The Jewel in the Middle Ages

castle in Middle Ages

This week we continue with the History of Jewelry section, in this article we will take a brief tour to The Jewel in the Middle Ages. We will delve into knowing the type of jewelry most used at this time in the History of the Jewel. Knowing the type of metals most used, the most common gems, where they were extracted and how they were used.

The Jewel in the Middle Ages

After the fall of Rome, the forms and techniques of Roman jewelry continued to be used. The barbarian tribes of eastern Europe, knowledgeable about the use of metal, managed to combine Roman traditions (such as gold filigree and fibula shape) with the Byzantine tradition of honeycombing, introducing their own regional variations.

Gold and silver were the metals used by the artisans of this time. Much of the gold came from the minting of Byzantine and Arab coins, which were later used to make jewelry, and another means of obtaining gold was by the exploitation of the gold miners of Nigeria and the Gold Coast. Silver was originally from the Western Europe, from the Melle mines in Dilancia, and the Sardinian mines in Italy. They were also extracted from other points in Germany, Saxony, and the most important in Prague (capital of today’s Czech Republic).

golden background

Fine stones such as rubies and sapphires originating from the East, emeralds brought from Egypt, turquoise from Persia and Tibet and amethysts from Russia and Germany were used.

According to Cherry (1999) [1] “Some of the stones and semi-precious gems came from Europe itself. The origin of the rock crystal was very varied, but in the Middle Ages the most used were German, Swiss and Danish. Opals and garnets came from Eastern Europe. The pearls were found in the freshwater mollusks of the rivers of Scotland; they were generally pierced to be worn, set in metal, or sewn to clothing. Amber, the fossilized resin of pine trees, appeared on the shores of the Baltic Sea, and existed in large quantities in the Königsberg region, north of East Prussia. Jet, made up of fossilized remains in trees, could be found near the Whitby coal deposits, in northern England, and in Spain. The coral was Mediterranean, especially off the North African coast … ”.

The typical pin clasps were replaced by others of a circular shape.

Cameos were made, either as pendants or stamps, rings and seals were also made with set stones or with heraldic motifs.


[1] Cherry, John. (1999). Medieval Craftsmen “Goldsmiths” . Akal Editions, page 23

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