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  • We know that the Ring-wraiths themselves are invisible in the flesh:

    And they became forever invisible save to him that wore the Ruling Ring, and they entered into the realm of shadows. - The Silmarillion

    However, that was the effect of the rings on their flesh.

  • We know that their cloths were still visible (as well as their mounts), as seen by various characters when fighting them.

  • We know that The One Ring makes the wearer hobbit invisible, AND their cloths, AND itself!!!

So the question is, do the 9 Man rings work the way One Ring works (e.g. the ring becomes invisible when worn); or the way all their belongings work (e.g. are visible).


Just to be clear, this question is about (in)visibility of the rings themselves when worn, at the time when the owners are invisible.

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1 Answer

The Nazgul did not wear their rings. Sauron held their rings. Their invisibility was a permanent state of their flesh, not their belongings.

In a letter from circa 1963 Tolkien says explicitly that Sauron held the rings:

They would have obeyed . . . any minor command of his that did not interfere with their errand — laid upon them by Sauron, who still through their nine rings (which he held) had primary control of their wills . . . — The Letters of J.R.R. Tolkien, Letter 246

They were by far the most powerful of his servants, and the most suitable for such a mission, since they were entirely enslaved to their Nine Rings, which he now himself held . . . — Unfinished Tales, p. 338

As I mentioned in a different post, the Nine, as living Men, were vain and arrogant who, while they were living, wore the rings because of the power they gave them as kings, sorcerers and warriors. Sauron would want them to wear the rings all the time to ensure their transition into his servants. I would think their vanity would have the rings being visible all the time, only further increasing their fame and notoriety. They were not in hiding, nor were they afraid of their enemies.

Those who used the Nine Rings became mighty in their day, kings, sorcerers, and warriors of old. They obtained glory and great wealth, yet it turned to their undoing. They had, as it seemed, unending life, yet life became unendurable to them. They could walk, if they would, unseen by all eyes in this world beneath the sun, and they could see things in worlds invisible to mortal men; but too often they beheld only the phantoms and delusions of Sauron. And one by one, sooner or later, according to their native strength and to the good or evil of their wills in the beginning, they fell under the thraldom of the ring that they bore and of the domination of the One which was Sauron's. And they became forever invisible save to him that wore the Ruling Ring, and they entered into the realm of shadows. The Nazgûl were they, the Ringwraiths, the Úlairi, the Enemy's most terrible servants; darkness went with them, and they cried with the voices of death. — The Silmarillion, "Of the Rings of Power and the Third Age", 346

Emphasis is mine, but it answers the question, they possessed the power of choice as to whether they would be invisible or not. And I believe the One Ring, in the right hands would also give the power of choice as to whether the wearer could become invisible. The wearer probably needed the power or the skill to control the ring, of which only Sauron seemed to have both.

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Physically held, or held in his power? At the council of Elrond, it is stated that "The Nine [rings] the Nazgûl keep" –  HorusKol Dec 4 '12 at 2:06
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But I would assume Tolkien in his letters would override the council of Elrond as being in the know. Since Sauron is a Maiar, a powerful creature of spirit, it make sense he could control their spirits once they were bound to the rings. Physically holding them makes sense, since if he has them they are bound without a chance of release without confronting him direction, which I doubt they would or could ever do. Sauron didn't take rejection or disobedience very well, or so I am told. –  Thaddeus Dec 4 '12 at 2:09
    
OK, I'm putting you and NominSim into a cage till you guys provide a single coherent answer :) scifi.stackexchange.com/questions/27540/… –  DVK Dec 4 '12 at 14:57
    
Also, this doesn't really answer my question. The clearly wore the rings originally, when given by Sauron. The question was whether they were visible THEN. –  DVK Dec 4 '12 at 14:58
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If their true goal was to make the wearer invisible (among whatever other powers they had), it makes sens the ring would also become invisible. I can't imagine Sauron being able to sell them on the idea of invisibility that did not cover the ring itself. "I'm unable to be seen by Men or Elves. Wait, this Ring isn't invisible? What kind of invisibility is this? No one is gonna notice it? Are you serious? Call me when you have something that actually works, Sauron." –  Thaddeus Dec 4 '12 at 16:34
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