Medieval rings, dating from circa 5th- 15th century AD, offer a fascinating glimpse of a bygone era. The jewellery worn in medieval Europe reflected a profoundly hierarchical and status-conscious society. Jewellery was used to signal social status, with men being as highly adorned as women. Royalty and the higher ranks of society wore gold, silver and precious gems. Lower ranks of society wore base metals, such as pewter and copper.
In Medieval times, rings were not just decorative, they were worn for a practical purpose. Devotional rings and signet rings were worn to prove the identity of the wearer and used as seals for stamping documents to authenticate them. Curative rings were meant to cure diseases and hollow rings served as containers for holy relics or sometimes even poison.
Colour, provided by precious gems and enamel, was highly valued with ruby and emerald being the most prized. However, a wide range of gem stones were commonly used including sapphire, garnet, turquoise, amber, coral and freshwater pearl, with most gems cut into a cabochon cut with rounded contours. Christian iconography flourished and the engraving of Christian symbolism onto gem stones was popular. Some jewels even had magical inscriptions, believed to protect the wearer.
Throughout Europe, during the Middle Ages, belief in magic and sorcery was pervasive. Superstition abounded, with certain gemstones attributed with mystical powers and worn for protection. In Medieval Europe, it was believed that wearing diamonds or carrying them on your person would ward off the plague. Sapphires were believed to have magical powers that could cure snakebites, expel witchcraft and enable the wearer to detect fraud. Amethyst was supposed to prevent drunkenness and intoxication, while turquoise was considered to have healing powers, with the belief it could absorb disease by drawing it from the body into the stone.
In the late Middle Ages, from the 13th century onwards, jewellery was reserved for the higher ranks of society such as aristocratic and noble houses. Laws were passed preventing commoners from wearing jewellery with precious stones, pearls and excess amounts of gold or silver.
These extraordinary rings are now a rare find, with each surviving Medieval ring providing an intriguing insight into times past. Whether you are captivated by history, revel in craftsmanship or delight in symbolism we have a piece suitable for any enthusiast.