Rings were the most popular type of jewelry worn by men and women during Medieval times. Most people liked to wear rings on almost all their fingers including the thumb. Rings symbolized status, prosperity and wealth. Since there was a great demand for rings, jewelers created a plethora of styles and designs. New gemstones were constantly being discovered and incorporated into these rings. They were also wrought from various alloys to cater to the needs of all in society.
Let’s take a closer look at Middle Age Rings and their various designs.
Features of Medieval Rings
Rings of the Middle Ages were made of various metals and often featured gemstones and diamonds.
- Metals: Because rings signified rang, different types of metals were used for different ranks. Gold and silver were precious metals were primarily used for those of royal and noble blood. Base metals such as bronze, latten and pewter, were worn by the average person.
- Gemstones – These were worn not only for their beauty, but also for the metaphysical properties they were supposed to hold, such as healing, magical and protective benefits. Wearers needed the gemstone to touch their skin in order to make use of these benefits, and so designers would create the ring in such a way so that there would be direct contact with the skin.
Diamond rings weren’t very prevalent during the Middle Ages, but records suggest that they were exchanged amongst royalty and nobility. However, they didn’t hold the same prestigious position that diamonds do these days.
Diamond rings were usually given to a woman on the day of her engagement. The lady was required to wear the ring on her ring finger, since this was believed to have a vein that connected to the heart.
Although this notion was born in antiquity, it continued to be endorsed even in the Middle Ages.
Simple Bezel Rings
Antique bezel ring from G History Antique Shop. See it here.
In the early Middle Ages, plain rings made of gold without any fancy engravings or designs were popular. They had a simple stirrup style, where the plain hoop of the ring was set with a bezel holding a gemstone. The gemstones used in these bezel settings were often cut en cabochon to emphasize their luster and smoothness. The wearer also had the option to customize his/her ring and include any gemstone of their choice.
During the later Middle Ages, bezel rings became more decorative, stylish, and fancy. A scalloped bezel design (known as panse) was created, featuring an elaborate, flower like structure. The bezel was often complemented with designs of flowers, leaves, dragons and scroll work and set with decorative enamel and niello elements.
In the later Middle Ages, a lot of thought went into the selection of the gemstone. The stone wasn’t only selected for its aesthetic appearance, but for its amuletic, medicinal and symbolic meaning and value.
- Sapphires were thought to keep evil at bay.
- Rubies purified the mind and body.
- Emeralds could increase wealth.
- Turquoise helped in providing protection.
- Diamonds were thought to instill bravery and courage.
From the simple designs of the early Middle Ages, these more elaborate designs became a fashionable accessory to show off an individual’s status and wealth. A carefully chosen gemstone had the added benefits of protection.
A modern signet ring with a family crest by Minimalist Designs. See it here.
Signet rings were a popular type of ring during the Middle Ages, worn by men for practical reasons. They were used to send messages, seal letters and business documents and to signify rank. They served as unique marks of identity for shopkeepers, guilds, and merchants.
A signet ring had either a symbol, letters, words, or a family crest engraved into the center of the ring. For the letters or image to last for a longer duration, the body of the ring was made of gold or silver. Some signet rings used heraldry designs and depicted coats of arms. These rings were a display of an individual’s status, power and position in society.
Antique poesy ring with engraved poem by JY Mankin. See it here.
During the Middle Ages, a lot of significance was placed on romantic relationships and love. Therefore, it’s no surprise that rings were often engraved with passionate verses. The ring that had the most popularity for its short, romantic poems was the poesy ring design.
Poesy rings were gifted to both friends and lovers, as a symbol of love. These rings were engraved with phrases like You have my heart, or Love conquers all, in Latin or French.
Although most poesy rings had a simple gold band, others were decorated with flowers, leaves and other motifs. Rings that belonged to the wealthy were also set with priceless and precious gems.
Gimmel ring by Millrace Lane Boutique. See it here.
Gimmel rings were usually made of multiple hoops, and could either be worn as a single ring, or removed to be worn as individual rings. Most gimmel rings had at least 3 hoops, that when aligned, created a single ring. These rings were worn by both men and women during their engagement. After the wedding, both loops would be worn by the wife on her ring finger.
When aligned, these rings featured two hands clasped together. Gimmel rings were a popular symbol of love and commitment during the Middle Ages. They originated in France and symbolized eternal companionship and affection.
Jewish Marriage Ring
Jewish house ring by Libby Willingham Design. See it here.
The Jewish marriage ring was a wedding ring that became prominent during the Middle Ages. These rings were usually made of solid gold and featured enamel and filigree designs. Some showcased a miniature house, rather than a gemstone, signifying the importance of the home for the new couple. These were typically quite large and weren’t practical for daily wear and were used more as symbolic objects.
The Jewish marriage ring had to be placed on the index finger of the bride, so that she could easily show it off to the crowd. The ring wasn’t merely judged for its aesthetic appeal, but also its monetary value, and the bride had to approve the ring before the marriage was officiated.
In the Middle Ages, it was common to wear rings with religious emblems and images. Some people also carved the name or picture of a saint into the band of their ring. This was done to protect the wearer from negative energy and harm. It was believed that an ordinary ring could be made powerful by engraving it with a religious symbol. In the later Middle Ages, it was common to wear rings with Christian iconography, and they served as a reminder to live an honest and pious life.
Buying Medieval Rings
Today, with the popularity of vintage designs, many people search for medieval ring designs for their unique, antique look. Some Medieval ring designs, like poesy rings or gimmel rings, are still stylish and meaningful, making for excellent options if you prefer a throwback style.
Purchasing a ring primarily depends on your purpose and preference. For example, poesy, gimmel, and Jewish marriage rings are ideal as traditional engagement and wedding rings.
Although it’s challenging to buy a ring that originated in the Middle Ages, designers have managed to replicate these older styles. These rings can be purchased on Etsy or Amazon, with both online platforms showcasing a good collection to choose from.