A gold memento mori ring, probably dating to the mid 17th century. The hoop is of D-shaped cross-section, with an engraved design on the outside, and an inscription on the inside. The design consists of three equally spaced skulls within oval borders, between which there are three ornate crosses with scrollwork issuing from the angles. The inscription is 'Die to live eternally', followed by a maker's mark 'R' within an irregularly-shaped cartouche.
Memento mori rings remind the wearer of his own mortality, and were often bequeathed to relatives and friends to serve as personal memorials. The practice originally entailed passing on rings that had been the personal property of the testator, but during the 16th century a custom developed whereby instructions were left in the will for rings to be purchased specifically for the purpose. This avoided any perceived discrimination, and the quantity could be adjusted to suit as many beneficiaries as considered appropriate. The type of ring chosen varied, but there appears to have been a general preference for the memento mori type, as the present ring. From The reign of Charles II, the practice began of engraving such rings with the name of the deceased and the date of death, and thus they can be clearly identified as mourning rings. Towards the middle of the 18th century, the inscription was transferred to the outside of the ring, and took the form of a relief inscription on an enamelled background. The convention was that the rings of those who died unmarried would carry white enamel, while black enamel was used for those who were married.
Cf. UKDFD 18906.