What do these three names have in common? The answer is simple: emeralds. The unusually large number of emerald rings now on our site prompts this month’s post. Opaque in appearance, early emeralds are apple green in color and come from mines on the Red Sea in Upper Egypt. Legend has it that these mines once belonged to Cleopatra, so enamored was she of emeralds. Emperor Nero must have watched gladiator games through such an emerald, as recounted by the historian Pliny. The emerald thus became associated with good vision, as ophthalmologists remind us even today. The discovery of the New World brought translucent, dark green Columbian emeralds to Europe, when they became popular in Renaissance jewelry. The famous “Patricia Emerald” discovered in 1920 in a Columbian mine and now in the American Museum of Natural History is 632 carats and nearly three inches long. Today’s laboratories manufacture perfect synthetic emeralds, but our historic jewels preserve all the beauty and flaws of their era.
Following rings from the mine to the modern private collection, this catalogue of approximately fifty rings explores the roles rings played within social relations and considers how these roles transform rings into multifaceted, richly symbolic objects.