Intaglio Rings

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Ancient and Antique Carved Intaglio Rings

An intaglio is a stone featuring a design that is carved into the surface and is characteristic of many ancient rings.

The origin of the engraved signet-stone can be traced right back to the Sumerian period in Mesopotamia. Seals were used in the Ancient Near East from about 3400BC for over three thousand years, however initially only relatively soft stones were used. Due to this, a precise, detailed image could not be produced on such a small scale. Therefore, new technologies were required to carve harder, more durable materials.

Even right back at this time gemstones were prized above all other possessions and this led to a high perfection in the art of gem-cutting. These materials would have been immensely difficult to carve and engrave in such detail with the tools and materials available at the time. Therefore, the engraved gemstone must have been a valued and treasured possession belonging to someone of immense importance and wealth.

The classical history of gem-engraving in Europe is known to begin in the second quarter of the sixth century BC, as this is when new materials and techniques became available to the Greek artist. The new techniques were those required to work the harder stones, mainly the use of a cutting wheel and drill, probably driven by a bow, where before figures had been cut or gouged free-hand in the soft stone. Techniques were passed down to the Romans, and the use of drills and wheel technology soon enabled the processing of harder gemstones and facilitated the production of more demanding images. A finely carved seal was practical, as it made forgery more difficult. This was of utmost importance in Roman society as a seal stone often mounted in a ring was used only by its owner to validate serious legal documents. In modern day, this same style lives on in the signet ring, a popular design in antique men's rings.

The materials used for Roman intaglios differed little from the earlier Hellenistic period, with a great variety of coloured translucent stones coming from the East and Egypt including garnets, carnelian and amethyst. These gemstones were cut by using abrasive powder from harder materials.

The highly specialised art of gem engraving was slowly lost during the later centuries of the Roman Empire, however there were major revivals of interest in engraved gems in Europe during the Byzantine era, the Middle Ages, the Renaissance, and again in the 18th and 19th centuries. A revival of the art of gem engraving began in 15th century Italy, where so many gems were being unearthed from Roman sites. These discoveries, which coincided with contemporary admiration for classical culture, inspired the emergence of a new school of gem engravers. The skills that had been lost for centuries were consequently studied and re-learned due to this renewed interest and the art was revived.


Intaglio rings date back to ancient times and are especially associated with Ancient Rome. However, you do see these rings throughout history as the skill of gem engraving saw revivals in the Renaissance, and then again in the 18th and 19th centuries.

Intaglios are typically made out of a hard stone, such as carnelian and agate. Other gems, including amethyst and garden were also used, as were slightly softer materials, such as glass, however, these tend not to survive in such fine condition.

You can, although depending on its age and what it’s made from, some care might be required. The intaglio, or seal ring, was an important piece of jewellery for men throughout the ages, and whilst intaglio rings are worn for different purposes today than what they used to be, they are still as popular as ever, and today are worn by both men and ladies!

They do! Some intaglio rings feature a family’s crest, or a symbol that is known to be associated with them, as a means of identification. Many ancient intaglio rings were engraved with gods and goddesses, and even entire scenes from mythology.

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Updated 29/05/2024 at 2:48PM

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