Silver Jewellery

Silver Jewellery Rings | Roman Antique Silver Jewelry

Roman Silver Rings, Medieval and Byzantine

antique silver jewellerySilver Jewellery makers and goldsmiths worked mainly with gold and silver, using enamel, pearls and precious and semi-precious stones for decorative purposes. Gold was the metal of choice, with silver and silver-gilt being seen as inferior metals more appropriate for jewellery for the lower classes. Much of the gold used in the production of late medieval jewellery was actually recycled from ancient coins, old jewellery and other gold items.

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Ancient Silver Rings Medieval

During the High Middle Ages, a period of European history covering the 11th to the 13th centuries, much of the European gold stock was lodged in the Byzantine court. This meant that very little gold was circulating in Western Europe at that time. Until the 13th century, most coinage in circulation was silver, but then gold coins were introduced into Italy, France and England. However, these were not struck from new gold, but gold acquired during trading with Arab nations.

medieval silver jewellery

From the 14th century onwards, gold production in Europe increased, and at the same time the importing of gold from Arab countries continued. In Hungary and Bohemia, around 92% of the total gold in Europe was mined, and in the Rhine region of Germany, gold was panned from river deposits.

Silver and silver jewellery was produced throughout the Middle Ages in Europe, and it was one of the most significant exports in the continent. The metal was mined in several European centres, including Poitou in France, Sardinia in Italy, Goslar, Freiberg and Saxony in Germany, and Kuttenberg in Bohemia.

The precious stones used to decorate the ancient silver jewellery almost all came from long distance trade. Rubies came from India and Ceylon, sapphires originated from Ceylon, Arabia and Persia, turquoise from Persia and Tibet, emeralds came from Egypt, and diamonds from India and Central Africa.

However, Europe was also a source of precious stones in the late Middle Ages. Amethysts could be found in Germany, opals and garnets came from Eastern Europe, while rock crystal could be found in Germany, France and Switzerland. According to a surviving list written by a Jewish merchant in 1453, a wide variety of less valuable stones were also used in silver jewellery making.

roman silver ring

Ancient Silver Jewellery

Many pieces of silver jewellery were decorated with cameos or intaglios which were figures and designs carved into stones and set into older metalwork. Both cameos and intaglios were frequently recycled and used in new pieces, thus carrying the designs through the ages. Medieval cameo cutting was inferior to the exquisite pieces produced in Byzantium, where stone carving was a tradition that extended throughout the Middle Ages. These pieces were much sought after, and were frequently imported into Europe.

Other decorative materials for bronze, gold and silver jewellery included freshwater pearls and mother-of-pearl from Scotland, amber from the Baltic coast, jet from England and Spain and coral from Mediterranean North Africa.

Emeralds and diamonds were almost as highly prized as rubies, while garnets, amethysts and Scottish pearls replaced rubies in cheaper pieces of jewellery.

gold roman ringDuring the superstitious Middle Ages, stones and minerals were believed to have magical properties. Evil Eye Jewelry was very popular to ward off evil. Various gems were worn in the genuine belief that they could protect against poison, ease the agony of childbirth and prevent epilepsy. Jewellery bearing an inscription, a special sign or a figure was also believed to be powerful.  The many cameos and intaglios that were around in the Middle Ages were also prized for their perceived magical properties. For example, an engraving depicting a naked, swollen man and a well dressed, crowned man with a chalice in one hand and a branch in the other was believed to cure a fever if inserted into a ring and worn constantly for three days.

Figures from classical mythology were often the subject of cameos and intaglios, and often Christian iconography formed part of the interpretation. Many of these pieces can now be seen in lapidariums, or museums where stone carvings and fragments are exhibited.

It was believed that the magical power of stones could be enhanced by engraving letters on them. A ring inscribed with the letters T. B. L. N. C. H. V. S. was nothing short of a miracle worker. It would guarantee health and success in all walks of life, and help women in the dangerous business of childbirth, provided the owner of the ring was an honest person, of course.

While many jewellers worked with other metals such as bronze, silversmiths worked exclusively with silver, producing fine, decorative silver jewellery pieces. In mediaeval times, the term jeweller was rather vague, and was more likely to refer to someone who worked with, traded in or retailed stones, rather than the craftsmen who fashioned the jewellery.

In the early Middle Ages, most goldsmiths who produced jewellery worked in the monasteries, although later secular goldsmiths worked to produce jewellery for kings, courtiers and the nobility. Goldsmiths in the towns and cities worked independently, but it was compulsory to become a member of a guild. This was a type of mediaeval association of craftsmen which controlled and regulated members of particular trades.

Being a member of a guild provided its members with security as well as protecting their interests. The guilds fixed prices within their trade, organised and regulated training, and exercised quality control, so it was beneficial to craftsmen to be a member of a guild. The increasing number of goldsmiths, together with the expansion in the jewellery trade in the 13th and 14th centuries made the regulatory activities of the guilds even more essential.

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