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Claddagh Rings Buying Guide

Claddagh Ring

(Almost) Everything You Need to Know about Claddagh Rings

If you’re looking for a piece of jewelry that is so much more than just a flashy accessory, a gaudy bauble that has no real meaning or sentimentality behind it, the Irish Claddagh ring is going to be right up your alley!

With hundreds of thousands of very pretty – but often times somewhat generic – jewelry designs and accessories out there the Irish Claddagh ring stands head and shoulders above the rest of the pack, immediately recognizable even by those that do not fully understand or grasp the history or significance behind this piece of jewelry.

A signature and traditionally designed Claddagh ring is going to immediately set your jewelry apart from the rest of the crowd, helping you to showcase your personality, your history, your traditions, your culture, or just the way that you’ve come to embrace everything that this particular symbol stands for and always has.

Modern Claddagh ring designs take a lot of the tradition of these pieces and add unique contemporary design elements and aesthetics to them, creating a mix of old and new that is always exciting, always interesting, and always gives an individual the opportunity to put their own personal stamp on some thing as timeless as this.

At the end of the day, the opportunities for creating or finding a Claddagh ring that really resonates with you – or perfectly encapsulates the person that you want to give one to – are endless.

There’s never been a better time than today to find the perfect Claddagh ring, and with the information in this quick guide we’re going to make sure that you have all the help you need finding the ideal piece of jewelry for that special someone in your life.

Let’s dive right in!

What Exactly Is a Claddagh Ring, Anyway?

While plenty of people have interpreted Claddagh rings differently throughout history, the general consensus is that this simple, straightforward, and immediately recognizable design was created to symbolize an incredibly strong, personal, and close relationship between two individuals – whether that be a friendship that goes beyond all others or a recognition of finally coming across the one person in this universe that you were meant to be with.

The Claddagh ring design stands apart from all other designs in that it always features two hands that are holding a heart that has been crowned, the signature design element of this piece of jewelry and the one particular element that every single Claddagh ring design on the planet is going to have in common with every other is magnificent.

You can change pretty much anything you want about the overall design, makeup, color, and composition of a Claddagh ring. But at the end of the day, if it isn’t featuring those two hands holding a crowned heart, it isn’t a Claddagh ring at all but some thing else entirely.

Unsurprisingly, these distinctly Irish pieces of jewelry originally hail from a very small town in Ireland that no longer exists these days – the small fishing village located just outside the city walls of Galway, a village and community that still celebrates its unique history even if its “official” name has been erased from maps.

Nobody is quite sure of where the original design of Claddagh rings came from, and nobody can quite pinpoint down exactly where in history these pieces of jewelry started to show up in Irish shops and later all over Europe (and then the rest of the world).

Some folks are under the impression that the original Claddagh ring was created by a man named Richard Joyce, a sailor that operated out of the fishing village of Claddagh and a man that later helped to bring people to the New World in the 17th century.

Somewhere along the way Joyce found himself captured by pirates during a trip to the West Indies, and before he knew it he was sold into slavery. The person that purchased him turned him into a goldsmiths apprentice and assistant, a field that he showed real talent and almost immediately excelled in.

Thankfully for Joyce, it wasn’t all that long until slavery in the West Indies was outlawed completely – abolished from top to bottom – and he was able to find a passage on a ship that brought him back to Galway. He paid for his trip with gold bits and pieces he “appropriated” from his former slave owner, with the rest of the gold pieces he brought with him from the West Indies being transformed into the very first Claddagh ring, a ring he gave the woman that waited all those years for him to return.

There’s a lot of romance and a lot of adventure in that genesis of the Claddagh ring, but others feel that the ring itself was originally created by a goldsmith living in Galway – an individual named Bartholomew Fallon – a jeweler of some acclaim already in the 17th century. Early examples of Claddagh rings bear out his maker mark which gives this story a little bit of credibility.

But again it’s impossible to really hammer down which of these two stories is the “real” one. There’s a lot of fun and excitement in the mystery of the Claddagh ring genesis moment. It is easy to see why both of these stories continue to be passed down still today.

Even though the actual origination of the very first Claddagh ring isn’t known, what historians do know for sure is that the design itself is heavily influenced by the Romans. The Roman Empire stretched far beyond Italy at its zenith, reaching into Ireland and heavily influencing the culture in ways that most people that haven’t done a deep dive in this field aren’t aware of.

In antiquity, it wasn’t at all uncommon for Romans to present their closest friends with rings and other pieces of jewelry. These rings were called “fede rings” after the Roman expression “mani in fede” which literally translates to “hands clasped in faith”.

These early Roman rings (of which dozens have been found at archaeological digs around the world) feature design elements that are quite similar to a lot of ring design elements of claddagh rings, particularly the two separate hands that are classed together – and sometimes these rings have hands clasped together holding heart shaped symbols.

Obviously, these early pieces of jewelry aren’t anywhere near as sophisticated or as refined as the more modern assortment lot of rings that would be created in the 17th century were. But the influence is equally as obvious. There’s no doubt that Irish Claddagh rings were heavily based off of Roman friendship rings of thousands of years ago.

The influence of these Roman rings stretches beyond the actual design of Claddagh rings, too. All of the Roman fede rings that have been discovered by archaeologists were manufactured out of gold, and legend says that Richard Joyce made the very first Claddagh ring out of gold as well – which is why gold (yellow gold) is the most traditional material to produce this piece of jewelry from.

What is the Significance of a Claddagh Ring?

There are three distinct design elements in every Claddagh ring that stand for important symbols, with these three design elements being:

  • The clasped hands
  • The heart between them and
  • The crown atop the entire design

While it’s possible to find pieces of jewelry that feature one or even two of these design elements together with one another, you don’t have a Claddagh ring on your hands unless all three of these design elements are featured – with all three elements combined in the traditional shape and style, too.

These three symbols are at the very heart and the very core of Claddagh ring, which is why you simply cannot have one of these rings if any one of these symbols are missing.

That’s because these rings are so much more than just fancy pieces of jewelry or fun accessories, but are instead very serious symbols of love, commitment, friendship, and loyalty.

While the heart and the crown are front and center in these Claddagh ring design, folks usually notice the hands that are holding both of these elements – and usually clasped together – before they notice anything else. These hands are designed to symbolize friendship, a close relationship, and two different people coming together over some thing in common (usually one another).

The heart (no surprise here) symbolizes love, passion, the human quality that connects each and every one of us to one another in a way that goes far deeper than surface level compliments or flattering. There is real power in this symbol, and when you combine it with the hands that are both clasping the heart you have a design that really illustrates how important it is to have two people sharing one powerful symbol like this amongst them.

Finally, you have the crown. This has been a symbol of loyalty throughout history and its position here on the heart as opposed to on either one of the hands in a Claddagh ring design shows that it’s loyalty to the emotions that bind these two people together rather than a subjugation of either party.

It’s quite a bit to unpack for sure but that’s part of what makes the Claddagh ring design so timeless, so classic, and some thing that is going to continue to exist for centuries to come over there and here (as it has for centuries already).

The way a person wears a Claddagh ring can also be an important symbol, particularly if you are well-versed in the “language” of this piece of jewelry.

As far as tradition is concerned, these Claddagh rings are designed to be worn on the right hand of an individual with the heart and the crown either facing outward and away from the body or inward and towards the body.

A Claddagh ring that is turned outwards in facing away from the wearer’s body is considered to be an “open” Claddagh ring, a ring that can symbolize a person not being in a committed or serious relationship or a person that is open to connect with people that they interact with on a regular basis.

A Claddagh ring that has the crown and the heart facing inwards, towards their body, is said to be “closed”. This is usually taken to mean that the person is in a committed relationship, a loving relationship, and that someone has “captured their heart” and that it is not available to anyone else.

Claddagh rings can also obviously be worn on the left-hand in the same fashion, with those that are “closed” usually taken to mean that an individual is married or in a long-term and committed relationship.

Again, this can be quite a bit to unpack (especially by those that aren’t totally familiar with the lay of the land or language of Claddagh rings) but these traditions can also act as a quick shorthand to better understand those that you interact with that have these pieces of jewelry on their hands.

Depending on the story that you believe about the original lot of rings being created, these rings were either originally produced to celebrate romantic relationships that can stand the test of time as well as span across the globe or that they were originally created to celebrate more casual relationships between friends that went far beyond just everyday acquaintances.

No matter how you try and slice it, though, it’s impossible to argue that these rings mean anything other than a special relationship between two different people. There’s a lot of significance in a Claddagh ring that isn’t going to be carried over with a more traditional piece of jewelry, and it’s important that you understand exactly what you are getting into before you give someone a ring like this.

The last thing you want to do is give someone a ring like this unintentionally, and the second to last thing you want to do is give someone a Claddagh ring when you aren’t sure if they feel the same way about you.

What are the Major Different Types of Claddagh Rings Out There?

Though there isn’t going to be much difference between the major different types of Claddagh rings out there when it comes to those three main design elements – the hands, the heart, and the crown – the way that these elements are integrated into the ring and the way that they are either featured or brought into the background of the other design elements will have a major impact on the type of ring itself.

Irish Heritage Celebration

The odds are pretty good that if you see someone wearing a Claddagh ring (whether it be a men’s Claddagh ring or a Claddagh ring for girls makes no difference), the odds are pretty good that they have some pride and some connection to Ireland, the Irish people, and the Celtic culture that has permeated every corner of the globe.

It doesn’t take all that much of a stretch of the imagination to consider that someone wearing one of the most recognizable symbols of Ireland on their finger is a big proponent of Ireland and the Irish in general – and most of the time you’ll be able to hit this nail right on the head.

Some of the most iconic traditional Claddagh rings out there were symbols of ancestral pride more than anything else, designed in travel, and developed more by generations of Irish that either moved to places like the United States, Canada, and elsewhere or grew up in those locales and were raised by Irish people that had moved/settled.

Wearing a ring like this is a great way to remember a family history, to celebrate a lineage, and to have a tangible part of this culture with you no matter where you might find yourself on the planet today.

Heavy Symbolism

Other types of a lot of rings have been designed to prominently feature the hands, the heart, and the crown and do so very specifically to celebrate and heavily focus on the symbolism of these three elements and what their combination has come to represent.

People that look at Claddagh rings and so much more than just another fancy piece of jewelry understand that these three elements weren’t chosen at random. They have a long history as symbols individually and an almost as long history as symbols collectively, and that whether or not they symbolize an interpersonal relationship or relationship that you have with your own self, your beliefs, or your heritage, they celebrate commitment and loyalty above all else.

A Lovely Way to Say I Love You

You also have Claddagh rings that are very specifically given to romantic partners, just a step below an engagement ring, but no less significant when you’re looking to convey that you are serious about this relationship and that you take the commitment to one another very seriously as well.

Famous Irish author Colin Murphy explains in his seminal work on the Claddagh ring exactly how this piece of jewelry came to be such an important part of the Irish culture but also how important a role it plays in romantic relationships, not just in Ireland but around the world.

The “rules” of how to wear a Claddagh ring depending on your relationship status had been handed down throughout the generations for more than 1000 years before Colin decided to put them down on paper and commit them to a book, also detailing the history, the legacy coming in the future of this piece of jewelry.

At the end of the day, however, those “rules” matter a lot less than the meaning behind this gift when it is given to a romantic partner. Whether you’ve been with someone for three weeks, three years, or three decades makes no difference – if you are serious about seeing this through with them, and if you really feel as though you’ve found your soulmate and want to communicate with a ring that doesn’t have the same kind of weight (or investment) that a traditional engagement ring has, this is the way to go.

Family Heirlooms and Tangible Stories

Another of the more popular styles of men’s Claddagh rings and women’s Claddagh rings has to be the jewelry pieces that are purchased to start a new family tradition, to extend a family tradition, and to pass down your personal story through the generations – keeping your story going long after you have left this mortal coil.

While the first few Claddagh rings were produced in the early to mid-17th century, they didn’t really become “popular” across Ireland until the 1830s – and then they took off like a bottle rocket.

As incredible as it is to consider the fact that this “Irish brand” is still popular today (almost 200 years later), once you realize that some of these early Claddagh rings are still around – and many of them are still being passed down from one generation to another – you really begin to understand just how much of a symbol these jewelry pieces are and how they have become so much more than just a fun or fancy accessory.

There’s a lot of history, a lot of lore, and a lot of legends and myths surrounding Claddagh rings in general. This has helped to extend its popularity for sure, but nothing has legs for hundreds and hundreds of years unless people have an emotional connection to it.

It’s the story, the history, and the tradition of these rings that continue to cement its place in history and the fact that you have an opportunity to purchase or gift one of these rings that can be handed down (with the story that you get to help author) isn’t some thing that we should waste or squander.

Instead it’s some thing that should be and usually is celebrated and it’s some thing that helps to separate Irish Claddagh style rings from everything else in the jewelry world today, tomorrow, and for years and years into the future. This is a design that was timeless the day it was conceived of. The versatility of this design is going continue to ensure it remains a big part of our world for as long as we are wearing jewelry.

What Separates Claddagh Rings from Every Other Style of Jewelry?

When you think of all of the jewelry designs that have ever existed throughout history, from the very first time the very first human decided to tinker with a couple of precious metals and create a ring in the first place right up until today, the fact that the Claddagh ring remains as popular as it is – and always has been – is nothing short of incredible.

What used to be considered nothing more than a symbol of Ireland and the Irish people is now beloved around the world. It has grown to become so much more than just a small token symbol of the Celtic people but now has universal appeal across all cultures, to the point where it’s almost impossible to think this symbol – the Claddagh ring symbol – could ever fade away from humanity and be forgotten.

This isn’t some thing that can be said about every jewelry design throughout history.

No, it takes some thing really special to strike a chord across all walks of life the way that Claddagh rings for men and women can.

The simplicity of the design certainly does its part to help handle the heavy lifting of its symbolism, but there’s so much more going on “under the hood” of Claddagh rings that makes it some thing truly special. Below we try and explain or quantify exactly why this design is so timeless, so traditional, and yet so relevant even today in our ultra fast-paced and increasingly digital world.

The Symbolism is Universal

You don’t have to be a poet, a philosopher, or a big-time romantic to immediately understand and experience the symbolism of Claddagh rings.

There’s nothing subtle about two hands reaching towards one another, clasping a heart that is topped by a crown. In fact, a lot of rings practically beat you over the head and shoulders with what they mean, what they intend, and the kind of significance they bring to the table.

The two hands reaching out to one another come from individual parties and symbolize a relationship between two people and everything that entails. The fact that they are grasping a heart means that this relationship goes far beyond a casual acquaintance or dalliance, but is instead some thing truly important, some thing truly worthwhile.

Add on the crown on top of the heart and you see just how important the loyalty and commitment of this relationship is. Not only is this a special personal relationship, but it’s one that both parties are committed to, both parties are loyal to, and a relationship that is stronger together than it would be individually.

Best of all, the symbolism of these elements does not necessarily predicate a romantic relationship but can instead be representative of any relationship where love, trust, honesty, loyalty, and commitment plays a major part.

That’s why men’s and women’s Claddagh rings can be so universal!

The Design is Flexible

Because the three design elements are so core to the tradition of the Claddagh ring itself they aren’t ever going to be replaced or left out, but because they are so simple, so straightforward, and so open to interpretation they allow for a variety of different designs and configurations – which means there are plenty of different types of Claddagh rings out there to pick and choose from.

Other jewelry designs might lock you into a very specific kind of style, kind of aesthetic that you have to color inside the lines with, but Claddagh rings allow you a lot of freedom of expression, a lot of customization, and a lot personality while still working with these three major design elements.

It isn’t easy to find jewelry designs that have this much flexibility but it’s some thing that is integral to these kinds of rings and these three specific symbols. You have a lot of room to play with when you’re getting ready to customize a piece of jewelry like this, and that means it’s always going to feel very personal.

It Can Be Worn by Men and Women

Another major piece of the puzzle behind the significance and the popularity of Claddagh rings is the fact that the design is about as neutral as you’ll find, allowing for it to be worn by both men and women without anyone feeling like an imposter after sliding this ring on their finger.

Again, the three design elements allow for all kinds of artistic expression and can be combined, showcased, or placed into the background of a Claddagh ring in a variety of different ways to highlight more masculine or more feminine elements.

On top of that, this gender-neutral approach also allows for these kinds of rings to be given as gifts to men and women from men and women interchangeably, without any mixed signals being sent along the way that could be interpreted incorrectly.

It is Traditional and Timeless without Feeling Old and Outdated

There’s some thing about the Claddagh ring design of these three elements combined with one another that at the same time feels traditional and antique but also modern and contemporary in a way that very few other designs throughout history can.

The second that you look at this design you know that it is old, you know that it is powerful, and you know that it is steeped in history. But at the same time it never feels like it doesn’t belong in our modern world, it doesn’t feel as though it is an imposter, and it never feels as though you’re trying to pull the past forward.

It’s important, it’s comfortable, and it’s the definition of timeless. The Claddagh ring style isn’t ever going to fall out of fashion.

It Has Universal and Individual Meaning

Perhaps best of all is the fact that a Claddagh ring has a universal meaning to anyone and everyone that sees one, a meaning that is understood across the board without even having to acknowledge it.

People that understand even just a little bit about Claddagh rings are going to recognize it for what it is, but more than that they are going to recognize the wearer as someone that understands and appreciates the importance of this design as well.

On top of that, however, is the fact that each individual Claddagh ring will have an individual meaning to the person that has received it as a gift as well as the individual that has given it. The combination of this universal and at the same time intimate meaning is an interesting dichotomy that only cements the importance of Claddagh rings in our culture today.