the same period. This gives me new appreciation for my treasure!

  10. Kalee says:

    I know this post is over a year old, but hopefully “Jonni” might still get a message about it. Wherever did you find that ring?! I have been searching for one just like it for ever! My boyfriend and I want to get engaged soon and I really want a ring like this, I plan on using my engagement ring as my wedding ring also. Where did you find it and how much did it cost if you don’t mind me asking? Any information on it would be very helpful in our search for a ring 🙂

  11. Lindsey says:

    A little too small to fit my fingers, but I just found this–completely by accident–while perusing the internet for my own dream engagement ring. The time period is right, but the design seems just slightly off from Laura’s description. Still, it is pretty close!

  12. J says:

    Oh, what a lovely ring collection you have! The ring so like Laura’s is lovely indeed. So dainty.

    My birthstone is technically blue zircon (December), but my birthday is December 31, and my Grandmother’s is January, so we fudge it and say my birthstone is garnet. So much prettier. 🙂

  13. Liz Mann says:

    My garnet and pearl engagement ring was stolen over 20 years ago. I keep searching for it’s replacement. It had little pearls surrounding a garnet so the mount was high. If anyone sees one similar let me know. Thanks

  14. The Museum is working with a jeweler to re-create Laura’s ring. I will be in town with all LIW enthusiast when we’ve completed the design.

  15. Dawn says:

    Wearing the wedding ring on the index finger is a Jewish and Eastern European custom.

  16. Linda Groh Demers says:

    I will be going to Mansfield Missouri in June. I will try to remember to ask about the ring. This article is so interesting. I just got to the part about the ring in “These Happy Golden Years”, and I was so curious about her wearing it on the first finger that I couldn’t resist ‘googling’ it!

    • Maridel says:

      They don’t have the rings there but I loved visiting Rocky Ridge. I found myself tearing up just looking in the museum. Have fun

  17. Maridel says:

    I found a sterling silver ring on eBay that has an oval garnet and two pearls. It is like a new twist on her ring. It is a three strand ring by Boma and I got it for $23. It is a size 8 so you would be able to get it sized up or down. I have seen a few different styles and you can buy rings at the Walnut Grove site (I think). It is like I am carrying a pice of Laura with wherever I go.

  18. Maridel says:

    Did some more research on why Laura might have had her engagement ring on her index finger. The areas she lived in (not sure about Kansas) were settled by Scandinavian people. In Scandinavian wedding customs I read that a woman actually got three rings from her husband. The engagement ring was placed on the index finger, the wedding ring on the middle finger, then a Mother’s ring was placed on the third finger-the latter two on the wedding day. This might be why her ring was on the first finger.

  19. Grace says:

    First, Almanzo knew his woman. Laura was frugal & the ring was likely an extravagant purchase that was not considered necessary. Almanzo was always “generous to a fault” there should be no reason to think his purchase was different in this case. No mention of Caroline’s ring was made, it may have been a plain gold band if she had one.

    Second, you need to compare what other men during that time gave as engagement rings. Now, a ring is a big deal, as is the wedding dress & trimmings. Laura wore black, rushed to finish the dress & had dinner at home – they were poor & could not afford a “big wedding”. Laura’s friend, Ida had a plain gold band – no stones & Laura was detailed in her account of her ring & how “flashy” she thought it was. She obviously valued the ring. Probably it was lost, stolen, sold or destroyed because of the sentimental account of the ring in her book. Like her unwillingness to tell the whole story about her dog, Jack & her skimming over the “bad” parts of her life, Laura leaves the memory she wants rather than the harsh reality. During that time, you sold what you could to pay debts & I doubt Laura was any different during their first 4 years. She remembers with pain having to sell horses to pay debt, she would not have valued a ring more than an animal.

  20. Gina says:

    Your rings are SO beautiful! I don’t suppose you would have a clearer picture of your collection? They are so drool worthy.