Medieval Rings

les Enluminures
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ROMAN OCTAHEDRAL DIAMOND RING

Roman Empire, second half of the 3rd century to early 4th century AD

Gold and diamond

sold
  • ROMAN OCTAHEDRAL DIAMOND RING

    Roman Empire, second half of the 3rd century to early 4th century AD
    Gold and diamond
    Weight 9.2 gr; circumference 51.2 mm; US size 5¾; UK size L

    This ring was formerly in the collection of Louis de Clercq (1836–1901), a French photographer, politician, and avid collector of antiquities. His collecting started in 1859, when he joined a French archaeological expedition in Syria and developed a collection that included an unrivalled assemblage of Late Roman and early Byzantine jewelry. The collection remained in the family until it was dispersed in 1967. Much was acquired by the Musée du Louvre in Paris; the remainder passed onto the open market. The high bezel of this ring is set with a natural octahedral diamond crystal weighing about 1.65 carats. The only source of diamonds in the ancient world was India, and those that reached the Roman world by trade were rare and small. There is documentary evidence for diamond rings in the Roman Empire in the first century AD, but the earliest surviving example dates from the later second century, and although very rare, they are best known from the third century.

    Provenance: Louis de Clercq (1836–1901), Paris [a French photographer, politician, and avid collector of antiquities, said to have been found at Tartus, Syria]; Benjamin Zucker, New York.

    Exhibited: Washington, D.C., Smithsonian Institution; Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, 2013–2014.

    Reference number: 639

  • Diamond

    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).

    Birthstone

    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

  • Ancient

    The term “ancient” can include everything from Egypt to Etruscan and Phoenician to Greece, literally thousands of years of history. Here we are concerned primarily with Hellenistic and Imperial Rome. The Hellenistic age extends from c. 325 B.C. until the inauguration of the Roman Empire in 27 B.C.; and Imperial Rome thereafter until the reign of Constantine from c. 306-327 and the Sack of Rome in 410 by the Visigoths led by Alaric.

    Both gold (from extensive new mining operations) and precious stones (from new trade routes) were plentiful during the Hellenist Age, and jewelry was highly prized as conveying social status. Multicolored gemstones were in frequent use, chalcedonies, cornelians, and above all garnets (from India). Seed pearls, emeralds, and amethysts also are found by the first and second centuries B.C. While Hellenistic jewelry much imitated Greek prototypes, some forms originate during this era, and they include the Heracles knot that remained popular through Roman times and the hinged ring.

    At first, Roman rings of the Imperial period were relatively simple, but by the first century the taste for luxury and displays of wealth was much noted by Roman writers. Martial and other critics of Roman society parodied the newly rich (see Spier 2012, p. 12). One of his epigrams ridicules the dandy Charinus, who wears six rings on each finger and never takes them off because he does not have a gem case (implying that he does not own them they are rented). In Petronius’s Satyricon, Fortunata the wife of a former slave is mocked for wearing at least “six and half pounds on her” during a banquet. These accounts speak to the wide availability of jewelry during this era. Among the new forms, the new pierced openwork in gold (opus interrasile) is worth noting. By the later Roman Empire, especially the third through fifth centuries, Roman jewelry becomes more sophisticated: among the forms that date from this time are double- and triple- bezel rings, as well as the pyramid setting.

    A certain amount of information survives concerning the making of jewelry in antiquity. Jewelry is almost always described by weight and if there are stones the weight without the stones is given. These weights are closely related to those of coinage, so customers may have supplied coins to itinerant or shop-based craftsmen. There were certainly guilds in Roman times. We also suspect that children worked as jewelers and engravers; there is a tombstone of a 19 year old gem engraver known. Archeological finds reveal that shops surrounding the marketplace belonged to retail traders dealing with the local market; there are transfer and rental agreements for jewelry shows (see Ogden 1982, p. 177). The shop of one jeweler was only 5 feet by 4 feet in size, much like artisan’s workshops throughout the medieval era. Certainly itinerant goldsmiths must also have existed.

ROMAN OCTAHEDRAL DIAMOND RING

Roman Empire, second half of the 3rd century to early 4th century AD
Gold and diamond
Weight 9.2 gr; circumference 51.2 mm; US size 5¾; UK size L

This ring was formerly in the collection of Louis de Clercq (1836–1901), a French photographer, politician, and avid collector of antiquities. His collecting started in 1859, when he joined a French archaeological expedition in Syria and developed a collection that included an unrivalled assemblage of Late Roman and early Byzantine jewelry. The collection remained in the family until it was dispersed in 1967. Much was acquired by the Musée du Louvre in Paris; the remainder passed onto the open market. The high bezel of this ring is set with a natural octahedral diamond crystal weighing about 1.65 carats. The only source of diamonds in the ancient world was India, and those that reached the Roman world by trade were rare and small. There is documentary evidence for diamond rings in the Roman Empire in the first century AD, but the earliest surviving example dates from the later second century, and although very rare, they are best known from the third century.

Provenance: Louis de Clercq (1836–1901), Paris [a French photographer, politician, and avid collector of antiquities, said to have been found at Tartus, Syria]; Benjamin Zucker, New York.

Exhibited: Washington, D.C., Smithsonian Institution; Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, 2013–2014.

Reference number: 639

Diamond

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).

Birthstone

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

Ancient

The term “ancient” can include everything from Egypt to Etruscan and Phoenician to Greece, literally thousands of years of history. Here we are concerned primarily with Hellenistic and Imperial Rome. The Hellenistic age extends from c. 325 B.C. until the inauguration of the Roman Empire in 27 B.C.; and Imperial Rome thereafter until the reign of Constantine from c. 306-327 and the Sack of Rome in 410 by the Visigoths led by Alaric.

Both gold (from extensive new mining operations) and precious stones (from new trade routes) were plentiful during the Hellenist Age, and jewelry was highly prized as conveying social status. Multicolored gemstones were in frequent use, chalcedonies, cornelians, and above all garnets (from India). Seed pearls, emeralds, and amethysts also are found by the first and second centuries B.C. While Hellenistic jewelry much imitated Greek prototypes, some forms originate during this era, and they include the Heracles knot that remained popular through Roman times and the hinged ring.

At first, Roman rings of the Imperial period were relatively simple, but by the first century the taste for luxury and displays of wealth was much noted by Roman writers. Martial and other critics of Roman society parodied the newly rich (see Spier 2012, p. 12). One of his epigrams ridicules the dandy Charinus, who wears six rings on each finger and never takes them off because he does not have a gem case (implying that he does not own them they are rented). In Petronius’s Satyricon, Fortunata the wife of a former slave is mocked for wearing at least “six and half pounds on her” during a banquet. These accounts speak to the wide availability of jewelry during this era. Among the new forms, the new pierced openwork in gold (opus interrasile) is worth noting. By the later Roman Empire, especially the third through fifth centuries, Roman jewelry becomes more sophisticated: among the forms that date from this time are double- and triple- bezel rings, as well as the pyramid setting.

A certain amount of information survives concerning the making of jewelry in antiquity. Jewelry is almost always described by weight and if there are stones the weight without the stones is given. These weights are closely related to those of coinage, so customers may have supplied coins to itinerant or shop-based craftsmen. There were certainly guilds in Roman times. We also suspect that children worked as jewelers and engravers; there is a tombstone of a 19 year old gem engraver known. Archeological finds reveal that shops surrounding the marketplace belonged to retail traders dealing with the local market; there are transfer and rental agreements for jewelry shows (see Ogden 1982, p. 177). The shop of one jeweler was only 5 feet by 4 feet in size, much like artisan’s workshops throughout the medieval era. Certainly itinerant goldsmiths must also have existed.

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