When Peter Jackson’s Fellowship of the Ring swept into theaters, it did so with all the ferocity of the Nazgul, or dark riders, on their ferocious steeds. The film enchanted audiences with its lush landscapes and complex battle sequences. As is the norm with any signature film of a season, there was a marketing onslaught of Lord of the Ring merchandise. Everything from action figures to miniature helmets boasted the authorized New Line logo, which certified the merchandise as authentic. Many fans, enchanted by the films signature item, a gold ring inscribed in ancient elvish, wanted one of their own.
The One Ring, perhaps the movie’s main character, is described in the books as simply a gold band that was created by the dark lord Sauron, who with the ring’s immense magical power, could take over Middle Earth, the setting of the story, and subjugate its peoples. When placed in fire, the ring would reveal an ancient elvish inscription that read: One Ring to Rule Them All, One Ring to Find Them, One Ring to Bring Them All, And in the Darkness Bind Them. The evil inscription, a sign that the ring was indeed the One Ring of Sauron, would then again fade. Through a series of strange twists of fate, the ring made its way to the hobbit Frodo Baggins, who was unaware of its immense power until Sauron started tracking it down. And so begins the epic journey which Frodo must undertake to try and destroy the Ring before it ends up in the wrong hands.
Surprisingly, after the films release, replicas of the One Ring were very hard to come by. In the US, New Line had only given licenses to two US companies to produce them. One license was given to Applause Toys, who sold a line of metal rings from the movie with light up ring boxes. Another was given to the Noble Collection, a company that specialized in recreations of swords and jewelry from movies and popular culture. The Nobel collection ring, at the time of the films release, was made of pure gold and laser engraved with the elvish script. It came in a decorator box made of wood and metal and sold for the hefty sum of $295, putting it out of reach of all but the most ardent Lord of the Rings fans. The ring came in one size only, US size 10.
The Applause product was much cheaper since it didn’t contain any precious metals. The Applause One Ring came in a decorator resin (read plastic) light up jewelry box engraved in the ring’s elvish script. It’s retail price was somewhere under $20, which made it perfect for die hard and casual fans alike since these rings could be found online for around $13 plus shipping and handling. The only problem was that at the time of the films release, in December of 2001, these rings were nowhere to be found. They were apparently snapped up by collectors in stores, online and off, when first released around Thanksgiving, so by the time most fans yearned for a ring of their very own, they could not be found anywhere.
According to Applause sales representatives, the rings were a limited production, and they weren’t shipping any more to stores. Of course, collectors could find the rings on Ebay, but they’d have to pay a heavy premium. The rings average selling price on Ebay was around $100-150, which was over five times the original retail price of the ring. Eventually the price of these rings fell again after an foreign account cancelled their order and the rings were once again plentiful. For the release of the Two Towers, Applause sold the One Ring with a different light up base and different packaging. Perhaps another version of the One Ring will follow for the release of the Return of the King.
Another inexpensive ring replica was not really designed as a ring replica at all. Bookmarks offered by the Antioch Publishing company, another official New Line licensee, featured a metal replica ring tied to the tassel of the Lord of the Rings-themed bookmark. The ring featured the elvish inscription on both in the inside and outside of the ring. The ring feature made the bookmarks extremely popular, and as they were released, bookstores couldn’t keep them in stock. Some bookstores reported that some individuals even tried to steal the ring without purchasing the bookmark itself. Because the ‘ringed’ bookmarks heavily outsold the non-ringed bookmarks, the company decided to only release the ‘ringed’ bookmarks for the release of the Two Towers.
Perhaps the most popular ring replica due to its cost, around $3 for the bookmark and the ring, the rings have appeared in countless Ebay auctions, sometimes with accessories like chains and pouches, as well as other places, and are sometimes being passed of as official ring replicas without a trace of the original bookmark or where it really came from. Jean Rudegair, a product development executive at Antioch Publishing, said that “the ring is a very nice add-on to a well-designed bookmark, and therefore a collectable on its own merit” but that they didn’t expect it to be sold without the bookmark on Ebay and other sites. Ebay and New Line were notified of the practice and took action, though the practice still occurs from time to time.
If you’re planning on a replica ring purchase, make sure that you purchase it from trusted vendors and if the ring looks suspiciously like the bookmark ring, it probably is since Antioch is the only manufacturer of the ring. It would probably be less expensive to go to the local bookstore and purchase the bookmark with the ring on it.
Outside of the New Line official movie merchandise license, there were others that sold a replica One Ring in the US. Badali Jewelry, a jewelry company based in Utah, was granted a license by Tolkien Enterprises, the owner of the Lord of Rings copyright, to make the One Ring long before the movie was released. (Indecently, Tolkien Enterprises was the company that originally granted the license to make and merchandise a Lord of the Rings movie). The Badali Ring, an interpretation of the One Ring from the novels, is sold in various versions from a gold-plated version that sold for $39 to a platinum version that costs around $1200. The Badali rings, with the exception of the inexpensive gold-plated version, are made individually by Paul Badali in his workshop and sized for the customer. Each is a hefty gold band, with the Elvish script inscribed into it in a variety of colors.
Outside of the US, New Line granted licenses for other One Ring replicas to different countries. In Germany, an official movie licensed ring was sold in a variety of precious metals such as 18 carat gold and sterling silver with prices ranging from around $500 to $100. In South Africa, Harmony Gold secured a license to sell a replica of the One Ring, made from 18 carat South African gold, mined from the area where Lord of the Rings author JRR Tolkien was born. Their version of the ring, also inscribed with elvish script, sold in a variety of sizes in various jewelry stores throughout South Africa and directly through their website to anyone in the world who wanted one and could afford the $250 asking price.
The Parisian Mint, or Monnaie De Paris, also commemorated the release of the Lord of the Rings with their own special One Ring replicas. They offer a variety of replicas from inexpensive bronze rings to more expensive replicas cast from gold or silver. The rings range in price from about €50, for the bronze ring, to about €500 for the gold version.
When the Lord of the Rings exhibit opened at the New Zealand Museum Te Papa Tongarewa, the museum offered a replica ring, available either in silver or in gold, at the exhibition store. These rings were manufactured by Worth and Douglas and were available for about $500 NZD (New Zealand Dollars) for the gold, or about $160 NZD for the silver ring. They were available in two fixed sizes, small and large, for each ring. At the time of press, that exhibition has closed in New Zealand and is traveling to other countries and other museums. There’s no word on whether the rings will make the journey as well, but at press time, the rings were available through the Museum's Exhibition store's online site (check the links at the end of this article).
There are also versions of the One Ring that are made independently by jewelers who are also Lord of the Rings fans. One, created by Poetry Rings also based in Utah, features a very thick band with the elvish inscription carved into it with computer generated precision.
In April of 2002, the Jens Hansen Workshop in New Zealand, who supplied the rings for the production of the movie, began to offer replicas of the One Ring on its web site. (See our accompanying interview with Thorkild Hansen here.) While they are not officially licensed by New Line Cinema, their offering is the undoubtedly the most authentic since what you’re getting is basically an individually-made copy of the ring used in the film. The ring is offered without any elvish inscription on the ring since most of the time the ring is plain when seen in the film (licensing issues also restrict the use of the Tengwar inscription). The rings can be made in a variety of metals from white or yellow gold, 9 carat to 18 carat, or even in platinum. Prices range from around $240 for a 9 carat gold ring to a platinum version for around $1500. To be entirely accurate, you can even purchase the same sterling silver chain as seen in the movie for $25.
A dedicated fan with money to spend had many options to choose from if they felt themselves drawn to having their own One Ring. Other fans argued they would never want to own a symbol of such pure evil at any price.