The Ring of O is a specially designed ring which is worn mainly in continental Europe - and especially the German language countries - as a distinctive mark among BDSM practitioners since the 1990s. Its use is relatively widespread within this subculture. Its name derives from the name of the central female character in the classic BDSM novel Story of O (written by Pauline Réage), who wore an analogous ring.
The ring mentioned in the original novel was quite different from what is most commonly known as the "Ring of O" today. The novel describes the ring as shaped similarly to a signet ring (with a seal disk on top which was relatively large for a woman's ring), and made out of dull-gray polished iron, lined with gold on the inside, and with a golden Triskelion on its top area.
The ring's symbolic meaning in the novel differs quite a bit from the one commonly used among BDSM practitioners today. In the book, such a ring is worn by a female "slave" after she has finished her training at Roissy. Those wearing the ring are obliged to be obedient to any man who belongs to the secret society of Roissy (whose emblem is the triskelion), and must allow him to do absolutely everything with them that he pleases.
This stands in strong contrast to the ring's meaning today. People indicate by wearing such rings that they are interested in BDSM, and by the hand they wear it on whether they are Top or Bottom.
The first film adaptation of the novel Story of O showed a design consisting of a cylindrical steel ring with an attached ball holding an even smaller toroidal ring (which could swivel in one dimension). Thus it showed similarities to types of collars which in former times were used in order to chain animals or prisoners (see the collar in the image at right) and are still common in the BDSM scene today. Inspired by this movie, such small rings became quite popular among BDSM practitioners in German-speaking countries.
The first image of this jewelery design was published in the September issue (No.4) of the German BDSM magazine Schlagzeilen in 1989. Its development is commonly credited to German jewelery designers Jörg Hampel and Jan Scheu.
Since the beginning of the 1990s, the ring's design has been increasingly found outside of BDSM contexts as well. Similar jewellery designs were published in continental Europe, for example by Calvin Klein, and are often offered in shops specializing in selling to young people.
After the ring's most common design started increasingly circulating outside of the BDSM subculture, new design variants developed. These new designs are often incorporate foldaway elements and a more complex structure. This allowed a higher exclusivity and unambiguousness while at the same time the discretion with respect to "vanillas" was significantly increased.
In the UK and the USA, another symbol of BDSM, called the "BDSM Emblem" is far more common. Its design more closely resembles the one described in the novel (without attempting to exactly duplicate it).
Usually the ring is worn by Tops on their left hand and by Bottoms on their right. This has the advantage that right-handed tops don't wear a ring on their working hand. Also, right-handed Bottoms have their more active hand symbolically bound. On very rare occasions it's the other way around. In the original novel, O (who is a Bottom) wears the ring on her left hand.
Due to these different conventions it is not always possible to accurately guess a ring-wearer's BDSM preferences. Switches sometimes wear the ring on a necklace.
The term O Ring is sometimes used to refer to collars as well (contrasting with D-ring collars). In this context it can describe a collar with one large ring for fastening. Collars featuring such rings are often worn by Bottoms to indicate that they are in a steady relationship.
This article is based on "Ring of O" from the free encyclopedia Wikipedia (http://en.wikipedia.org). It is licensed under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation Licencse. In the Wikipedia you can find a list of the authors by visiting the following address: http://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=Ring+of+O&action=history