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In this question we learn a great deal about the differences between the rings of power in Middle Earth. Here it's also quoted:

"The Nine, the Seven, and the Three," he said, "had each their proper gem. Not so the One. It was round and unadorned, as it were one of the lesser rings..."

Why? In the canon (movies are ok as well) was it ever indicated why the One Ring was so plain?

(It does not seem plausible it was simply to hide its true power unless Sauron somehow was hedging against exactly what happened. I'll accept this as an answer if someone can prove somehow.)

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    Seems to me like its symbolic, a choice made by the author. There plainest, most humble of the rings is the most powerful—kind of like hobbits. – mginn Dec 2 '15 at 16:07
  • That was a consideration in my mind. If you can find any place Mr Tolkien indicates that I'd be really grateful. – Athena Widget Dec 2 '15 at 16:12
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    Couldn't "It was round and unadorned, as it were one of the lesser rings..." be interpreted to hint at a reason? It could be inferred that Sauron didn't want the ring to draw undue attention, so he left it visibly plain which understates it's importance. – Ellesedil Dec 2 '15 at 22:21
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    Always reminded me of the legendary depictions of the Cup of Christ. It seems to be a pretty common trope, come to think of it. – zxq9 Dec 3 '15 at 11:30
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    I don't know that the Silmarils were ever mounted. But your comment lead me to this interesting question. And to the Ring of Silvianus. See how plain it is? – Athena Widget Dec 3 '15 at 16:39
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In-universe

As far as I know, there's no explicit answer in canon. Sauron's state of mind at the time he forges the One isn't really given any treatment in the text.

One might argue that gems are too closely connected to the Elves for Sauron's taste; we're told in The Silmarillion that they discovered the gems that existed beneath the earth:

[I]t came to pass that the masons of the house of Finwë, quarrying in the hills after stone (for they delighted in the building of high towers), first discovered the earth-gems, and brought them forth in countless myriads; and they devised tools for the cutting and shaping of gems, and carved them in many forms.

The Silmarillion III Quenta Silmarillion Chapter 5: "Of Eldamar and the Princes of the Eldalië"

And that they invented the process of constructing gems:

The Noldor also it was who first achieved the making of gems; and the fairest of an gems were the Silmarils, and they are lost.

The Silmarillion III Quenta Silmarillion Chapter 1: "Of the Beginning of Days"

It may also have been a form of rebellion against his former Valar master Aulë, most skilled of all craftsmen. How better to show a craftsmen that you've abandoned them, then by enslaving the world with something so plain and (aesthetically) uninteresting?1.

Another possible theory is suggested (obliquely) by the essay "Notes on Motives". In it, Tolkien suggests that it was the lingering strains of Morgoth's power (especially present in gold) that allowed Sauron's arts in the first place:

Sauron's power was not (for example) in gold as such, but in a particular form or shape made of a particular portion of total gold. Morgoth's power was disseminated throughout Gold, if nowhere absolute (for he did not create Gold) it was nowhere absent. (It was this Morgoth-element in matter, indeed, which was a prerequisite for such 'magic' and other evils as Sauron practised with it and upon it.)

History of Middle-earth X Morgoth's Ring Part 5: "Myths Transformed" Chapter VII "Notes on motives in the Silmarillion" (ii)

This would suggest, then, that the actual form of the Ring was crucial to its proper function; if a gem had been included, its form would have been disrupted and its power not precisely what Sauron intended. It may also be that, by keeping the Ring purely of gold, Sauron didn't dilute the "Morgoth-element", contributing to the Ring's magical power.

Out-of-universe

I've been looking through Tolkien's Letters, and found nothing discussing any symbolism surrounding the Ring. I personally rather like the theory put forth by milesper in a comment on the question:

Seems to me like its symbolic, a choice made by the author. There plainest, most humble of the rings is the most powerful—kind of like hobbits.

But I've as yet found no evidence to support it.


1 Well, I guess you could wage a millenia-long war against the Gods. But that sounds exhausting

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    “I guess you could wage a millenia-long war against the Gods. But that sounds exhausting” These days, who even has the time? – Paul D. Waite Dec 2 '15 at 16:33
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    A plain ring represents the encircling or encompassing nature of the One Ring, just as plain rings are used for wedding bands (as opposed to decorative engagement rings), which represent eternal union. You could say the other rings were engaged to power, but Sauron was married to it. – user31178 Dec 2 '15 at 16:37
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    It's also a common trope of the most plain object being the most powerful. Both Mjölnir and Draupnir are plain and unadorned, and in fairytales and other stories, when the hero has to pick the powerful item from a number of items, it's often the plainest looking. – SQB Dec 2 '15 at 16:56
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    @SQB you have chosen wisely – user001 Dec 2 '15 at 17:04
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    @SQB Like the cup of the covenant in Indiana Jones. Very very nice. – Athena Widget Dec 2 '15 at 17:43
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In canon there does not seem to be answer, but the practical reason may be because Tolkien had no idea as to the nature of the ring when he wrote 'The Hobbit'.

This is evidenced in Christopher Tolkien's "The History of the Lord of the Rings - Part 1: The Return of the Shadow". In speaking of a third or fourth draft he writes:

"At this time he also underlined the words 'Why did the Dark Lord desire it so?', put an exclaimation mark against them and wrote:

'Because if he had it he could see where all the others were, and would be master of their masters - control all the dwarf-hoards, and the dragons, and know the secrets of the Elf-kings, the secret [?plans] of evil men'

Here the central idea of the Ruling Ring is clearly present at last, and it may be that it was here that it first emerged."

(pg 227 of Houghton Mifflin paperback)

Because of this, we can presume that the ring Bilbo found in the The Hobbit originally was just intended to be a simple magical ring, fashioned of gold reminiscent of Wagner's 'Der Ring des Nibelungen' ring

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    This is a good point, but a minor note: Tolkien claimed that des Nibelungen was't an inspiration for the Ring (not a conscious one, anyway); in regards to the Ring specifically, he said "Both rings were round, and there the resemblance ceases" in Letter 229 – Jason Baker Dec 2 '15 at 18:07
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    Ah - thanks! I don't have the Letters. I would be inclined to remove my comment about des Nibelungen but I think your comment is helpful so I'll leave it for context. Thanks! – NKCampbell Dec 2 '15 at 18:09
  • I see, Mr. Tolkien had not yet made up his mind on the One's nature. But The Hobbit was written in 1937, while TLOTR in the 1950's a lot of time to flesh it all out, no? – Athena Widget Dec 2 '15 at 18:09
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    That's true - he even revised The Hobbit a bit based on Lord of the Rings in 1951: "In 1951, it's second edition contains a significantly revised portion of Chapter V, Riddles in the Dark, which was done in order to bring the storyline of The Hobbit more in line with its sequel, The Lord of the Rings, then in progress." - Note on the Text, The Hobbit, Douglas A. Anderson, 1994, Houghton Mifflin paperback – NKCampbell Dec 2 '15 at 18:13
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As I recall, the One Ring is, in fact, adorned but not with gems. Instead it has a fine elvish script running about it with the words, in the Morgul tongue, "One ring to rule them all ... and in the darkness bind them". The ring just needs heat to reveal the words. Given that Sauron's body temperature was very high (he killed Gil-galad with the heat of his hand, apparently), the writing would have been prominently visible to anyone who could look. Sauron was more practical than most in his choice of finery it would seem.

  • While true, the question includes a quote which says that it was unadorned. It certainly appears relatively unadorned compared to the other rings, even with the script. This doesn't really answer why that was the case. – Null Dec 2 '15 at 22:54
  • @Null Agreed: this doesn't really answer the question. – Rand al'Thor Dec 4 '15 at 2:32
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I don't think a reason exists in canon. And you'll likely never know for sure. But I have an in-universe ret-con suggestion.

At the time that Sauron was forging the one ring, he was in the habit of disguising himself in order to interact with and influence those who would not have dealt with him if they knew his true identity. It was in such a disguise that he learned the arts of ring-making from the elves.

It may be that he crafted the ring to be so plain and nondescript so that it would be easier to carry with him in disguise. Given the vast powers contained in the ring he might not have been able to hide or alter it's appearance very easily.

On the other hand, he may have made the ring look humble in the hopes that his enemies would not appreciate its importance to him. He was defeated by the Last Alliance only when the ring was cut from his hand. Perhaps he was trying to present a less obvious target to would-be finger slashers.

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The One Ring was made in the fires of Mount Doom, and Gandalf states that “Not even the anvils and furnaces of the Dwarves could” change the ring, “nor was there ever any dragon, not even Ancalagon the Black, who could have harmed the One Ring”.

This implies that the ring was made from a material that is very difficult to work with, and needs extremely high temperatures to forge. (My guess is that it's made of rhenium, which is both extremely rare on Arda, hard to extract from the ores, especially without the help of modern technology, and has an impossibly high melting point.) Such high temperatures as that of Mount Doom would destroy any gemstone. Thus, the only way the Enemy could have embedded a gemstone in the ring is to attach a mount made separately from a different metal, and such a separate attachment would look superfluous.

Update: compared to this, the elven rings among the Rings of power were likely made from gold or mithril. Mithril is still difficult to work with, but certainly less difficult, because the dwarves could forge Bilbo's mithril chain mail.

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    I understand it is the power of the ring what makes it so invulnerable, not the material it was made from. – Ángel Dec 3 '15 at 15:55
  • The Ring was made of gold and there's no reason to think that temperature used was very elevated. – Mithoron Dec 3 '15 at 16:08
  • scifi.stackexchange.com/q/12949/4918 "What material was the One Ring made of?" is probably related. – b_jonas Dec 3 '15 at 17:40
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The actual question: Why was it unadorned?

By adorned, I am going to use a hermeneutic of keeping Tolkien's keen, linguistically inclined mind at the forefront. We mean, why is it not "ornamented" or "bedecked", which typically indicates something added to an original structure.

Why?

We could consider Why from the Meta point of view: "Why would Tolkien do this?" or from the in Storymode point of view: "Why did Sauron make it so?"

I think the aforementioned "History of Middle Earth" addresses Tolkien's intent, with strait forward conjecture.

But the Sauron-Reasoning: "Why would the character Sauron do such a thing", is what I will attempt to answer.

Looking at the History of the Rings of Power (p340-Silmaillion 2nd ed) we note a few things about all the rings, in general.

Ringlore:

  • The Elves learned the wonders of ring-making from Annatar (Sauron) (p345, ibid.), partly out of their desire to want to be, at least, equal to the splendor of the lands of Elrond and Gil-Galad. (p343-44,ibid.)

  • The rings of power are linked to the One Ring, giving the Wearer OP Divination- but allowed the magically astute to become aware (The Elves figured this out (pp 344, ibid.)

  • The elves saved the 3 most powerful rings for themselves (which are seen in the LOTR Saga) (p 345, ibid), not to say other were not made. Later it is indicated the others, stolen, were the ones given to the Dwarflords and the Kings of Men.

  • Celebrimnor (Elven Ringsmith) made the 3 great rings, solo (p345, ibid.)

  • Sauron made the One Ring in secret (without the aid of Elves).

I will omit other ringlore because I think that is sufficient.

Gemlore:

  • The Eldar are those with the ability to carve stones, taught by Valinor, but also, the possessors of EarthStones, as their discoverers (p60, ibid.)
  • The Three Rings have gems (Of Rings of power Chapter, 340, ibid.).
  • The One Ring is without a gem.

So Why would Sauron make the ring "unadorned"?? And, not to say "undecorated" but, rather, the ring is naked, without gems.

ANSWER:

  1. He did not posses the knowledge of gem cutting, or gems (which can only be taken from the earth, a realm foreign to the Maiar and Valar).

  2. He did not need such knowledge or artifacts, his own Strength and Will was sufficient to overpower any other rings, the crafting of which came from him.

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    He did not posses the knowledge of gem cutting I find that a bit hard to believe, any sources you can quote? – Athena Widget Dec 3 '15 at 19:43
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I just would turn the question on its head. Why should it be adorned? Sauron was evil, and had no interest in beauty. There is no hint that decoration would improve the functioning of the Ring. Its purpose was gaining Power, because Power was all Sauron desired by then. It should be seen as more a machine than an adornment, 100 percent functionally designed for its purpose -- or rather as a weapon.

  • I beg to differ the quote says '...unadorned as it were one of the lesser rings'. This would imply that the other rings of power were adorned. That such adornment led to functionality is another question. – Athena Widget Dec 4 '15 at 1:19
  • Sauron didn't make those other rings. Elves adorned theirs because they aren't disintested in beauty for its own sake, and only lusting for power. – Oldcat Dec 4 '15 at 17:41
  • I know they made them, but their creation was based on Sauron's knowledge. Also can you give a reference for: Elves adorned theirs because they aren't disintested in beauty for its own sake, and only lusting for power. That would be really cool! – Athena Widget Dec 4 '15 at 18:11
  • Pretty much every description of Elven craft and construction notes its attention to beauty, rather than it being brutally utilitarian. All I am saying is that Sauron is brutally utilitarian and shows no appreciation for beauty anywhere in Tolkien's writings. So expecting his ring to be beautiful would probably be a mistake. All those who loved the One Ring did so as an effect of its power. – Oldcat Dec 4 '15 at 18:16
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The nature of the One Ring also has earlier sources, particularly Norse and Germanic mythology, the same sources Wagner used in writing The Ring of the Nibelung. As far as I can tell, the original ring of legendhad no adornment mentioned, and may have been cited as being plain.

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