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Old And Sold Antiques Digest Article

Jewelry Briefs

By D. Tudor Harrell

( Orginally published November 1961 )

"Her zone, from which a hundred tassels hung,
She girt above her; and in three bright drops,
Her glittering gems suspended from her ears,
And all around her grace and beauty shone." -Homer

In Homer the wooers tried to gain favor of Penelope with golden breast-pins, agraffes, ear-rings, and chains. Hephaistos is mentioned as the artificer of beautiful rings and hair-pins.

The Romans constantly sought something novel. When the victims of Pompey introduced carved gems, we read of Caesar's purple robe, flowing from the shoulders, fastened by a fibula, the chains of which glittered with precious stones.

He presented a pearl valued at 50,000 pounds to the mother of Brutus, according to records; and Cleopatra's ear-rings were valued at 161,457 pounds. Lollia Paulni, the wife of Emperor Caligula, is said to have worn emeralds and pearls worth nearly 350,000 pounds.


From the account of expenses of Isabella, Queen Consort of Edward II, of England (1292-1358), entries relating to jewels showed expenditures of no less than 1,399 pounds. The more valuable gems were purchased from Italian merchants.

Her favorite English jewelers were John de Louthe, and William de Berkinge, goldsmiths of London. One chaplet of gold set with bulays (rubies), sapphires, emeralds, diamonds, and pearls is mentioned. This is thought to have been ordered for her visit to Windsor at the St. George's Day celebration. Old account books frequently mention gold buttons, knee buckles, and mourning rings.


Signet rings were made early in Rome, the seals being used to seal wine jars. Romans of wealth only were permitted to wear gold rings, and many of the Bishops' rings carry the early Roman seal, usually mounted with a sapphire.


Posey rings or love tokens were made in England, in the 17th century. They were set with stones, the first letter of which would spell a word of sentiment. For instance, a ruby, emerald, garnet, amethyst, ruby, and diamond spelled "Regard."


Some of the first cameos were often mounted in Pinchbeck, a metal made by Christopher Pinchbeck early in the 17th century. Intaglios were more common in the early jewelry than cameos.


The most noted of the Papal rings is the Fisherman's Ring, for Peter was a fisherman. No other talisman gained greater repute in Medieval legends than the "Ring of Solomon" OT "Solomon's Seal."


The legend of the betrothal ring of the Virgin Mary, says it was given to St. John by Mary and taken to Rome. Later this bit of chalcedony appears in the chronicles of Christian converts, who attributed miraculous virtues to it. In the 15th century it came into possession of the Perugians, and on four days of the year it was exposed to the gaze of the faithful.


After the battle of Cannae, Hannibal ordered that the gold rings taken from the hands of the dead Romans, be sent to Carthage as proof of the great slaughter, for none below the rank of Knight was permitted to wear gold rings.

Rome, proclaimed a day of mournin., on which all gold rings were laid aside as a mark of sorrow. This custom prevailed after the defeat of Cannae and was observed on the funeral day of Augustus Caesar 230 years later.


The master cameo handed down from ancient times, is the Agate of Tiberius. It was large, 13x11 inches, and the elaborate design was made to conform to the grain and color of the five layers of sardonyx. The colors varied from white to brown to dark red.

This cameo is credited to a Greek Sculptor, Deoskindes. For centuries it passed between popes, kings, and princes, until it finally became part of the treasure in Sainte Chapelle, Paris.

It remained there for centuries, until 1804, when it was reported stolen. After a time it was returned to its casket under the gold turrets of Sainte Chapelle.


The forehead ornament, a Ferronnaire, meaning a jeweled ornament, was immortalized by Da Vinci in his famous painting La Belle Ferronnaire.