This magnificent gold ring was among the wealth of artifacts lost when the Spanish galleon Conde de Tolosa sank off the coast of the Dominican Republic on the morning of August 25, 1724. The ship was carrying a cargo of mercury from Spain to Peru for use in the silver mines of Potosi. When a hurricane struck, the heavy winds and strong tides snapped ship’s mooring. The current dragged the ship away from its convoy and onto a reef where it ran aground and sank. 560 of its 600 passengers and crew drowned. This sumptuous ring remained in the wreck until 1976, when the government of the Dominican Republic allowed the recovery of the ship by Caribe Salvage SA. The ring holds a massive square, step-cut amethyst. While the stone bears streaks and other inclusions, it displays the much-admired red and mauve flashes of the highest quality of amethyst. The gold body of the ring is in excellent condition, and there are few scratches to the surface of the amethyst to speak to its two hundred fifty years under water.
Delicate cruciform rings of filigree wire are known from the short-lived Ostrogothic kingdom in northern Italy. Although the kings of the Ostrogoths acted independently of the emperors in Constantinople, they technically ruled as the emperor’s regents and maintained the fiction of Roman suzerainty.
Ancient Romans and their Byzantine descendants esteemed a gemstone called smaragdus second only to the pearl. Its name stems from the Greek word meaning “green gem” (σμάραγδος) from which the modern English term “emerald” has originated.
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.