Virginia Nicholson – THE STORY OF A RING

Sometimes, when I reach across a counter, or place my hand on a table, the unusual beauty of the ring on my fourth finger provokes a shop assistant, a companion, or a waiter, to comment.

Appropriately, because my ring has an unusual story.

In 1987, the day after we decided to get married, my future husband and I went to an antique jewellery shop together. We chose an early Victorian engagement ring of rich, intense gold enclosing a deep red cabochon ruby set between twinkling diamond daisies like stars.

Ten months after the wedding, our son was born. I was absent-minded from childbirth and broken nights. I took him in his baby buggy to meet my husband from Heathrow airport.

Waiting for the plane to land, I took the baby to the bathroom for a nappy-change. I removed the ring to wash my hands, forgot it, and never saw it again. But I mourned it ever after.

That baby grew up. He went to work for the British aid programme in Kabul, Afghanistan. Afghanistan is a land of mountains that conceal precious stones. And there he discovered Shafiqi, a talented craftsman making a living by selling his reasonably priced jewellery to the diplomats. Hearing about him, it struck me that my lost ring could live again. So I dug up blurry old photographs, enlisted my artist sister to make sketches which would reanimate the still vivid memories of my lost treasure, and sent measurements. My son Skyped me from Shafiqi’s workshop in faraway Kabul, and together we selected a ruby sufficiently deep red in colour, and a lustrous enough gold to recapture the original. Over weeks Shafiqi worked on the setting. We sent Shafiqi his money, which, as he explained, was needed to pay for a huge family party – to celebrate his engagement.

Shortly before the second most loved man in my life turned thirty, he returned from Afghanistan, and presented me with my Kabul ring. It was the original. But brighter, and even more glowing than in memory.

It slipped back onto my fourth finger, a perfect fit.

The social historian Virginia Nicholson grew up in Leeds and spent childhood holidays at Charleston, the Sussex home of her grandmother, the Bloomsbury artist Vanessa Bell. She studied at Cambridge University and later worked as a documentary researcher for the BBC. Her books include Among the Bohemians, Singled Out, Millions Like Us, Perfect Wives in Ideal Homes and the recently published How Was it For You? Women, Sex, Love and Power in the 1960s. Married with three grown-up children, Virginia is now President of the Charleston Trust and a Fellow of the Royal Society of Literature.