Here at Berganza we are most privileged to have a collection of early jewellery, dating back to the Medieval era, and spanning centuries. Of these, several pieces have fascinating, and noteworthy histories, one of which is this exceptional garnet ring, created circa 1200 – 1400 AD.
This was a tumultuous, yet transformative time in English history, as Plantagenet kings oversaw the establishment of English as the primary language, and a distinct English culture evolved amongst a series of conflicts, including the Hundred Years War. It was this era that saw Geoffrey Chaucer pen his Canterbury Tales, the rebuilding of Westminster Abbey in the Gothic style, and the founding of Cambridge university.
It was against this backdrop, that this incredible garnet ring was created. Exceptional in its design, the ornate carvings to the shoulders reveal the high level of skill that this medieval goldsmith had acquired through honing his trade over many years. Displaying the finest of craftsmanship, this ring would have been a true mark of the wealth and status of its wearer.
So who might this ring have once belonged to? There are several factors to consider when examining the provenance of this piece. First, the garnet itself.
A gem of the finest quality, it showcases a deep red hue with purple undertones that has been masterfully cut en cabochon, to make the most of its incredible colour. The octagonal shape the garnet has been cut into is most unusual, as in this era, cabochons were mostly seen in rounded or oval forms. Indeed, an extraordinary level of skill would have been required to cut this rare shape so finely.
Another impressive aspect of this garnet, is its size. With an approximate weight of eight carats, this gem is simply exceptional. It is no surprise, therefore, that distinguished historian and Geological Consultant, Dr Ronald Bonewitz PhD, concluded that based on the garnet alone, this ring would have certainly been owned by a ‘noble or royal figure.’
This would not be the first instance in which garnets have been linked to royalty, as in the Medieval era, red garnet was specifically favoured by the nobility. Garnet was relatively rare at this time, with the famous Bohemian garnet deposits in central Europe not discovered until later, around 1500 AD. Garnets have long been considered to have held protective properties, shielding its wearer from harm. This may be one of the reasons why it was so favoured by many Saxon and Celtic kings, and according to Judeo-Christian tradition, this gem was worn by King Solomon when he went into battle!
This long standing tradition of garnets being worn by royalty continued throughout history, with many notable monarchs known to have worn them, including Mary, Queen of Scots, and also Queen Victoria.
This particular ring weighs 9.7g, and is a UK finger size P (US 7 ½ ), suggesting it would originally have been worn by a gentleman. Upon closer inspection by The British Museum, they also narrowed down the era in which this ring was likely created to the 14th century (1300-1400 AD). With all these facts in mind, who might the potential candidates have been when it comes to ownership?
The 14th century spanned the rule of five kings; Edward I, Edward II, Edward III, Richard II, and concluded with the coronation of Henry IV in 1399. It is certainly likely that this ring would have belonged to either one of these noblemen, or a member of their family or court.
This garnet ring was reputedly discovered in the Kingswood region of Hull, particularly apt, when one considers its potential ownership! It is known that in the Medieval era, the Kingswood region was a designated hunting ground of King Edward I and his courtiers. Perhaps this ring was lost during one of their hunts, where it lay, undiscovered, until the 1990s, when it was found by a metal detector, in the incredible condition it is in today.
Whilst we may never know the true history, or owner of this ring, one thing is for sure, pieces like this with such an interesting provenance, and historical connection, are rarely available to own.
This ring has been examined by both experts at the British Museum, and the York Museums Trust. Also accompanied by documentation from the Portable Antiquities Scheme, having been declared under reference YORYM-CD0BFB, and a geologic report from expert Dr Ronald Bonewitz, with regards to accompanying documentation, or expert opinions you may wish to come with a piece of this age, you will rarely find better.
If you would like to acquire your own piece of history, visit the Berganza showroom today, where our specialists would be delighted to take you on journey through time, with our exceptional collection of ancient and early rings.