Knowledge Centre > Jewellery History > Design Periods > Medieval

The Magnificent Rings of the Middle Ages

Article from Berganza


Medieval rings, dating from circa 5th- 15th century AD, form a fascinating jewellery group which encompasses several distinct types of ring. Gold and gem-set jewellery during the Medieval era was so rare that it was predominately reserved for royalty, nobility and high ranking clergymen.

Medieval gem-set finger rings often feature an unusual setting, known as the ‘pie-dish’ bezel. The shape of the setting is dictated by the natural shape of the gemstone set within, usually a polished cabochon as gemstone cutting technology at this point in time was rudimentary. References 18033 and 21257 are very fine examples showcasing this setting.

An exceptional, large Medieval hexagonal sapphire finger ring, reference 21254, is an important museum quality piece. During this period, gemstones were thought to be imbued with magical powers, for example, sapphires were meant to uncover deception and protect chastity. Sapphires were a favourite choice in the Middle Ages, though so rare that they were reserved solely for people of high rank and would have ostentatiously signified the status, fortune and power of the owner. This ring is still eminently wearable today, and would make an extraordinary engagement ring, a significant dress ring or an impressive signet ring.

Another remarkable group of Medieval jewellery, those called the Bishop’s stirrup rings, were a distinct style during this time in France and England. Reference 21255 set with an amethyst, shows how the shape of the ring rises to an apex or dome, and so furnishes its name from the shape of a horse’s stirrup. It is also thought that the shape echoes the Gothic vaulting ceiling arches within cathedrals, so it is fitting that these rings were often worn by bishops, supposedly worn on the middle finger of the right hand.

Medieval seal rings were not only a symbol of status but also a functional item of jewellery. These were an essential device in business transactions, such as reference 20771, which permitted the wearer to authorise important documents. These rings dated to a time when few had the education to read and write, so were similar to the modern day equivalent of a signature.

A distinctive group of rings- the iconographic rings, were so named by the Victorians. These rings again have a specific shape, usually with two parallel flat sides reaching to a point, often engraved with images of saints and enhanced with floral or geometric patterns, see reference 18714. They were used as devotional objects or protective amulets and were unique to England. They were a popular gift at weddings or more unusually, given to celebrate the New Year.

Each extraordinary Medieval ring offers a fascinating glimpse of a bygone era. These rarities survive from the time of the Black Death wiping out vast swathes of the European population, wars and battles, peasants and serfs, castles and jousting tournaments and Geoffrey Chancer, the first great writer in the English language writing the ‘Canterbury Tales’. We are privileged to be able to offer an impressive collection of these very special and rare jewels which can be prized, enjoyed and worn today.

Medieval gold fede betrothal ring hatton garden
Medieval gold fede betrothal ring, circa 13th century.
Ref: 27496
Medieval sapphire cabochon gold ring, circa 14 15th century. Hatton Garden
Medieval sapphire cabochon gold ring, circa 14-15th century.
Ref: 26442
Medieval zoomorphic sapphire ring hatton garden
Medieval zoomorphic sapphire ring, circa 12th-14th century.
Ref: 27519
front view  Medieval silver gilt band ring, circa 15th 16th century AD. berganza hatton garden
Medieval silver gilt band ring, circa 15th-16th century AD.
Ref: 26395
Medieval bronze archers ring hatton garden
Medieval bronze archers ring, circa 8th - 12th century AD.
Ref: 26390
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Updated 24/07/2024 at 5:00PM

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