Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Object of the Day: Museum Edition: A Medieval Sapphire Ring, 1250-1300

Engraved Gold and Cabochon Sapphire
Possibly English or French
The Victoria & Albert Museum

The human fascination with gemstones has thrived for thousands of years. In the middle ages, gems were cherished not only for their inherent value, but for their talismanic properties. Sapphires were most especially coveted. They were considered quite exotic—coming mostly from Sri Lanka, and were, therefore assigned great monetary value. However, they were also assigned significant spiritual powers which made them all the more desirable.

Sapphires were considered as contributors to peace, reconciliation and chastity. Furthermore, the wearer of a sapphire was said to have a clearer communication with God who would be more inclined to hear the wearer’s prayers more favorably.

The Victoria & Albert Museum
Jewelers options were limited. The tools available in the medieval period didn’t allow for intricate facets and cuts on gemstones. Stones such as rubies and sapphires were not faceted, but rather polished into shining cabochons, usually of irregular shapes.

This ring from the collection of the Victoria & Albert Museum in London dates to between 1250 and 1300 and shows the predominant trend of jewels of the era. The sapphire has been polished into a cabochon and secured to the ring in a thick claw setting. The setting is mounted at quite a height. Though it seems ridiculous to modern eyes, this tall setting allowed for more light to enter the stone. The ring itself is crafted from engraved gold with the kind of foliate pattern which appealed to medieval sensibilities. This was the stuff of the very wealthy and, unfortunately, very few pieces of jewelry from this time period survive.

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