The Masonic ring is a common sight here in the States, but in Europe it is nowhere near as prevalent. Even though modern masonry was born in the UK, our brothers there (and elsewhere in Europe) are often reluctant to make their affiliation with the Craft known publicly.
This is an interesting role-reversal because back in the 1700s, when many of the friendly and fraternal societies were born, their members generally flaunted their allegiances with pride. They would literally take to the streets – forming elaborate parades, dressed in full regalia.
That changed drastically in the early 1800s, when the British government cracked down on these societies, fearing they might harbor organized labor revolts. To that end, parliament passed the Unlawful Oaths and Societies Acts, outlawing all oaths of secrecy and the use of closed meetings.
Under those laws, most of these societies were forced to fold and public displays of allegiance all but disappeared overnight. Interestingly, Freemasonry was the only society spared – thanks to aggressive lobbying by its royal and aristocratic members.
In the early 1900s, European Grand Lodges began to further discourage displays of public membership in response to the rise of the Fascist and Nazi movements. Both groups were deeply opposed to Freemasonry, e.g.: after occupying a country, Nazi forces would seize that country’s Grand Lodge records and use them to round up and arrest leading masons.
Yet despite all of that oppression, there was still a desire to wear the regalia – and thus the “swivel ring” was born. This dual-sided signet ring has become the style of choice in Europe today, allowing brothers to wear a Masonic ring in public in an increasingly hostile world.