Arthritic Finger Joints and Adjustable Rings

Introduction

With the Baby Boomers reaching their retirement years, the problems associated
with ring fit and finger joint swelling will become a major issue for jewelers.
This paper addresses the medical causes of swollen finger joints due to rheumatoid
and osteoarthritis and solutions for the jeweler.

Since this has been aproblem faced by many generations of jewelers, the historical methods of
dealing with it will be explored. Today, there are several major manufacturers of
products that effectively address this issue. Their solutions are all very creative
and their products range from inexpensive to very high-end. This paper will also
attempt to describe these devices, their method of manufacture and how they
are installed. The manufacturers and inventors are very passionate and proud of
their products and competition to provide the ultimate solution to this problem
can be extremely fierce. The scope of this paper is to give an overview of what
is available to today’s Jewelers.

Some Facts about Arthritis

Arthritis can best be understood by looking at the word itself. Arth meaning joint
and itis meaning inflammation, presents a very accurate description of the condition
in which inflammation of the joints causes swelling.

An aging population is very susceptible to chronic joint problems, and this trend
will continue as the Baby Boomer generation continues to age. This means that
the frequency of customers needing adjustable shanks will grow in proportion to
the percentage of the population suffering from arthritis. As in the past, this
presents challenges to today’s jewelers to find the right solution for their clients.
The following statistics are provided by the Arthritis Foundation and clearly
illustrate the magnitude of the problem.

  • The leading cause of disability among Americans is arthritis.
  • Arthritis limits everyday activities such as walking, dressing and bathing for more
    than 7 million Americans.
  • Arthritis results in 39 million physician visits and more than a half
    million hospitalizations.
  • Costs to the U.S. economy totals more than $86.2 billion annually.
  • More women suffer from arthritis than men. Women: 41 million and Men: 28.9 million
  • More than half those affected are under age 65. The Baby Boomers are quickly
    becoming the majority of those afflicted.

Osteoarthritis

Osteoarthritis affects an estimated 21 million adults. It’s a degenerative joint
disease in which the cartilage that covers the ends of bones in the joint deteriorates,
causing pain and loss of movement as bone begins to grind against bone.
Osteoarthritis is the most prevalent form of arthritis. It has often been misnamed
‘wear and tear’ arthritis.

Osteoarthritis can affect the joints of the fingers, knees, hips, and spine. Work related
repetitive injury and physical trauma may contribute to the development of osteoarthritis.
Working with your hands as a jeweler or metalsmith may place
you at high risk for osteoarthritis of the fingers.

Osteoarthritis of the fingers is often genetic. Fingers may ache or become stiff
and numb. They can become enlarged and gnarled. Small, bony bumps called
Heberden’s nodes may also appear on the end joints of the fingers. Similar knobs
called Bouchard’s nodes can appear on the middle joints of the fingers. It has
been documented that more women than men have osteoarthritis of their fingers.
After menopause, women become especially susceptible to osteoarthritis.

Stiffness after inactivity, swelling and tenderness of the joints are some of the
symptoms of osteoarthritis. Steady or recurring pain can also be a sign.

Rheumatoid Arthritis

Rheumatoid arthritis is a disease in which the joint lining becomes inflamed as
a result of a malfunction of the body’s autoimmune system. In time, it can lead
to long term joint damage, resulting in chronic pain, loss of function and
disability.

Rheumatoid arthritis (RA) progresses in three stages. The first stage is the
swelling of the joint lining, causing pain, warmth, stiffness, redness and swelling
around the joint. Second is the rapid division and growth of cells, which causes
the lining to thicken. In the third stage, the inflamed cells release enzymes that
may digest bone and cartilage, often causing the involved joint to lose its shape
and alignment, increased pain, and loss of movement.

Because it is a chronic disease, RA continues indefinitely and may not diminish.
Frequent flares in disease activity can occur. RA is a systemic disease, which
means it can affect other organs in the body.

Early diagnosis and treatment of RA is critical to continue living a productive
lifestyle. Studies have shown that early aggressive treatment of RA can limit
joint damage, which in turn limits loss of movement, decreased ability to work,
higher medical costs and potential surgery. RA affects 1% of the U.S.
population or 2.1 million Americans, 70% of them women.

Methods of Dealing with Enlarged Finger Joints

Jewelers have been attempting to create devices that allow a ring to pass over
an enlarged knuckle for generations. This task has been compounded by the need
for the ring to remain snug enough on the finger to prevent rotation when in
place. Simply making a larger ring will not fulfill this requirement. The ideal
designs must permit the ring to expand and then contract or open and close. The
ring also needs to appear stylish and not exhibit an unusually mechanical look.
With arthritis, performing such simple tasks as opening a pill bottle to take pain
medication can be very cumbersome. With this in mind, selecting or designing
an adjustable shank can be difficult. If the mechanism is complicated, it can be
very painful to operate.

Sizing a ring to pass over an enlarged knuckle is not a satisfactory solution.
This is because the ring will be very loose at the point where it’s worn. The
excess space will allow the ring to turn on the finger in a very unattractive
manner. In addition to this, the turning and constant correction of its position
will become very uncomfortable and annoying. Some customers, in desperation,
try a smaller size and resort to forcing it over the joint. However, removing tight
rings from swollen fingers can cause severe pain depending upon the advancement
of arthritis in the joint. If the ring is not removed over time, it may become
“trapped” on your finger.

The true size for the ring is not the size needed to pass the enlarged knuckle,
but is found where the ring is worn, at the base of the finger. Anything other than
this will be totally unacceptable to the customer. When dealing with enlarged
knuckles, the choice is between putting up with a bad fit, or not wearing jewelry
on the affected finger at all. Therefore, adapting the ring with
an adjustable shank presents the very best alternative.

Measuring the finger at the point of wear is not very difficult at all. Using a set
of plastic ring gauges, simply make a cut with a jeweler’s saw through each of
the gauges. This will allow the gauge to expand and pass over the joint. It will
return to its former size when at the correct place for wearing a ring at the base
of the finger.

Finger Mate and Finger Fit have both created devices for measuring the finger for
the ideal fit.

Inventors and the Search for the Ideal Adjustable Shank

The United States Patent Office chronicles the quest to find the ideal design by
many jewelers and inventors from the 1800s to the present day. The patent
papers exhibit a vast array of brilliant devices. Some appear very uncomfortable
to wear while others are extremely complex and difficult to fabricate. The sheer
volume of submissions makes a strong case for this being an area of opportunity
for the future.

The inventions tend to fall into four distinct categories. The first being a floating
inserts design. In this case, there are spring loaded pads or sections of the
inside of the ring that allow the enlarged knuckle to pass thru while deflecting
the pads. The inserts then return to their former position when in place at the
base of the finger and hold the ring upright.

The second design is the hinged ring that expands by sliding apart. With this
type, the band never fully separates and remains attached. There are several
styles presently using this technique.

The third type is similar to a hose clamp. The band itself sometimes enters the
head of the ring and has notches or holes that index the ring to the proper fit.
Some even exhibit adjusting screws!

The last type is a hinged shank that involves opening a latch and separating the
ring at the latch point. These rings are usually made of two sections that open,
allowing the ring to be closed around the base of the finger below the knuckle.
There are some designs that are made of three moving parts with two hinges.
Several current manufacturers use this method.

Many consumers become sentimentally attached to their rings and would like to
wear them throughout their lifetime. With the changes in their joints, this is not
always possible without a good conversion. Most of the designs found in the
archives of the patent office are not universal, nor can they be retrofitted to
existing rings. The present generation of adjustable shanks is targeted at this
very market.

It would appear that rings made to retrofit to an existing piece of jewelry
became popular during the late 1940s and early to mid 1950s. This was a
distinct departure from what had gone before. The idea that a customer could
continue to wear their important jewelry by modifying it set the tone for the
inventions currently used. Providing this feature became the main goal of the
majority of adjustable ring designers.

The path taken by the early designers of adjustable shanks is interesting and
gives an insight into the problems encountered during the process. Some designers
chose to make complex devices that had many moving parts. These were
invented at a time when labor was inexpensive and skills plentiful. Therefore,
before judging some of these inventions, it’s necessary to bear in mind
the economy and technology of the times. Also, it’s hard to establish how
successful these inventions were during their inventors careers. They often
appear as prior art on quite a few modern patent papers, but it’s unsure if they
were marketable.

The early inventions detailed in this paper are only a handful of the more unique
designs. Many more are on file with the patent office and their extensive
numbers do not permit more to be examined here.

Early Inventions

The oldest example presented in this paper is a design by R. J. La Grange, patented
on Sept 5, 1882. This is an interesting invention that suggests a strong
watchmaking background on the part of the inventor. The ring is based upon the
rack and pinion system. There are two distinct styles shown in the drawing. The
one on the left shows a hinged lid on the head being opened to expose the pinion
gear. This gear is actuated by a small key that fits into a slot on the gear.
By rotating the gear, the rack is moved and the diameter of the ring is adjusted
to the proper fit.

The ring on the right shows the gear mounted sideways and the key is inserted
into the head from the side. In this case, the rack and pinions are mounted
sideways. In both cases, the mechanism is concealed in a hollow shank. This was
a clever device that clearly solves the problem and provides a nice range of
adjustment. One major drawback seems to be the need for the key. If lost, the
ring would have to be removed with a very small screwdriver or simply cut from
the finger. Fashion was also somewhat limited due to the specific nature of the
mechanism and the need to have access to the pinion gear.

B. Lewkowitz invented the next ring on February 5, 1884. In this case, the stone
frame as he calls it, has pockets on each side for the shank. The shank can slide
in and out of the pockets to achieve the ideal fit. Once that is achieved, the
shank is locked in place with very small set screws. These set screws drop into
small dimples evenly spaced on the side of the band. The drawback to this design
is that to remove the ring, you must have a tiny screwdriver and the dexterity
to use it.

Also in 1884, the design of Heinrich Heinrich was patented a few days after that
of Lewkowitz. This invention also made use of a simple screw. In this case, a
band was held in place by an expanding split cylinder within a slotted shank. A
countersink at the top of the split cylinder and the tapered head of the screw
provided the action needed to expand into the slot and hold the shank in the
adjusted position. The need for a screwdriver to remove this ring makes the ring
inconvenient. Also, it appears that the adjusting screw is visible on the shoulder
of the ring.

Max Harris Ballard designed a fully adjustable ring that was patented on November
7, 1922. His invention was inspired by the gentlemen’s belt. It was made of thin
spring metal and could be adjusted to fit any finger and pass large knuckles. There
were holes pierced in the shank and a pin within the head was used to index the
band to the proper size. One claim of the inventor was that the ring was ideal for
children and would accommodate the growth of the child. This is a very simple
solution to enlarged knuckles that was inspired by an everyday item. The ring was
very easy to use and met most of the design requirements. It does have some fashion
limitations due to the need for the buckle/box at the top.

Benjamin Axel was granted a patent for his self adjusting finger ring on October
28, 1952. His invention claimed to automatically increase its size to allow the
ring to pass over the knuckle. It would then contract or decrease in size to fit
the thinner portion of the finger, providing a snug but comfortable fit. It had a
floating ring section that was actuated by a pair of compression springs inside
the shank. The section that moved was a thin stamped shell that fit into the
spring pocket and was retained by a flanged edge.

On April 2nd of 1957, H. Axel patented his resiliently retained finger ring. This
invention was similar in concept to the last one reviewed in that it worked with
the floating pad design. In this case, two inserts were fitted into pockets cut in
a shank. One leaf spring was fitted behind each of the inserts and actuated the
hinged pad. The ring and its components were made by cold forging. It is known
that this ring was marketed widely in the United States in the late 1950s and it
was even featured on television as the Tru-fit ring. The ring was manufactured
in Philadelphia by Eichmuller, Inc. by cold forging and stamping the components.
By the late 1960s it had disappeared from the market.

Adjustable Shanks Available Today

Most jewelry has a value to the owner other than monetary value. Each piece can
represent a milestone in the owner’s life. No longer being able to wear such an
important piece due to enlarged knuckles is a sad situation. Therefore, the need
to develop a finding that could be fitted to an existing ring became the goal for
the designers. This would enable someone to convert their existing jewelry to a
wearable piece again. Many of the early designs found in the archives of the
patent office are not universal nor, can they be retrofitted to existing rings.
Also, most had been designed with limited ability to adapt to changing fashion.
The value to the customer was clearly established in the late 1940s and the
direction of invention took this new path. The present generation of adjustable
shanks is targeted at this market.

Finger Fit

Finger Fit was designed by Louis Johnson in 1951. His design was awarded the
Good Housekeeping Seal of Approval in 1959. It opens three sizes to pass over
the knuckle, and then closes to fit the smaller part of the finger where the ring
is worn. Finger Fit is a die-forged, precision-machined and hand-assembled
hinged ring shank. It is available in 10 karat, 14 karat and 18 karat white and
yellow gold as well as platinum (10% iridium). The regular Finger Fit is made
in finger sizes 5 to 9 and 2 through 51/2 in the Princess line. It is riveted
together and the only solder used is on the u-shaped cover catch.

Installation starts with making sure the original ring is cut and shaped to fit the
closed finger size. The top of the Finger Fit shank is also cut and the finding is
sized to match the customer’s ring. Both rings are placed on a mandrel and then
marked at the shoulders as far from the hinges as possible. Both rings are cut to
remove the excess material and the remaining parts are joined by soldering. The
solder joints are then shaped to blend into the original ring making sure to avoid
damage to the rivet caps.

Finger Mate

Finger Mate hinged shanks were developed in 1964 by Joe Kelrick. They are being
made and sold by three generations of the Kelrick family. They are manufactured
by cold forging and machining many of the parts. These rings open wide to go
over an enlarged knuckle, then close and lock securely for a safe and comfortable
fit. To open, the wearer must grasp the top of the ring and pull up. This
opens the ring and expands it for placing on the finger. When it’s in place the
ring is squeezed closed and is ready to wear. Finger Mate shanks are available in
a wide variety of widths, styles and many finger sizes (3–13 in 1/4 sizes), in 14K
yellow or white gold and platinum. They are made to replace the conventional
shanks of lady’s and men’s rings. Mr. Kelrick has stated that his sales are evenly
divided between installation and the sale of findings.

Finger Mate hinged shanks are part of a complete system. They have addressed
most of the issues from measurement to assembly. Joe Kelrick has developed a
fixture for cutting their shank and the customer’s ring. This is a clever device that
ensures a good alignment of their product to the original piece of jewelry. It
matches up the cut of the original ring with the adjustable shank. Alignment is
critical to smooth operation and this fixture ensures correctness.

SuperFit

The SuperFit was designed by Mates Bruner in 1992 and SuperFit, Inc. is the
manufacturer of this product. Their unique single hinged ring opens up to fit
behind any enlarged joint. The locking latch is actuated by pressing it with the
tip of a pen, pencil or stylus. Gena Alulis, the CEO of SuperFit, Inc., has mentioned
that their design has been on display at the United States Department of
Commerce, Patent Expo in Washington, D.C. and at Epcot Center in Orlando,
Florida.

SuperFit rings are manufactured with precision metal molds and cast in 14 and
18 karat yellow and white gold. They are also available in platinum. Finger
sizes range from 31/2 to 111/2 in 21/2mm to 10mm widths. SuperFit rings are
assembled without the use of solder, they are then carefully hand finished. The
seams are almost invisible when the ring is closed.

SuperFit has developed an illustrated manual and step by step installation guide.
It’s available for download on their website and is very extensive and helpful. It
covers many styles of installations and has a handy troubleshooting section.
They have recently added a line of finished SuperFit rings as well as toe and
thumb rings.

Adjusto Shanks

The Adjusto Shank was developed and marketed by Karlan and Bleicher in the
1970s. It was acquired by Baker Eichmuller and then by Hoover and Strong in
1991. This die struck product is an expanding shank that opens up to slide over
the finger joint and then adjusts to fit the finger. It enables the wearer to place
a solitaire or fashion ring on any finger and still have it fit comfortably. The
shank is opened by sliding the two half bands to their fully extended position.
The ring is placed on the finger sideways and then rotated into position. The
shank halves are then slid closed for a snug fit. Adjustos are available in two
different finger sizes, 5–7 and 7–9 in 14K white and yellow. The hinge pins are
held in place with solder.

Installing an Adjusto is straight forward. The Adjusto is slid to the closed
position. Both the Adjusto and the ring to be converted are placed on a ring
mandrel. The ring is marked above the point where the Adjusto ends are
positioned. The ring is cut to the same angle as the Adjusto stubs. The stubs are
soldered to the ring and the joined areas are shaped and finished to blend into
the ring.

Lockshank

Dave Patton of De le Vin Designs has been producing Lockshanks since the early
‘90’s. Lockshank opens with a fingernail. It’s locked, as the pin on one end falls
into the locking hole on the opposite band. It opens to the entire diameter of
the ring, accommodating even the largest of knuckles. CAD modeling was used
to generate the three pieces of a prototype. A metal mold was created for each
piece from this geometry, ensuring that each finished Lockshank operates with
the same clean, tight and reliable mechanism. The molds are injected with
epoline, a plastic substitute for injection wax. They are cast in the lost-wax
process, assembled and finished for distribution. There are 66 sizes available.
It is easy to install. The hinge pins have been welded rather than soldered, so
the installer runs no risk of freezing the solder hinge when working in close to
it. The hinges are in the center of the band, so the goldsmith can file it to
a matching shape during the installation. These shanks can be formed into a
comfort-fit shape or be tapered to some degree to fit the existing piece
without losing any structural integrity in the clasping mechanism. Proper sizing
can be accomplished with a simple set of plastic ring gauges which have been
cut open with a set of nippers.

The Creates PFF Ring Clasp

Allan Creates developed the PFF ring clasp in 1989. PFF stands for “perfectly
fabulous fit”. This invention is a hinged ring that includes a locking mechanism.
There are two styles available. The Standard product has a single spring for the
lock. The Deluxe has an additional spring on the hinge side to aid in opening
and closing the device. The lock is opened by pulling on the latch with a
fingernail. The unlocked shank will swing open on its hinge and will fit behind
any swollen joint.

The PFF is made to cover sizes 3 to 13. Larger sizes are available if needed. They
are made in 14 karat and 18 karat gold (the return and lock springs are also made
of gold). PFF is also available in a range of toe rings. The rings are not available
in stores and only through the Ringlock website.

Precision-Fit

The Precision-Fit hinged ring was designed and created by Todd Murray of
Murray’s Jewelers. The hinge and clasp devices were designed to be added to
existing rings. A press on the lower half of the clasp causes the entire bottom
of the ring to move away from the upper half using a hinge made of 14K gold.
The bottom half of the ring is specially heat-treated after it is cast in gold so
that it can withstand the wear and tear of being opened and closed. The clasp
is based upon the tongue and groove design. The rings come in finger sizes 4–9.
By cutting off the original shank of the ring and soldering a hinge and clasp to
the remaining upper half, a ring that may not have been wearable for years can
be used again. They are offered installed by the designer and are not available
as findings.

Dovetail Systems Shank

The Dovetail Systems shank is a self adjusting ring that expands to pass over
enlarged knuckles and then it contracts up to three sizes for a snug fit. It was
designed by Bernard Reller and is manufactured by Reller, Inc. This product is
produced by investment casting.

The self adjusting components are activated by a stainless steel leaf spring, and
the cradle that is part of the adjusting mechanism is connected to the ring by
two small links. The links are held in place by .021″ pins that can be removed to
service the mechanism. The Dovetail System shanks are made to cover finger sizes
5 to 12 and come in 2.5mm, 4mm and 6mm widths. Replacement parts and springs
are available.Installation is similar to replacing a shank on a ring. The original ring is sized
to the area of the finger that the ring is worn on. It’s then cut to match the
Dovetail System shank. The stainless steel spring floats under the cradle and can
be removed during the soldering process. It can also be left in place and protected
with Kool Jool or a similar method. The spring should not be compressed
during installation. After soldering, the new shank is blended into the original
ring and polished. Since it is a precision mechanism, Reller, Inc. recommends
frequent ultrasonic cleaning to provide trouble free service.

Summary

The adjustable shanks marketed today have clearly met the need for converting
an existing ring. They are unique mechanisms that provide different features to
the end user. Each customer has different needs and these shanks fulfill many of
them. Unlike the early inventions found at the patent office, we do know that
they have been successfully marketed. Some have even withstood the test of
over 50 years of service. All of these findings meet the needs of today’s market.
It will be very interesting to see where these inventors take the next generation
of adjustable rings.

Acknowledgements
The following people have contributed to this paper by providing interviews,
photographs and encouragement.

Gena Alulis of SuperFit
Donna Collins of Hoover & Strong
Allen Creates of PFF
Torry Hoover of Hoover & Strong
Joe Kelrick of Finger Mate
Tom Lilly of Finger Fit
Todd Murray of Murray’s Jewelers
Dave Patton of De la Vin Designs
Bernard Reller of Reller, Inc.
Steve Stickley of Hoover & Strong

References
The Arthritis Foundation, “Arthritis Foundation Statistics Web Page,” http://www.arthritis.org/
La Grange, R., “patent #263,920,” United States Patent Office, Sept. 5, 1882
Lewkowitz, B., “patent #293,044,” United States Patent Office, Feb. 5, 1884
Heinrich, H., “patent #293,874,” United States Patent Office, Feb. 19, 1884
Ballard, M., “patent #1,434,981,” United States Patent Office, Nov. 7, 1922
Axel, B., “patent #2,615,314,” United States Patent Office, Oct. 28, 1952
Axel, H., “patent # 2,787,142,” United States Patent Office, April 2, 1957
Finger Fit Company, “Finger Fit Hinged Ring Shanks Web Pages,” www.fingerfit.net
Kelrick, Joseph, “Finger Mate, Inc. Adjustable hinged Shanks Web Pages,” www.fingermate.com
Alulis, Gena, “SuperFit, Inc. Web Pages and Product Manual,” www.superfitinc.com
Hoover, Torry, “Hoover & Strong Web Pages,” www.hooverandstrong.com
Patton, Dave, “Lockshank by De la Vin Designs, LLC Web Pages,” www.lockshank.com
Murray, Todd, “Precision-Fit Web Pages”, www.murraysjewelers.com
Creates, Allen, “The Creates P.F.F Ring Clasp Web Pages,” www.Ringlock.com

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