Ringing the changes with the moderator
Tuesday, May 18th, 2004
on behalf of Alistir Wood Tait Antique and Fine Jewellery
A JEWELLER has been asked to alter a historic ring which goes with the highest office in the Church of Scotland’s so that it better fits the first woman Moderator.
The Moderator’s Ring has graced the hand of the church’s most senior figure for the past 100 years during official engagements at home and abroad, but its large size and heavy weight make it prone to slip off.
Now respected Edinburgh goldsmith and gemmologist Alistir Tait has been given the job of altering the ring to ensure it is a more comfortable fit for Dr Alison Elliot when she takes up the post of Moderator during the annual General Assembly later this month.
A new, inner gold band, measured exactly to fit Dr Elliot’s hand and known as a “keeper ring”, has now been soldered into place and will ensure the heavy emblem does not slip off.
The impressive gold band is adorned with a large marquise-cut amethyst – with an image of the Burning Bush, which is the church’s emblem, painstakingly engraved into the stone.
Mr Tait, who runs Alistir Wood Tait Antique and Fine Jewellery in Rose Street, Edinburgh, said: “It is a great honour to work on a piece which is so much more than a straight-forward item of jewellery.
“How many rings will a jeweller ever work on which carry this weight of tradition and heritage? In those terms it is immeasurable and that is what makes this job such a privilege.
“Of course the Moderator changes every year, so the ring has been altered and adjusted in the past, but this is the most significant change it has ever undergone because it is the first time it has been changed to fit a woman’s hand.
“It is a very large ring and would only fit someone with particularly large hands. There are several marks on it which suggest it has been dropped in the past and I suspect that may be because it is also quite heavy and would easily slip off a finger.”
Dr Elliot, 55, was selected as Moderator designate last year, the first woman to be chosen for the denomination’s highest office since the Reformation in 1560. As elder and session clerk of Greyfriars, Tolbooth and Highland Kirk, Edinburgh, she also became the first non-minister to be named to the position since the 16th century.
A respected broadcaster and author, she is also the associate director of Edinburgh University’s Centre for Theology and Public Issues and is heavily involved in ecumenical work for Action of Churches Together in Scotland. She has been awarded an OBE for services to the Church and Ecumenical relations.
The Moderator’s ring remains a key badge of office for the Moderator and has been unchanged since it was created early last century.
Mr Tait added: “It is an important symbol and as such it is a working ring which is shown and even passed round at official functions, particularly when the moderator travels abroad.
“In real terms it isn’t particularly practical or easy to wear, but at least Dr Elliot will now be able to rest assured that it won’t slip off during any formal official functions or engagements.”
The image of the burning bush was carved into the amethyst by a painstaking method known as seal cutting. Every tiny groove would have been precision cut by an expert with specialist tools.
Alistir said: “Seal cutting is done now the same way it was first done in 2000BC by the Sumerians, Assyrians and Phoenicians with a lathe and a blade 4mm across. After each tiny cut it is then examined through an eyeglass before the next cut is made. It is incredibly painstaking work.
“There are only a handful of people in the UK now with the tools or skills to do this and the Moderator’s Rings is a superb example of a dying art. Amethyst is quartz and is harder than steel, so is an incredibly difficult material to cut in this way
“Nowadays this kind of engraving is done now by computer-guided lasers but in my opinion that is too perfect it doesn’t give the same unique look and feel of something like this, which is an example of true craftsmanship.”
Alistir was asked to fit a “keeper’s ring” rather than cut the original to size because such changes can dramatically effect the lustre and quality of the gold.
Issued on behalf of Alistir Wood Tait Antique and Fine Jeweller by the Holyrood Partnership. Further information from Scott Douglas on 07980 598762 or The Church of Scotland Press Office, tel 0131 225 5722
NOTE TO EDITORS
Alistir Tait was the youngest ever Fellow of the Gemmological Association of Great Britain and is also a member of the Society of Jewellery Historians and the National Association of Goldsmiths and a Fellow of the Society of Antiquaries of Scotland.
Dr Alison Elliot holds an MA in mathematics with general linguistics, an M.Sc. in experimental psychology and a PhD in children’s language development.