Medieval Rings

les Enluminures


à jour

Open setting at the back of the bezel that leaves the stone exposed to light from behind or to make contact with the finger beneath.


A ring made from a thin, often flat, ribbon-like strip of material (usually metal). The band can be unadorned or decorated.


The upper, protruding part of a finger ring (excluding the hoop and the shoulders) often set with a gemstone.

Box setting

A box-shaped bezel setting either in the form of a quadrangle or rectangle with a closed underside.


Precious or semi-precious stone that is merely polished without being cut into facets and was much used in the Middle Ages.


Relief carving (a carving that comes up above the surface) on a shell or stone. In multi-colored cameos, a layered substrate is used (with two different colors), and when part of the upper layer is carved away, the second color emerges as the background.

Carat (or Karat)

The unit of measure for gold and gemstones (abbreviation: ct. or kt.). One carat weighs 0.2 gram (1/5 of a gram or 0.0007 ounce). A hundredth of a carat is called a point . The carat unit was introduced in 1907 (24 kt. is 100% gold; 18 kt. 75% gold; 14 kt. 58.3% gold; and 10 kt. 41.7% gold).


Enamelling technique in which a design is scooped out of a copper ground and then filled with opaque enamel and fired, fusing the enamel so that it is flush with the reserved metal.


Chasing is a type of metal decoration in which the metal is manipulated using a hammer and a punch, resulting in an effect similar to engraving or embossing .


A claw is a metal prong that holds a stone securely in a setting.

Claw setting

Projecting metal prongs (called claws) are bent over the stone to hold it securely in place.

Claw setting

Projecting metal prongs (called claws) are bent over the stone to hold it securely in place.


Method of applying enamel to metal in which the design is first outlined on the metal surface using a metal wire; the space between the wires is filled with enamel and then fired to a glassy sheen.


Thin, round band of metal that goes all around the stone.

Collet setting

Early method of setting gemstones, in which one edge of the metal collet is crimped over the edges of the stone and the other edge is soldered to the metal of the jewelry, holding the stone in place.

Dextrarum junctio

Motif known since antiquity of two hands clasped in faith, also called “fede” and symbolizing the union of marriage.


Naturally occurring amber-colored alloy of gold and silver that was used in ancient times; in the medieval era electrum is also an alloy consisting of copper (50%), nickel (30%) and zinc (20%).


Siliceous substance fusible upon metal, either transparent or opaque and with or without color, but it is usually employed to add decorative color to metal. Enamel can be applied in many different ways, including cloisonné , champlevé , and plique à jour .


Technique of cutting patterns into a surface with a sharp tool; an impression made from the cut surface shows the design of the incised lines in reverse (hence intaglio).


From the Italian for “faith” or “trust” fede rings are symbolic rings shaped in the form of two clasped hands. Such rings were popular in ancient Rome as betrothal rings and again throughout Europe from the twelfth to the eighteenth centuries.


Ornamental work composed of fine grains or beads, or sometimes of wires soldered to a background but often left as openwork.


Thin metal backing for gems to increase their brilliance, used from Antiquity through the Renaissance with precious stones as well as glass.


Metal formed by heating it in a forge (furnace) and beating or hammering it into shape.


Gemstone (also called a precious stone) is a mineral that is valuable, rare and often beautiful.


Decoration consisting of minute spherical grains of metal soldered to a background usually in gold; the ancient method which left no solder visible between the grains and the surface of the gold was rediscovered only in the twentieth century.


Mark stamped on jewelry throughout much of the world to attest to the purity of the metal after assay . European hallmarks are legally required and date back to the early Middle Ages.


Also called the shank, the rounded part of the ring that encircles the finger and connects to the bezel at the shoulders.


Intaglio is a method of decoration in which a design is cut into the surface, the opposite of cameo. Signet rings are frequently decorated with intaglio, as are seals.


Metallic leaf is paper-thin sheets of metals. For example, gold, silver, platinum, and copper are rolled or pounded into metallic leaf which can be applied to surfaces.

Memento Mori

(Latin: "Think of Death"). A term to describe objects incorporating emblems of mortality, skulls, cadavers, coffins, etc., designed to remind the viewer of the inevitability of death.


Ancient technique in which an engraved design in metal is filled with powdered niello alloy in a dark grey or black color (composed of silver, copper, lead, and sulphur). The niello alloy is melted (the entire metal piece is heated in a kiln) and fuses with the underlying metal. The object is then polished and the result gives the effect of enamel. Niello has been made at least since the time of ancient Rome.


Small pieces of metallic foil, sometimes in colors, which are placed underneath a translucent stone to enhance its color and make it more luminous.


Term used for imitation gemstones made of glass or other vitreous substances.


From “poesie” for poetry, a posy ring is one with an inscription usually on the interior of the band and was especially popular in Elizabethan and Tudor England.


Cut for diamonds invented in the seventeenth century and continued until the eighteenth century. The rose cut has a flat base and triangular facets (usually 24). This cut has little wastage of stone, but is not nearly as reflective as the brilliant cut , which was invented later.


Mounted in rings or hung on a chain, seals were once extensively used as a means of identification and only by relatively important people. Seals are carved in hard stones (like sard or jasper ) using intaglio or engraved on gold signet rings.


Setting is a method of securing a stone (or other ornament) in a piece of jewelry (or other object). There are many different types of settings, including the collet, claw, cut-down, and pave, among others. Some settings are closed (there is metal behind the stone), while others are open (there is no metal behind the stone), letting light shine through the stone.

Shell cameo

Cameo made from a shell.


Often articulated, the shoulders are the part of the ring between the hoop (or shank) and the bezel.

Signet ring

Ring used for signing, thus often with the coat-of-arms or the initials of the wearer's family incised in reverse on the bezel. The earliest-known signet rings date from ancient Egypt, thousands of years ago.


Process by which different metallic parts are joined to one another with any fusible alloy, usually tin and lead.


Also known as a trap cut, the step cut has one large facet surrounded by rectangular facets. Smaller step-cut stones are often used as accents and are called baguettes.


One of the earliest styles of gem cutting, based on the natural octahedron, one of the forms in which diamond crystals occur. The top of the octahedron is cut off to leave a flat surface with the pointed half of the octahedron below.


Glossary of stones


Striped version of chalcedony quartz, agate forms in layers in many colors and textures by filling in an indentation or cavity in another rock and is frequently used to carve cameos.


The word “amethyst” is of Greek origin and means “not drunken” or intoxicated. It is a transparent, coarse-grained variety of quartz that is valued as a semiprecious gem for its violet color. In the Middle Ages, amethysts came from Germany and Russia.February-Amethyst Power to overcome difficulties



Reddish form of chalcedony quartz, this translucent stone has a waxy luster. The best carnelian is from India.


Precious, lustrous gemstones made of highly-compressed carbon, diamonds are one of the hardest materials known. Colors of diamonds range from colorless, yellow, orange, brown, to almost black. Rarer colors are red, blue, green, and purple; these colors (called fancies) are quite valuable. The largest-known gem-quality diamonds include the Cullinan (e. g., the Star of Africa, 530.20 carats), the Excelsior , the Great Mogul (an ancient Indian diamond which is said to have originally weighed 787.5 carats, but its location is unknown), the Darya-i-Nur , the Koh-i-Nur , and the Hope diamond (named for a purchaser, Henry Thomas Hope).


Hard, green precious stone , emeralds (and all forms of beryl) have large, perfect, six-sided crystals. Before the discovery of the new world, emeralds came mostly from Egypt; the finer emeralds come from the New World.


Any of a group of semi-precious silicate stones that range in color from red to green (garnets occur in all colors but blue). The pyrope is the familiar deep red garnet. Garnets were plentiful in Europe, and vary significantly in quality; they were mined in Bohemia and elsewhere in the medieval era.


Also called "cinnamon stone," hessonite is a cinnamon-brown to orange gemstone variety of the grossular garnet .


Common, opaque , semi-precious stone that is found all over the world in many colors, including white, brown, yellow, red, and green. It is often striped, speckled, and multi-colored. Jasper has been used for intaglio carvings.


Onyx is a semi-precious stone described as a solid black chalcedony. Onyx is used in carved cameos and intaglios because its layers can be cut to show a colour contrast between the design and the background.


Organic gems grown within oysters and a few other mollusks, pearls are formed when a foreign object (like a tiny stone) has made its way into the mollusk's shell. The mollusk secretes nacre , a lustrous substance that coats the intruding object. As thousands of layers of nacre coat the intruder, a pearl is formed. This process takes up to seven or eight years (an oyster's useful life span).

Rock crystal

Transparent , crystalline mineral, rock crystal is the purest form of quartz and a semi-precious stone. Rock crystal came from Germany, Switzerland, and France in the medieval era.


Precious stones and a member of the corundum family, rubies range in color from the classic deep red to pink to purple to brown. Rubies are extremely hard; only diamonds are harder. Rubies were mined in Burma and sold through India in the Middle Ages to the Mediterranean.


Precious gemstone (a type of corundum like the ruby), the sapphire ranges in color from blue to pink to yellow to green to white to purple (mauve sapphire) to pink-orange. Along with Sri Lanka, during the Middle Ages, Burma started selling its sapphire to India.


Semi-precious stone related to carnelian , this brownish-red, opaque gemstone was once used extensively for seals and was carved using intaglio . Sard was named for Sardis, the ancient capital of Lydia. Sardius is mentioned in the Bible, and may refer to jasper .


Semi-precious stone that formed by two layers, a red-brown layer of sard and a gray, white, black or brown layer of onyx , sardonyx is a type of quartz . Sardonyx is frequently carved to make intricate cameos and seals .


Very hard semi-precious stone composed of octahedral crystals, spinel ranges in color from red to black to yellow, frequently resembling rubies . Iron and chrome are components of the spinel, giving it its color.


Tourmaline is a crystalline boron silicate mineral. Classified as a semi-precious stone, the gemstone comes in a wide variety of exciting colors. In fact, tourmaline has one of the widest color ranges of any gem species, occurring in various shades of virtually every hue. The name comes from the Sinhalese word "Turmali" or "Thoramalli," which applied to different gemstones found in Sri Lanka. Brightly colored Sri Lankan gem tourmalines were brought to Europe in great quantities by the Dutch East India Company to satisfy a demand for curiosities and gems. Tourmaline was sometimes called the "Ceylonese Magnet" because it could attract and then repel hot ashes due to its pyroelectric properties.


Non-translucent, porous semi-precious stone (it is a hydrated phosphate of copper and aluminum) that is usually cut as a cabochon , turquoise was believed to have been first found in Turkey, hence its name (Turquie, French for Turkey). The oldest and finest turquoise mines are located in Persia, but it is found in desert regions worldwide. Over the years, oil from the skin is absorbed by the stone and changes its color slightly. Only when trade with the Near and Middle East increased in the late Middle Ages did the turquoise become popular.

yellow chalcedony


January-Garnet: Safe travel and a speedy homecoming
February-Amethyst: Power to overcome difficulties
March-Jasper: Courage
April-Diamond: Everlasting love
May-Emerald: Love and fidelity
June- Pearl: Purity, Celebrate a birth
July- Ruby: Prosperity (if worn on the left hand); Everlasting love (if worn on the right)
August-Peridot and Sardonyx: Strength and growth; Happiness in a relationship
September-Sapphire: Sincerity and faithfulness
October-Opal and Tourmaline: Confidence and hope
November-Citrine and Yellow Topaz: Strength and friendship
December-Turquoise: Protects against evil and ill health

Already in ancient times birthstones were linked with the months of the year. It is said that the association of twelve stones with the twelve months originated with the breastplate of the High Priest Aaron inset with twelve stones to help him in warfare. They also represent the twelve tribes of Israel, the twelve apostles, and the twelve signs of the zodiac. In the first century A.D., the Roman historian Flavius Josephus wrote: “And for the twelve stones, whether we understand by them the months or the twelve signs of what the Greeks call the zodiac, we shall not be mistaken in their meaning.”

Each stone came to symbolize specific positive qualities that they transmitted to the wearer. Because of their positive, almost magical, qualities, the stones came to be worn not only in the birth month, but during different months to protect the wearer throughout the year. There is a related tradition that specifies which stone corresponds to which day of the week.