The Medieval era, or 'The Dark Ages' as it is often referred to, spans from the 5th to 15th centuries, and is a period which conjures up visions of imposing grey castles, mysterious knights, famine, and plague. Craftsmen in this era created fascinating pieces of jewellery which were worn for both decorative and practical purposes. Indeed, gemstones incorporated into these pieces were often chosen for their talismanic properties!
In the early Medieval period, jewellery had both practical and aesthetic functions, for example, items such as fasteners and fittings were used to hold clothing together, buckles decorated belts, and "points" adorned the ends of laces. In addition, hat badges and other accessories, including decorative pins, were commonly worn, used to hold headdresses and hairstyles in place. Devotional rings and signet rings also held a practical purpose; to prove the identity of the wearer, who would use the ring to stamp their crest into wax as a method of authenticating documents.
The most common item of jewellery in Medieval times was the finger ring. Due to the rudimentary tools craftsmen had access to, faceting gems was incredibly difficult. Therefore, these rings were set with gemstones that were mostly cut and polished into cabochons. During the Medieval period, gemstones extoled magical properties, and were thought to harness ‘virtues’ or powers. This belief in talismanic properties was of the utmost importance at this time, often prized above aesthetic factors.
Fine gemstones were rare in this era, however for the few who could afford them, they held vital properties. Sapphires were believed to possess the power to counteract and prevent poisoning. It was also believed that they had magical powers that could cure snakebites, expel witchcraft, and enable the wearer to detect fraud. Also associated with truth and faithfulness, these characteristics, and therefore sapphires, were highly desirable for betrothal rings! When it came to rubies, these precious gemstones were thought to guarantee health, wealth, wisdom, and even success in love.
The extreme famine, war, and plague during this period created a stark contrast between the upper and lower classes. Consequently, jewellery in this period reflected a profound hierarchical and status-conscious society. Only royalty, the upper nobility, and members of the church could afford to own and wear fine jewellery, these pieces were crafted from gold and silver, and set with precious gemstones. Indeed, in the late Medieval era, laws were passed to prevent commoners from wearing jewellery with precious stones, pearls and excess amounts of gold or silver. Thus, fine jewellery was reserved solely for the wealthy and noble.
Here at Berganza, we have an incredibly rare collection of Medieval rings, true pieces of history that have survived in museum quality condition! Discover our entire collection online, or visit us today at our Hatton Garden showroom to discover the fascinating world of Medieval jewellery.
Please note that the showroom is closed on Saturday the 26th of November.